Thursday, 17 July 2014

Protection


birds fluttering feathers beasts secretly cringing
as if musk spreading in the mists astray, fading
then never a sound in Death/ nor breath/ not even heart
Death seals and stagnates the pale wax of light
in her mouth
as if a tooth-filing ceremony as if anaemia as if bleeding

Rebecca Horn, “The Feathered Prison Fan” (from Der Eintänzer), 1978

It is oblique, magical and ironic, and has none of the in-your-face tone of complaint (men are colonizing thugs, women are victims, and a display of wounds is all you need to make a piece of art) that renders the work of so many of her transatlantic sisters so monotonous.” 
— Robert Hughes, “Art: Mechanics Illustrated.” Time Magazine, 13 Sept 1993; Web. 17 Nov 2009.



蒼白,是血的原色與美學的逆鱗。
他舌尖的蓮消蝕一如
右頰的月光
聲音是時間與蛇的舞姿
交纏蜿蜒的連綴
而生存,歌詠著水波紊亂
殞落著無性之魅
猩紅,似卵與熱的曲線
錯誤的春花秋月
頹萎之靡交合在古印度的菱鏡
天人於是註定了五衰
水面下的墜



Celadon

Paleness, the primary colour of blood,
Aesthetics of one disobedient scale under the Dragon’s throat
The lotus on the tip of his tongue eclipses as if
the moonbeam on his right cheek.
Voices unfold in the dance between Time and the Serpent,
interweaving the movements of musical trills, winding, meandering, murmuring.
And existence, an ode to unquiet rippling, to violent waters,
perishing allures of an androgyne.
Scarlet blood, resembling the curve of an embryo and of heat
I mistake those spring flowers and autumn moon
for the decadently beautiful unison mirrored in ancient India
And angels are thus destined to decline,
falling under the water surface.
Celadon

Rebecca Horn, Dreaming Stones, 2006 (via)

死亡美學(獻詩三島之金閣)

戰後的廢墟,重建
赭色小提琴喤泣聲線
金箔剝蝕的蒸氣與躁動的香

月華清明塗抹石橋
一如滌淨生的 死亡的確知
我兀自佇立文字的金閣
美學修長的眼睫投影
蔭翳,光正自盡。

顫抖顫抖再顫抖,這齣劇本
與血的斑痕纏綿似水
海面痛苦地沉默
光,一如岩礫,一如陰影,光的自縊。

自縊的美學倫理糾結糾結死的似非而,是。
仁波切寂然誦經
呢喃破曉前刻精神與美的歸巢
逐步逐步,緊貼眼睫的哀悽

生的諷刺文體的,死
的潔白墓塚
光正瀉落一湖的私密,若水。

Rebecca Horn, Lenny Silver's Dream, 1990. Sheet music, brass, electric motor. *via Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal
煢煢

半圓形的天頂被一層月華光澤的膜緊緻地拉扯住,像一只充滿著水的氣球,虛擬著生腥的焦慮與一種無所事事的、完完全全脫離精神性的美與憂鬱。那個午后,是薄如蟬翼且裹上銀粉的新生的卵,適於討論命理與禪。雲以敏捷的腳步滑行於透明且虛弱的藍,泡沫似的溫順與漠然。青春其實是極度缺乏生命力的。在旺盛與浮躁之中貪慕假象的匱乏,而後需索從不曾或缺的旺盛;在柔弱的本質中渴求堅強與信仰,之後因對於軟弱愚蠢的不自覺與惑於自我宣稱的虛偽堅強而尋覓所謂謙恭溫潤的中庸。青春是僅只存活於對純粹的堅持下、一種具備了美卻不易碎的浪費。如果死的優雅與精神性建構了藝術中闡釋生命的美學,則生不過是為襯托死的一種附屬的存在。但是生命卻是無法磨滅的,即使蒼白而無意義,卻無止盡地散發出猩紅的血的氣味。印度神濕婆在宇宙的輪迴當中毀滅自己所創造的鏡花水月,而後使之重生,不斷重複操縱著生與死的轉輪;祂是否也感受到生命中那種匱乏虛弱的美,以及死亡中屬於生之投影的愛與信念?藍所象徵的嫌惡與非難,以清澈且充滿靈性的美存在於自然界的蒼穹。隅隅獨行的生,幾人在腐臭中仍吟哦走了調的聖詩,又幾人能擺脫所有倫常的帷幕而誠摯地憎恨與厭惡?然而這一切的思索總似時間過度充裕的青春所編織的蛛網,純白得美麗亦膚淺得軟弱。當青春終於被擺脫後,生命開始進入下一段對死複雜的戀慕和禁忌,與對消逝的水光緬懷的遺憾。

Nick Knight, Roses (via)
奔馬

夢先於現實。
而純粹
似花,似血,似詩
,似枯腐前消逝的生。


Runaway Horses (Realistically Synaesthetic Purity)   

Dreams, a priori, then reality.
And purity
Resembles a flower, resembles blood, resembles poetry,
Resembles life, a priori, disappearing before decay.

