easy with the image
as it unstows in ink,
never forced, often hanging
or hinged on a word:
that when coupled with another
and its softness looses
sinking into the breast
as easily as rain
vanishing in the forest.
Trakl rises from the page
with all the pain-tethers drawn taut,
until a reader pulls them free,
fine dendrites of gold and crimson
emancipated from the thin pulp
flood the world with their pollen,
oh, a galaxy of fire
here on earth
streams from a single wayward soul
that cries come back,
return and nest in me
with all your snowpure sufferings.
A lone walker catches sight
of what can only be described
as an angel,
wreathed in the source of blue, of purple,
whose lurid robes conceal a suit of armor
made from newly risen stars—
It might seem odd to many that for me, entering into this virtual platform feels rather like a great plunge–a plunge that is rounded about with not a little anxiety and misgiving. I have to ask myself many different questions if I am to embark on “putting myself out there” on such a vast scale as the information highway allows.
Who exactly am I to address? It might be best to simply transcribe my letters or correspondence with you, Jonathan, and so give the outsider a vantage from which to scrutinize or perhaps gain insight into our unique exchange, reaping from this whatever knowledge or entertainment might me a valuable addition to the possibly unknown recipient’s life. It may very well be that this is the best course to take. My other option would be to write in a more general manner that would be speaking to whomever might be directed to, or have stumbled upon, this site. In this case I must ask myself what would be so alluring as to draw someone’s undivided attention, and withal their precious time, to the reading of an online avowal. I also know that any notion of what has come to be known as blogging will never be part of my life such that it would detract from either tangible acts of discovery in actual bound books with covers and real pen and paper, or warm-blooded correspondence where the other’s face and body are present. It may be in the very writing of this post that I will begin to discover what the future holds for a virtual Many Arrows.
So where does one start? And yes, I am always including you my friend in any question or consideration written here.
I’ve been reading the copy of Pascal’s Pensées that you sent to me not that long ago. I needn’t tell you how brilliant it is. I was drawn to it because of several films I happened to watch from the French director Eric Rohmer. He is quite obsessed with Pascal and uses the wager in at least two of his films (My Night at Maud’s and A Winter’s Tale). I have been wondering about Pascal’s notion of “custom being our nature”, and how this applies to the iconoclast within society–namely the artist–and if one can ever escape the customary influence completely.
Let me give you an example. I was driving the kids to school yesterday morning, and in a rare moment of inspiration, decided to put on some music for the trip. I chose The Decemberist’s Crane Wife, beginning with part one and going forward in chronological order. As we motored down the valley I paused the song now and again to embellish and explain the songwriter’s interpretation of the Japanese cautionary tale, and it didn’t take long until I was moved to tears by the beauty of the song. Of course I attempted to mitigate my emotion by widening my eyes to create a larger space to hold in the brimming tears (for I didn’t want the kids to see their stalwart father crumbling under a musician’s influence), and I did that strange cough when I was explaining things, coupled with long pauses, to get a hold of myself and hide my being so moved. When I was pulling into the circus ring of my son’s school, the line “and all I ever meant to do, was to keep you….my crane wife” whelmed the tears so that they streaked down my cheeks and I had to turn my head down and to the left and wipe the hot salt trail with my sleeve.
So I ask you Jonathan, or anyone, is this customary? Is such a reaction to beauty and authenticity commonplace in our culture? Is reading Hugo von Hofmannsthal on his birthday and feeling an overwhelming connection to a dead Austrian poet normal? And Trakl, my God, how is one to reconcile such an astonishingly felicitous obsession with death to a biopolitical environment that sees this as pathological? And biopolitics have become the custom. Were we born with hearts too large for this technologically foreshortened world? You said in your last letter that you would lay down your life to save a final pair of moths. I am thrilled when you relate such sentiments, and I believe that the more our care grows for what are seemingly insignificant creatures to most, the more our capacity for love burgeons. Perhaps our ire looms in proportion in order to protect the fragility that is our compassion. You ended by saying “And I will always criticize myself to understand how to love and empathize more with all. That’s my meaning. It even includes the good humans.” One would find it difficult to improve on such a statement.
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.