Why would we read poetry such as Trakl’s that seems so distant from us? Our world is not his world, after all. If one is afraid of the melancholic or of making the bucolic something beautifully sinister, one would surely not wish for exposure to the lines of this wonder of language. For to a large extent, Trakl achieves Rimbaud’s desire for poetry, viz., the derangement of the senses. Maybe as Gadamer might have it, we read Trakl as any older artwork: to experience a fusion of horizons, part-present part-past, that somehow (mysteriously) expands our sense of life. We irrigate ourselves by un-situating from sterile, habitualized comforts and by comforting ourselves in more despondent situations through that empathic affinity with suffering that we may find tapped in Trakl’s poetry. Certainly, if we appreciate sadness subtilized and alienation beautified, we have our guy here, no matter the historical distance. Take lines from “Whispered in the Afternoon”:
The forehead dreams God’s colors,
Feels the gentle wings of insanity.
Shadows revolve on the hill
Fringed blackly by rot.
Dusk full of rest and wine;
Sad guitars flow.
And as if in a dream
You turn to the calm lamp within.
(trans. by Doss & Schmitt)
This poet is not a rutilant genius like Baczynski or Hart Crane. His gifted descriptions rarely strike our hearts like suddenly unleashed levin. Nor should we expect a Stevensesque metaphysicality. Rather we get lots of colors that spread out through his eyes to tinge nature and village. We walk with him through a bleak and crepuscular world populated with nuns, shepherds, maidens, scythe-swinging harvesters, lepers, and the brackish forms of trees. We smell the fetor of rat-infested alleys even as we hear the bombilations of insects over the fields. Trakl offers us a sepulchral montage that captures a mournful, decaying, and lonely time in the dusk of old Austrian countryside. His language touches us deeply with his own sensibility that is by no means idealized, unless sickness and sadness are your ideals.
What I’m more interested in are the places of surprising images that erupt in the midst of his dark topoi. The truly creative depth of his subtle yet flying imagination. Take lines from “De profundis” as example:
I am a shadow far from sinister villages.
I drank God’s silence
From the fountain in the grove.
Upon my forehead cold metal steps.
Spiders seek my heart.
It is a light that extinguishes in my mouth.
To me, lines such as this take any poetry beyond mere description. Even were Trakl’s descriptions and portraits not brilliant as such, were only a unique perspective we’re privileged to share with him, Trakl’s poetry would be excellent. But those flashing insights of fresh images once in a while take his verses into an ineffable depth that I crave beyond description.
In struggle, we win our spirits and our freedom. Why would we expect an absence of suffering or the presence of caring? Perhaps the innocence of childhood carried into adulthood belies the truth. For without suffering and in the midst of caring, we would not have our singular road that is self-faith, nor our motive that is self-creation. Isn’t that part of what we want: the opportunity to create our own world in a spirit of freedom and self-determination? Perhaps nothing could be achieved without that adversity that meets us with the uncaring gaze of a blank, insensitive social world or a voice whose power prohibits our steps forward. We won’t faint at this. Sometimes, if we must, we can retreat into the Eden of fantasy or stir up the longings for naievete. Mostly we face head-on the odyssey with its perils and frustrations to overcome, transgressing barriers if we must when they are not in our best interest. Remember the Argonauts? Remember the Twins’ descent into Xibalba? The creative life is a committed quest that encounters dangers. Through creativity we out-trick the trials, temptations, detours. Creativity is the answer. It can be envisioned as a quilt as much as a road. A quilt-quest, a discovery-patchwork of endeavors, each with its own transient history that joins continuously with the next square and the previous square.
Pessoa and Lispector, for example, were fulfillments of the smart dreamer type. They had no theories, for that also bored them, but their stories are thought-dreams combining aesthetics with intelligence. Their reclusive response to life made them artistic saints. They acted like spiritual hermits, but were creative dreamers, lonely and intelligent monastics of imagination. Hildegard of Bingen. Kazantzakis. Nietzsche. Rilke. Jabes. Cioran, maybe.
Writing is a way of living. Writing is not all of living, and living is not all of writing. Some of us love and write out of a way of living love.
Many charms exist to help us through. We have each to possess our own charm and live it out in the world.
It’s important that we join together to uphold the forms of creative struggle that we are.
Just a quick morning thought. – J. Celan Smith
Poets–I mean those persons who are especially prone to feeling poetically–are not very different from other men in respect to the intensity of the emotions they feel in circumstances that move everyone. They are not much more profoundly touched than anyone else by what touches everyone–although, with their talents, they may quite often make one think so. But, on the other hand, they can be clearly distinguished from the majority of people by the ease with which they are extremely moved by things that move no one else, and by their faculty for providing themselves with a host of passions, amazing states of mind, and vivid feelings that need only the slightest pretext to be born from nothing and grow excited. In a way, poets possess within themselves infinitely more answers than ordinary life has questions to put to them; and this provides them with that perpetually latent, superabundant, and, as it were, irritable richness which at the slightest provocation brings forth treasures and even worlds.
“I never hesitate to declare that the diploma is the deadly enemy of culture. As diplomas have become more important in our lives (and their importance has done nothing but grow as a result of economic conditions), the less has education had any real effect.”
. . . whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we’ve just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don’t know; whatever we might think of this measureless theatre to which we’ve got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world–it is astonishing.
This site highlights the works of J. Celan Smith and Seth Grube and the handwritten correspondence they established and have maintained over their years of friendship. Many Arrows is the name of a specific notebook that the two artist-philosophers passed between themselves while living in Asheville, North Carolina. Its content contains musings on poetry, art, philosophy, the environment, technology and society as well as relationships and personal challenges. This site will publish Many Arrows along with the voluminous correspondence between the two while living in separate places. In addition, it features poetry and essays by each artist created throughout the years as well as new works that are constantly emerging.