荒木経惟,花。

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Water Nymphs’ Preludes


III
You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

IV
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

~from “Preludes,” by T. S. Eliot

“When she got out of the water, what a change was seen in her!”
(I am in love with this water nymph-esque beauty.)

*From Folk-Tales of Bengal, by the Rev. Lal Behari Day, with 32 illustrations in colour by Warwick Goble, Macmillan & Co., Ltd, 1912, London.

“She rushed out of the palace... and came to the upper world.”
*From Folk-Tales of Bengal, by the Rev. Lal Behari Day, with 32 illustrations in colour by Warwick Goble, Macmillan & Co., Ltd, 1912, London.

A woman drew her long black hair out tight
And fiddled whisper music on those strings
And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings.
— T.S.Eliot, The Wasteland.

“Coming up to the surface they climbed into the boat.”
*From Folk-Tales of Bengal, by the Rev. Lal Behari Day, with 32 illustrations in colour by Warwick Goble, Macmillan & Co., Ltd, 1912, London.


Sunday, 1 June 2014

A Frightening Angel


I was in high school when I read Rilke for the first time, in an underground “indie” bookstore (a real treasure trove for books) near the National University of Taiwan—an area full of “book caves” and “sequestered nooks for books”—catering for university students and academics alike. It was his Duino Elegies translated into Chinese by a famous poet, and my love affair with Rilke thus began. The verses were heartrendingly powerful in such a way that I was instantly blown away.

My senior high school years were a time I do not care much to remember: the first thing I would do after school everyday, was to go straight into a bookstore—only then would I feel able to breathe. But it was also during that time when I started writing poetry intensely, and my passion for poetry bloomed like wild roses as if they knew there were no tomorrow.

English translation by Stephen Mitchell (my personal favourite translator of Rilke’s works), from the First Elegy of Duino Elegies
Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1992.
ʻA Guardian of the Kingdom’ from a Persian version of Qazwini’s ʻAjāʼib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharāʼib al-mawjūdāt,’ “The marvels of creation and the oddities of existence,” commonly known as “The cosmography of Qazwini,”
circa 1500-1550 CE. (image via)

A poem is to be developed from these musings and words which arrived this early evening, and something has been on the back of my mind for quite some time—to work on “Dialogue Poetry”—quite a special genre both in a literary and visual/aesthetic sense.

So, for now, to be continued...




The fifty poems that were published by Albert Giraud (born Emile Albert Kayenbergh) as Pierrot lunaire: Rondels bergamasques in 1884 quickly attracted composers to set them to music, especially after they were translated, somewhat freely, into German (1892) by the poet and dramatist Otto Erich Hartleben. (Hartleben later went on to write his own Pierrot poems—"The Harp" and five rondels titled Pierrot, Married Man.) The best known of these settings is the atonal song-cycle derived from twenty-one of the poems (in Hartleben's translation) by Arnold Schoenberg in 1912: Dreimal sieben Gedichte aus Albert Girauds Pierrot lunaire (Thrice-Seven Poems from Albert Giraud's Pierrot lunaire—Schoenberg was numerologically superstitious). But the poems have dense histories as songs and sets of songs both before and after Schoenberg's landmark Opus 21. The bullet-point that follows lists early twentieth-century musical settings chronologically and notes how many poems were set by each composer (all, except Prohaska's, are in the Hartleben translations) and for which instruments.

Pfohl, Ferdinand: 5 poems ("Moon-rondels, fantastic scenes from 'Pierrot Lunaire'") for voice and piano (1891); Marschalk, Max: 5 poems for voice and piano (1901); Vrieslander, Otto: 50 poems for voice and piano (46 in 1905, 4 more in 1911); Graener, Paul: 3 poems for voice and piano (c. 1908); Marx, Joseph: 4 poems for voice and piano (1909; 1 of 4, "Valse de Chopin", reset for voice, piano, and string quartet in 1917); Schoenberg, Arnold: 21 poems for speaking voice, piano, flute (also piccolo), clarinet (also bass clarinet), violin (also viola), and violoncello (1912); Kowalski, Max: 12 poems for voice and piano (1913); Prohaska, Carl: 6 poems for voice and piano (1920); Lothar, Mark: 1 poem for voice and piano (1921).

