Saturday, November 27, 2010

there was a word

 ... you didn't say. Pen in hand, I took note.

What you may not know is that unsaid words and seething silences are my element. My tempestuous soul thrives on boiling waters, rough seas. However dark.

Yet, feigned indifference frets, wears it away like an acid tide.
Please have mercy on it.

(But I shall ride out this storm, don't worry. I will.)

*       *       *

There was
a word
in the dark.
Minuscule. Ignored.

It hammered in the dark.
It hammered
on the ground of water.

From the depths of time,
it hammered.
Against the wall.

A word.
In the dark.
Beckoning me.

Eugénio de Andrade, 'Havia uma Palavra', from Matéria Solar [Solar Matter].
Translated from the Portuguese by DK.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

eia, quis me amabit...?

Even though I have never been one to feel I could ever become 'rooted in one dear perpetual place', age and the current economic woes have compelled me, in recent times, to search for a more permanent job in academia.

Every time an opportunity arises, however, I get cold feet. The mere thought of spending the rest of my life in a small provincial town (and are there any permanent academic jobs elsewhere...?), stifled by administrative chores and bored silly with no one interesting to talk to fills my heart with dreams of wandering. The hell with dear perpetual places! The hell.

At iffy moments like these I find myself cherishing bygone ideals of scholarship, imagining how much more riveting and suited to my malcontent character, to my chronic detachment from money and status concerns, the life of one of those maverick medieval wandering scholars would have been.

A life wholly unconcerned with social and moral conventions as well as with the pettiness of local communities. A life wholly devoted to the pursuit of both knowledge and pleasure, beauty, love, as expressed through poetry, song, performance.

How far, far away modern scholarship has come from all this. And how dishearteaningly sad it is. Most definitely, I was born in the wrong age - too late in a world too old.

That is why the world of the Carmina Burana was in my mind a  lot on this last trip to nowhere. Its touching, unruly poetry gently reminding me of what should truly matter in life, however difficult the choices and prospects may seem.

Lest I forget and bury myself in the sand once again.

Lest I forget thee.

*       *       *

Floret silva nobilis
floribus et foliis.
ubi est antiquus meus amicus?
hinc equitavit.
eia, quis me amabit? 

Floret silva undique.
Nach mime gesellen ist mir we.
Gruonet der walt allenthalben,
wa ist min geselle also lange?
Der ist geriten hinnen.
Owi, wer sol mich minnen? 

The noble forest is in bloom with flowers and leaves.
Where is my old companion?
He has ridden away.
Alas, who will love me? 

The forest is in bloom on all sides.
I grieve for my companion.
The forest is green on all sides.
Why is my companion so long?
He has ridden away.
Alas, who will love me?

from Carmina Burana


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

words, wide night

A slow night journey on a provincial train, with a gentle rain falling outside, is a balm for my daydreaming nature.

How inane and petty worldly pursuits are when everything is seen through this fog of desire, through this wet window-glass tenderly sprinkled with thoughts of you.

*      *      *

Words, Wide Night

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.

This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine
the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you and this is

what it is like or what it is like in words.  

Carol Ann Duffy, from The Other Country.

Monday, November 22, 2010

the feathered hour

Max Ernst, Cage, Forest and Black Sun

Were it to have a name, it would be this: the feathered hour.

That tenuous, precarious moment when it may happen, despite the smallest probabilities, the disencounters, the forebodings.

In a parallel universe, in the realm of poetic possibilities - the enigma of suspension.

A 'maybe, maybe' that could be so...       or...

... lead us somewhere away from this shipwreck, if you weren't so numb with pain, or fear, or doubt, or delusion, or whatever it is I don't know. (And there is so much I don't know indeed.)

In any case, unable to move, to utter the words that matter, you scarecrow scaring away the birds.

Poems such as this are messages in a bottle I send to a stranger, whoever you are. Or is it the last bubble of oxygen I'm sending from under here?

Because there is nothing else I can do.

I know no other language outside this one that is not an empty shell, worn-out, oversimplifying, misunderstanding. Life, feelings are so much more complicated.

Words fail me thus. Because I'm in the water --

Not as yet drowning, but waving, waving.

*       *       *

The Cage

In the waking night
The forests have stopped growing
The shells are listening
The shadows in the pools turn grey
The pearls dissolve in the shadow
And I return to you

Your face is marked upon the clockface
My hands are beneath your hair
And if the time you mark sets free the birds
And if they fly away towards the forest
The hour will no longer be ours

Ours is the ornate birdcage
The brimming cup of water
The preface to the book
And all the clocks are ticking
All the dark rooms are moving
All the air's nerves are bare

Once flown
The feathered hour will not return
And I shall have gone away.

from David Gascoyne, Selected Poems (London: Enitharmon, 1994), p. 43.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Body, Words

(Photo by EK)

... Dry casques of departed locusts
speaking a shell of speech... The words rattle: shells given out by shells.
                                                                            Ezra Pound, from Canto VII

... there is no promised land beyond the body; beyond the word.
                                    Eugénio de Andrade, from "Lines of Winter"

How often indeed we seem to live beyond them, empty shells, time-worn things.

Yet there is nothing like an intimation of grief and loss, followed by a self-imposed interruption to the ruthless order of things, to bring you to your senses.

To remind you that even your neglected language has a body, a physicality of its own. Living matter.

A pliant tongue, slowly caressing you as it once did, as when reading Eugénio, hopelessly in love, would bring you to tears.

*       *       *

They are like a crystal,
Some a dagger,
some a blaze.
merely dew.

Secret they come, full of memory.
Insecurely they sail:
cockleboats or kisses,
the waters trembling.

Abandoned, innocent,
They are woven of light.
They are the night.
And even pallid
they recall green paradise.