*extract of information on Pierrot Lunaire via Wikipedia

Saturday, 24 May 2014

To the Muses


Whether on Ida’s shady brow,
         Or in the chambers of the East,
The chambers of the sun, that now
         From ancient melody have ceasd;

Whether in Heavn ye wander fair,
         Or the green corners of the earth,
Or the blue regions of the air,
         Where the melodious winds have birth;

Whether on crystal rocks ye rove,
         Beneath the bosom of the sea
Wandring in many a coral grove,
         Fair Nine, forsaking Poetry!

How have you left the ancient love
         That bards of old enjoy’d in you!
The languid strings do scarcely move!
         The sound is forc’d, the notes are few!

~“To the Muses,” by William Blake

Women rest at the Parthenon whose damaged structure is under repair, December 1930. Photograph by Maynard Owen Williams, National Geographic.

Friday, 23 May 2014

藍曬情人:Cyanotype of a Lover


I can’t really remember the days. The light of the sun blurred and annihilated all color. But the nights, I remember them. The blue was more distant than the sky, beyond all depths, covering the bounds of the world. The sky, for me, was the stretch of pure brilliance crossing the blue, that cold coalescence beyond all color. Sometimes, it was in Vinh Long, when my mother was sad she’d order the gig and we’d drive out into the country to see the night as it was in the dry season. I had that good fortune―those nights, that mother. The light fell from the sky in cataracts of pure transparency, in torrents of silence and immobility. The air was blue, you could hold it in your hand. Blue. The sky was the continual throbbing of the brilliance of the light. The night lit up everything, all the country on either bank of the river as far as the eye could reach. Every night was different, each one had a name as long as it lasted. Their sound was that of the dogs, the country dogs baying at mystery. They answered one another from village to village, until the time and space of the night were utterly consumed.

― Marguerite Duras, L’Amant (translated by Barbara Bray)

Les Noces de Pierrette (The Marriage of Pierrette), by Pablo Picasso, 1905.

Painted in 1905, ‘Les Noces de Pierrette’ is considered as a Blue Period masterpiece―it is by no means Pablo Picasso’s most famous painting, although it does have a notorious history. The painting depicts a group of well-to-do families socialising at a wedding, however the figures are rendered with blank, emotionless faces and hollow eye-sockets. It was created during a critical period in Picasso’s life (his friend and fellow artist Carlos Casagemas had just committed suicide, and the famous painter was facing destitution). Deeply depressed, Picasso spent several months in isolation, developing the piece from sketches―using deep hues of blue to create an oppressively gloomy mood. When he finally emerged from his study, Picasso was said to be bitter and violent―aggressively refusing to let any family or friends see his work. After some weeks, his mistress Fernande Olivier was able to sneak into his study and finally observe the painting. What she saw was so traumatic that the couple separated shortly afterwards. Reportedly, a hysterical Olivier spent the remainder of her life in the care of her mother and sister.

Picasso then spent a further six months trying to salvage his canvas―painting over certain ‘offending’ elements, and removing one figure entirely. In a 1949 interview, the artist briefly mentioned the painting, commenting that “I don’t talk about it.  It’s not mine”.

The painting currently resides in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, where historians are using technology to view Les Noces’ lower layers.






It has been my face. It’s got older still, of course, but less, comparatively, than it would otherwise have done. It’s scored with deep, dry wrinkles, the skin is cracked. But my face hasn’t collapsed, as some with fine features have done. It’s kept the same contours, but its substance has been laid waste. I have a face laid waste.

I’ve known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you’re more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.

“Very early in my life it was too late.

― Marguerite Duras, The Lover (translated by Barbara Bray)

Saturday, 10 May 2014

A little piece of philosophy I wrote for my love a decade ago...


*Chiliogon in Descartes’ and Leibniz’s Theories of Knowledge: What is a Chiliogon?

In the fourth Meditation, Descartes uses the example of a chiliogon (a polygon with a thousand equal sides) as a thought-experiment to prove that we have at least two approaches to knowledge: imagination and conception. The chiliogon example illustrates this important distinction by showing that while we are able to conceive (or to think of) a chiliogon, we are not able to truly imagine (or to visualise) one. Our mental representation of a chiliogon would either be closer to a 20 to 30-sided polygon, or a circle. However this does not mean we do not possess the concept of a chiliogon.

... I remark, in the first place, the difference that subsists between imagination and pure intellection [or conception]. For example, when I imagine a triangle I not only conceive (intelligo) that it is a figure comprehended by three lines, but at the same time also I look upon (intueor) these three lines as present by the power and internal application of my mind (acie mentis), and this is what I call imagining. But if I desire to think of a chiliogon, I indeed rightly conceive that it is a figure composed of a thousand sides, as easily as I conceive that a triangle is a figure composed of only three sides; but I cannot imagine the thousand sides of a chiliogon as I do the three sides of a triangle, nor, so to speak, view them as present [with the eyes of my mind]. (Descartes: Meditation VI)

In arguing that all things which “we clearly and distinctly perceive are true” (Meditations 83), Descartes attempts to understand how one can be led to make a false assertion. According to Descartes, one does not perceive everything around him distinctly, and yet one continues to make judgements based on his perceptions, regardless of whether they are clear or not. Although any assertion based upon a clear and distinct perception must be true, falsity can occur when one makes a judgement based on confused perceptions.

And although, in accordance with the habit I have of always imagining something when I think of corporeal things, it may happen that, in conceiving a chiliogon, I confusedly represent some figure to myself, yet it is quite evident that this is not a chiliogon, since it in no way differs from that which I would represent to myself, if I were to think of a myriogon, or any other figure of many sides; nor would this representation be of any use in discovering and unfolding the properties that constitute the difference between a chiliogon and other polygons. (Ibid.)




Leibniz also uses the example of a chiliogon in his metaphysics and epistemology, to illustrate the fourth division of knowledge, which shall be discussed later on. In his 1684 essay Meditations on Knowledge, Truth and Ideas, he sets out four divisions of knowledge. The first division is that all knowledge is either obscure or clear. Knowledge is obscure if it fails to provide its holder with enough information to identify the object of that knowledge, while clear knowledge is the opposite. [Knowledge is clear, therefore, when it makes it possible for me to recognise the thing represented. (p. 449)] His second division further sets clear knowledge into confused and distinct forms. Clear and distinct knowledge is that of which one is able to detail the features sufficiently to separate it from all others. According to Leibniz, we have such knowledge for “all concepts of which we have a nominal definition [nominalism asserts that abstract concepts, general terms, or universals have no independent existence but exist only as names], which is nothing but the enumeration of sufficient marks” (ibid). These sufficient marks refer to every detailed feature required to identify the substance or concept. The third division he claims is a sub-division of clear and distinct knowledge: it can either be adequate or inadequate. Clear and distinct knowledge can only be called adequate “when every ingredient that enters into a distinct concept is itself known distinctly, or when analysis is carried through to the end” (p. 250). Here Leibniz uses the example of gold to illustrate his argument: one may know the properties of gold well enough to separate it from other bodies and therefore possesses clear and distinct knowledge of gold. However, without carrying out an analysis to such an extent that every predicate of gold is understood distinctly, that clear and distinct knowledge of gold is still inadequate.

The fourth division is another sub-division within clear and distinct knowledge (independent of whether the knowledge is adequate or inadequate), which is the distinction between intuitive and symbolic knowledge. This division is employed when it comes to a complex concept. Here Leibniz uses the Cartesian example of a chiliogon to illustrate his fourth division of knowledge. While Descartes uses a chiliogon to explain the distinction between our two approaches to knowledge – imagination and conception (i.e. what we can imagine and what we can understand/conceive), Leibniz is not concerned with the ability to actually form a mental image (visualisation as imagination). For Leibniz, knowledge is intuitive when it is possible to perceive, clearly and distinctly, all of the parts within this complex concept. While knowledge is symbolic when one possesses clear and distinct knowledge of the entire concept, but fails to hold the same for all the individual parts of the complex whole. Leibniz's chiliogon aims to show how one can have knowledge which is clear and distinct in respect to the whole; yet also have knowledge of this object (a chiliogon) which is said to be symbolic, for it is impossible to think simultaneously of all the concepts involved in this extremely complex geometrical shape (p.450).

This is where Leibniz identifies the truth of an idea with the logical possibility of its existence, and falsity with an idea that contains a contradiction (p. 452). He attacks Descartes’ Cartesian position of establishing truth or falsity of a predication upon the distinctness and clarity of a perception. Leibniz claims that his precise definition and usage of clarity and distinctness are necessary in making useful the Cartesian axiom of “whatever I perceive clearly and distinctly in some thing is true, or may be predicated of it.” Leibniz also insists that an idea is not to be confused with an item of consciousness (a concept). An idea is the foundation of a concept (or an item of consciousness); in other words, concepts are produced by or founded on ideas.

藤原行成 Fujiwara no Yukinari



Fujiwara no Yukinari (藤原 行成, 972 – January 3, 1027) was a Japanese calligrapher (shodoka) during the Heian period. He was memorialized for his prowess in his chosen art by being remembered as one of the outstanding Three Brush Traces (Sanseki 三跡), along with Ono no Michikaze and Fujiwara no Sukemasa.