Who hears them? Who
gathers them, thus,
cruel, shapeless,
in their pure shells?

Eugénio de Andrade, "Palavras" [Words], translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin. From Inhabited Heart (LA: Perivale Press, 1985).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

night thought, on eve of departure

To be able to understand everything before it has been said. Is there any greater blessing, any greater curse?

Making the pain less sudden, less acute, yet so much more enduring - the unwanted company of a shadow that grows familiar with the years.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I wish, I wish

from and for Stevie Smith

Every now and then the touch of a soft and crushable animal, its fragile fur inside my hand like soft feathers, takes me away from this world's stone-hard heart into a much better, livable one.

It fills my heart with longings for sea and sun and light.

For some lost, faraway home.

*       *       *

Oh I wish that there were some wing, some wing,
Under which I could hide my head,
A soft grey wing, a beautiful thing,
Oh I wish that there were such a wing,

And then I should suddenly be quite sure
As I never was before,
And fly far away, and be gay instead
Of being hesitating and filled with dread,
Oh I wish I could find a wing.

But today as I walk on the pavement I see
Where a car is parked, where a car is parked,
In the wheel's bright chromium hub I see
A world stretching out that is like but unlike
The world that encloses me.

And I wish to pass through the shining hub
And go far away, far away,
As far as I might on the wings of the dove
That first I thought would succour me
And carry me far away,
Oh the hub is my love far more than the dove
That first I thought would succour me.

And now the shining beautiful hub
Opens its door to me,
I enter, I enter, through the hub I have entered
The world that shines so bright,
The road stretches there in ochre; and blue
Is the sky I am walking into; and white
Is the beach I perceive of a heavenly sea
A-roll in the realms of light,
It rolls in the realms of light.

Stevie Smith, Collected Poems (NY: New Directions, 1983), p. 449.

Monday, November 15, 2010

the dark dialogues (2)

René Magritte, Les Amants [The Lovers], 1928

I am the shell held 
To Time's ear and you
May hear the lonely leagues
Of the kittiwake and the fulmar.

Or I am always only 
Thinking is this the time
To look elsewhere to turn
Towards what was it
I put myself out 
Away from home to meet?
Was it this only? Surely
It is more than these words
See on my side
I went halfway to meet.

And there are other times.
But the times are always 
Other and now what I meant
To say or hear or be 
Lies hidden where exile 
Too easily beckons.
What if the terrible times
Moving away find 
Me in the end only 
Staying where I am always 
Unheard by a fault.

So to begin to return
At last neither early 
Nor late and go my way
Somehow home across
This gesture become
Inhabited out of hand.
I stop and listen over
My shoulder and listen back
On language for that step
That seems to fall after
My own step in the dark.

Always must be the lost
Or where we turn, and all
For a sight of the dark again.
The farthest away, the least
To answer back come nearest.

And this place is taking
Its time from us though these
Two people or voices 
Are not us nor has
The time they seem to move in
To do with what we think
Our own times are. Even
Where they are is only
This one inhuman place.
Yet somewhere a stone
Speaks and maybe a leaf
In the dark turns over.
And whoever I meant
To think I had met
Turns away further
Before me blinded by
This word and this word.

See how presently 
The bull and the girl turn
From what they seemed to say,
And turn there above me
With that star-plotted head
Snorting on silence.
The legend turns. And on 
Her starry face descried
Faintly astonishment.
The formal meadow fades
Over the ever-widening
Firth and in their time
That not unnatural pair
Turn slowly home.

This is no other place
Than where I am, between
This word and the next.
Maybe I should expect
To find myself only 
Saying that again
Here now at the end.
Yet over the great
Gantries and cantilevers
Of love, a sky, real and 
Particular is slowly 
Startled into light.

W. S. Graham, from 'The Dark Dialogues' in Malcom Mooney's Land (1970). Collected Poems 1942-1977 (London: Faber, 1979), pp. 164-65. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

the dark dialogues (I)

René Magritte, Les Amants [The Lovers], 1928

I always meant to only
Language swings away
Further before me.

Language swings away
Before me as I go
With and again the night rising
Up to accompany me
And that other fond
Metaphor, the sea.
Images of night
And the sea changing
Should know me well enough.

Wanton with riding lights
And staring eyes, Europa
And her high meadow bull
Fall slowly their way
Behind the blindfold and
Across this more or less
Uncommon place.

And who are you and by
what right do I waylay
You where you go there
Happy enough striking
Your hobnail in the dark?
Believe me I would ask
Forgiveness but who
Would I ask forgiveness from?

I speak across the vast
Dialogues in which we go
To clench my words against
Time or the lack of time
Hoping that for a moment
They will become for me
A place I can think in
And think anything in,
An aside from the monstruous.

And this is no other
Place than where I am,
Here turning between
This word and the next.
Yet somewhere the stones
Are wagging in the dark
And you, whoever you are,
That I am other to,
Stand still by the glint
Of the dyke's sparstone,
Because always language
Is where the people are.

W. S. Graham, from 'The Dark Dialogues' in Malcom Mooney's Land (1970). Collected Poems 1942-1977 (London: Faber, 1979), pp. 158-59.


Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with his own blood.
            ---F. Nietzsche

Written with your own blood. While it's certainly not the only one, this remains my main yardstick for judging good writing - for judging all literature and art, for that matter.

Thus my intense disliking for that kind of writing which is no more than a by-product of literary criticism: full of witticisms and literary allusions showing what a well-read and well-travelled chap you are, but with no blood running through it. Begging for the self-indulgent applause of a learned coterie, but leaving all the others out in the cold.

It might impress me every now and then, but it doesn't affect me - it doesn't touch my emotions.