Yukinari was the son of a courtier by the name of Fujiwara no Yoshitaka. After the early death of his father, he was raised by his grandfather, Prince Kanenori. Yukinari had a fairly successful career as a court official, where he served as a Major Counselor. Yukinari further improved the Japanese style calligraphy (wayoshodo 和様書道), and showed great respect to its founder, Ono no Michikaze (894-966). He even mentioned in his diary, Gonki, that he had a dream wherein he met Michikaze and learnt calligraphy from him.

Yukinari was known as the master of kana. His style was mild and easily emulated, his lines were dainty and exquisite, resulting in highly elegant characters. Fujiwara Yukinari is regarded as the founder of the Sesonji lineage of calligraphy, which later became the leading tradition of wayo (和様) calligraphy. His extant works were most written in Mana (Chinese characters used as units of meaning) in Gyosho or Sosho.



One of his most well-known works is the handscroll of 白居易 Bai Juyi's eight poems from volume 65 of his Poetic Anthology. He wrote this masterpiece in 1018 when he was forty-seven years old. The scroll was made by joining together nine pieces of specially prepared paper known as ryoshi, then dyed in light brown, claret, and other shades. This handscroll was treasured by Emperor Fushimi (reigned from 1288 to 1298), and the colophon over the seams on the back of the paper attests to this. Currently, the scroll is stored in the Tokyo National Museum.


*Text via Wikipedia entry on Fujiwara no Yukinari.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Beauty, Pleasure, and Shelley's Poetry of Mimosa (a poem I adore)


It has been nine years since I finished my graduate studies in philosophy, and yet these areas still enthrall me as much as day one: (freely beautiful) objects versus (us the) subjects, aesthetic disinterestedness and perception —or consciousness— (how it is distinct from our ordinary consciousness), the metaphysical aspects of beauty etc.... And, here, how can I not love these words? “To a poet nothing can be useless. Whatever is beautiful and whatever is dreadful must be familiar to his imagination; he must be conversant with all that is awfully vast or elegantly little.”

Indeed, all that is awfully vast and elegantly little. I think I will write a poem on that.

*

Now, where the question is whether something is beautiful, we do not want to know, whether we, or anyone else, are, or even could be, concerned in the real existence of the thing, but rather what estimate we form of it on mere contemplation (intuition of reflection). … All one wants to know is whether the mere representation of the object is to my liking, no matter how indifferent I may be to the real existence of the object of this representation. It is quite plain that in order to say that the object is beautiful, and to show that I have taste, everything turns on the meaning which I can give to this representation, and not on any factor which makes me dependent on the real existence of the object.

~Immanuel Kant: Critique of Judgement, Book I, §2, 42-43.


… it is Kant’s identification of pleasure in the beautiful as pleasure in free beauty that leads him to claim that pleasure in the beautiful of itself does not generate an interest. For pleasure in free beauty is pleasure that is independent of any concepts under which the object is experienced, but an interest is pleasure in the instantiation of a concept, pleasure that the concept is instantiated in the object of one’s judgement.[...]

… the vital point concerning beauty is that the possession of the capacity to make pure judgements of taste and familiarity with its exercise does not imply as a matter of necessity the existence of an interest in experiencing freely beautiful objects … the capacity to experience pleasure of a certain kind does not necessarily go hand in hand with an interest in experiencing such pleasures… and pleasure in the beautiful is no exception to this general truth, being compatible with a negative interest in its object, i.e. displeasure at its existence. … a pure judgement of taste does not, of itself, generate an interest. 

~Malcolm Budd, ‘Delight in the Natural World: Kant on the Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature. Part II: Natural Beauty and Morality’ in British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 38, No. 2, April 1998.

+++

... the early writers are in possession of nature, and their followers of art; that the first excel in strength and invention, and the latter in elegance and refinement. (...) To a poet nothing can be useless. Whatever is beautiful and whatever is dreadful must be familiar to his imagination; he must be conversant with all that is awfully vast or elegantly little. (...) His character requires that he estimate the happiness and misery of every condition, observe the power of all the passions in all their combinations, and trace the changes of the human mind, (...) and rise to general and transcendental truths, which will always be the same. (...) that his style may be worthy of his thoughts, must by incessant practice familiarise to himself every delicacy of speech and grace of harmony.

~Samuel Johnson, The History of Rasselas, Prince Of Abyssinia, Chapter X: “A Dissertation Upon Poetry


A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream. /.../ 
I am a dreamer of words, of written words. I think I am reading; a word stops me. I leave the page. The syllables of the word begin to move around. Stressed accents begin to invert. The word abandons its meaning like an overload which is too heavy and prevents dreaming. Then words take on other meanings as if they had the right to be young. And the words wander away, looking in the nooks and crannies of vocabulary for new company, bad company.

~Gaston Bachelard, La poétique de la rêverie (The Poetics of Reverie), 1960.


A special kind of beauty exists which is born in language, of language, and for language. /.../ Literary imagination is an aesthetic object offered by a writer to a lover of books.

~Ibid, “A Retrospective Glance at the Lifework of a Master of Books” in Fragments of a Poetics of Fire, 1988.



Shelley, fair copy of A Defence of Poetry, 1821.

The Sensitive Plant, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

PART 1.

A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew,
And the young winds fed it with silver dew,
And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light.
And closed them beneath the kisses of Night.

And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

But none ever trembled and panted with bliss
In the garden, the field, or the wilderness,
Like a doe in the noontide with love’s sweet want,
As the companionless Sensitive Plant.

The snowdrop, and then the violet,
Arose from the ground with warm rain wet,
And their breath was mixed with fresh odour, sent
From the turf, like the voice and the instrument.

Then the pied wind-flowers and the tulip tall,
And narcissi, the fairest among them all,
Who gaze on their eyes in the stream’s recess,
Till they die of their own dear loveliness;

And the Naiad-like lily of the vale,
Whom youth makes so fair and passion so pale
That the light of its tremulous bells is seen
Through their pavilions of tender green;

And the hyacinth purple, and white, and blue,
Which flung from its bells a sweet peal anew
Of music so delicate, soft, and intense,
It was felt like an odour within the sense;

And the rose like a nymph to the bath addressed,
Which unveiled the depth of her glowing breast,
Till, fold after fold, to the fainting air
The soul of her beauty and love lay bare:

And the wand-like lily, which lifted up,
As a Maenad, its moonlight-coloured cup,
Till the fiery star, which is its eye,
Gazed through clear dew on the tender sky;

And the jessamine faint, and the sweet tuberose,
The sweetest flower for scent that blows;
And all rare blossoms from every clime
Grew in that garden in perfect prime.

And on the stream whose inconstant bosom
Was pranked, under boughs of embowering blossom,
With golden and green light, slanting through
Their heaven of many a tangled hue,

Broad water-lilies lay tremulously,
And starry river-buds glimmered by,
And around them the soft stream did glide and dance
With a motion of sweet sound and radiance.

And the sinuous paths of lawn and of moss,
Which led through the garden along and across,
Some open at once to the sun and the breeze,
Some lost among bowers of blossoming trees,

Were all paved with daisies and delicate bells
As fair as the fabulous asphodels,
And flow’rets which, drooping as day drooped too,
Fell into pavilions, white, purple, and blue,
To roof the glow-worm from the evening dew.

And from this undefiled Paradise
The flowers (as an infant’s awakening eyes
Smile on its mother, whose singing sweet
Can first lull, and at last must awaken it),

When Heaven’s blithe winds had unfolded them,
As mine-lamps enkindle a hidden gem,
Shone smiling to Heaven, and every one
Shared joy in the light of the gentle sun;

For each one was interpenetrated
With the light and the odour its neighbour shed,
Like young lovers whom youth and love make dear
Wrapped and filled by their mutual atmosphere.

But the Sensitive Plant which could give small fruit
Of the love which it felt from the leaf to the root,
Received more than all, it loved more than ever,
Where none wanted but it, could belong to the giver,—

For the Sensitive Plant has no bright flower;
Radiance and odour are not its dower;
It loves, even like Love, its deep heart is full,
It desires what it has not, the Beautiful!

The light winds which from unsustaining wings
Shed the music of many murmurings;
The beams which dart from many a star
Of the flowers whose hues they bear afar;

The plumed insects swift and free,
Like golden boats on a sunny sea,
Laden with light and odour, which pass
Over the gleam of the living grass;

The unseen clouds of the dew, which lie
Like fire in the flowers till the sun rides high,
Then wander like spirits among the spheres,
Each cloud faint with the fragrance it bears;

The quivering vapours of dim noontide,
Which like a sea o’er the warm earth glide,
In which every sound, and odour, and beam,
Move, as reeds in a single stream;

Each and all like ministering angels were
For the Sensitive Plant sweet joy to bear,
Whilst the lagging hours of the day went by
Like windless clouds o’er a tender sky.

And when evening descended from Heaven above,
And the Earth was all rest, and the air was all love,
And delight, though less bright, was far more deep,
And the day’s veil fell from the world of sleep,

And the beasts, and the birds, and the insects were drowned
In an ocean of dreams without a sound;
Whose waves never mark, though they ever impress
The light sand which paves it, consciousness;

(Only overhead the sweet nightingale
Ever sang more sweet as the day might fail,
And snatches of its Elysian chant
Were mixed with the dreams of the Sensitive Plant);--

The Sensitive Plant was the earliest
Upgathered into the bosom of rest;
A sweet child weary of its delight,
The feeblest and yet the favourite,
Cradled within the embrace of Night.

PART 2.

There was a Power in this sweet place,
An Eve in this Eden; a ruling Grace
Which to the flowers, did they waken or dream,
Was as God is to the starry scheme.

A Lady, the wonder of her kind,
Whose form was upborne by a lovely mind
Which, dilating, had moulded her mien and motion
Like a sea-flower unfolded beneath the ocean,

Tended the garden from morn to even:
And the meteors of that sublunar Heaven,
Like the lamps of the air when Night walks forth,
Laughed round her footsteps up from the Earth!

She had no companion of mortal race,
But her tremulous breath and her flushing face
Told, whilst the morn kissed the sleep from her eyes,
That her dreams were less slumber than Paradise:

As if some bright Spirit for her sweet sake
Had deserted Heaven while the stars were awake,
As if yet around her he lingering were,
Though the veil of daylight concealed him from her.

Her step seemed to pity the grass it pressed;
You might hear by the heaving of her breast,
That the coming and going of the wind
Brought pleasure there and left passion behind.

And wherever her aery footstep trod,
Her trailing hair from the grassy sod
Erased its light vestige, with shadowy sweep,
Like a sunny storm o’er the dark green deep.

I doubt not the flowers of that garden sweet
Rejoiced in the sound of her gentle feet;
I doubt not they felt the spirit that came
From her glowing fingers through all their frame.

She sprinkled bright water from the stream
On those that were faint with the sunny beam;
And out of the cups of the heavy flowers
She emptied the rain of the thunder-showers.

She lifted their heads with her tender hands,
And sustained them with rods and osier-bands;
If the flowers had been her own infants, she
Could never have nursed them more tenderly.

And all killing insects and gnawing worms,
And things of obscene and unlovely forms,
She bore, in a basket of Indian woof,
Into the rough woods far aloof,--

In a basket, of grasses and wild-flowers full,
The freshest her gentle hands could pull
For the poor banished insects, whose intent,
Although they did ill, was innocent.

But the bee and the beamlike ephemeris
Whose path is the lightning's, and soft moths that kiss
The sweet lips of the flowers, and harm not, did she
Make her attendant angels be.

And many an antenatal tomb,
Where butterflies dream of the life to come,
She left clinging round the smooth and dark
Edge of the odorous cedar bark.

This fairest creature from earliest Spring
Thus moved through the garden ministering
Mi the sweet season of Summertide,
And ere the first leaf looked brown—she died!

PART 3.

Three days the flowers of the garden fair,
Like stars when the moon is awakened, were,
Or the waves of Baiae, ere luminous
She floats up through the smoke of Vesuvius.

And on the fourth, the Sensitive Plant
Felt the sound of the funeral chant,
And the steps of the bearers, heavy and slow,
And the sobs of the mourners, deep and low;

The weary sound and the heavy breath,
And the silent motions of passing death,
And the smell, cold, oppressive, and dank,
Sent through the pores of the coffin-plank;

The dark grass, and the flowers among the grass,
Were bright with tears as the crowd did pass;
From their sighs the wind caught a mournful tone,
And sate in the pines, and gave groan for groan.

The garden, once fair, became cold and foul,
Like the corpse of her who had been its soul,
Which at first was lovely as if in sleep,
Then slowly changed, till it grew a heap
To make men tremble who never weep.

Swift Summer into the Autumn flowed,
And frost in the mist of the morning rode,
Though the noonday sun looked clear and bright,
Mocking the spoil of the secret night.

The rose-leaves, like flakes of crimson snow,
Paved the turf and the moss below.
The lilies were drooping, and white, and wan,
Like the head and the skin of a dying man.

And Indian plants, of scent and hue
The sweetest that ever were fed on dew,
Leaf by leaf, day after day,
Were massed into the common clay.

And the leaves, brown, yellow, and gray, and red,
And white with the whiteness of what is dead,
Like troops of ghosts on the dry wind passed;
Their whistling noise made the birds aghast.

And the gusty winds waked the winged seeds,
Out of their birthplace of ugly weeds,
Till they clung round many a sweet flower’s stem,
Which rotted into the earth with them.

The water-blooms under the rivulet
Fell from the stalks on which they were set;
And the eddies drove them here and there,
As the winds did those of the upper air.

Then the rain came down, and the broken stalks
Were bent and tangled across the walks;
And the leafless network of parasite bowers
Massed into ruin; and all sweet flowers.

Between the time of the wind and the snow
All loathliest weeds began to grow,
Whose coarse leaves were splashed with many a speck,
Like the water-snake’s belly and the toad’s back.

And thistles, and nettles, and darnels rank,
And the dock, and henbane, and hemlock dank,
Stretched out its long and hollow shank,
And stifled the air till the dead wind stank.

And plants, at whose names the verse feels loath,
Filled the place with a monstrous undergrowth,
Prickly, and pulpous, and blistering, and blue,
Livid, and starred with a lurid dew.

And agarics, and fungi, with mildew and mould
Started like mist from the wet ground cold;
Pale, fleshy, as if the decaying dead
With a spirit of growth had been animated!

Spawn, weeds, and filth, a leprous scum,
Made the running rivulet thick and dumb,
And at its outlet flags huge as stakes
Dammed it up with roots knotted like water-snakes.

And hour by hour, when the air was still,
The vapours arose which have strength to kill;
At morn they were seen, at noon they were felt,
At night they were darkness no star could melt.

And unctuous meteors from spray to spray
Crept and flitted in broad noonday
Unseen; every branch on which they alit
By a venomous blight was burned and bit.

The Sensitive Plant, like one forbid,
Wept, and the tears within each lid
Of its folded leaves, which together grew,
Were changed to a blight of frozen glue.

For the leaves soon fell, and the branches soon
By the heavy axe of the blast were hewn;
The sap shrank to the root through every pore
As blood to a heart that will beat no more.

For Winter came: the wind was his whip:
One choppy finger was on his lip:
He had torn the cataracts from the hills
And they clanked at his girdle like manacles;

His breath was a chain which without a sound
The earth, and the air, and the water bound;
He came, fiercely driven, in his chariot-throne
By the tenfold blasts of the Arctic zone.

Then the weeds which were forms of living death
Fled from the frost to the earth beneath.
Their decay and sudden flight from frost
Was but like the vanishing of a ghost!

And under the roots of the Sensitive Plant
The moles and the dormice died for want:
The birds dropped stiff from the frozen air
And were caught in the branches naked and bare.

First there came down a thawing rain
And its dull drops froze on the boughs again;
Then there steamed up a freezing dew
Which to the drops of the thaw-rain grew;

And a northern whirlwind, wandering about
Like a wolf that had smelt a dead child out,
Shook the boughs thus laden, and heavy, and stiff,
And snapped them off with his rigid griff.

When Winter had gone and Spring came back
The Sensitive Plant was a leafless wreck;
But the mandrakes, and toadstools, and docks, and darnels,
Rose like the dead from their ruined charnels.

CONCLUSION.

Whether the Sensitive Plant, or that
Which within its boughs like a Spirit sat,
Ere its outward form had known decay,
Now felt this change, I cannot say.

Whether that Lady’s gentle mind,
No longer with the form combined
Which scattered love, as stars do light,
Found sadness, where it left delight,

I dare not guess; but in this life
Of error, ignorance, and strife,
Where nothing is, but all things seem,
And we the shadows of the dream,

It is a modest creed, and yet
Pleasant if one considers it,
To own that death itself must be,
Like all the rest, a mockery.

That garden sweet, that lady fair,
And all sweet shapes and odours there,
In truth have never passed away:
’Tis we, ’tis ours, are changed; not they.

For love, and beauty, and delight,
There is no death nor change: their might
Exceeds our organs, which endure

No light, being themselves obscure.


Mimosa acustistipula by Klei Sousa, Brazil (winner of 2012 Margaret Flockton Award for Excellence in Scientific Botanical Illustration). 
*via Margaret Flockton Award


Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Loved One: a triptyque


The Loved One

The wind dared not speak
eavesdropping
on the sonorous whispers of those ancient trees:
confusing euphony
sublime cacophony

He too was afraid, of
the marionettes dancing
abandoningly
amongst
the deepest shadows
of her eyelashes imperceptible

Stained-glass velvets drawing upon the Parisian dusk
set your eyes ablaze, and
turned the River ravenously technicoloured—
bejewelled everything magnificently martial.
Rilke's Rose-Window, disappearing
into a gluttonously musical sky.

—So much to say—
(that one must pass over in silence)
But is not all fair in Love and War?

I don’t think these [words] are any good,” said she.
You are my poetry,” said he.

~by Ting-Jen Hwang
+++

The tree from whose flower
This perfume comes
Is unknowable.
~Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
+++

*And... Heifetz’s hauntingly electrifying rendition of Vitali’s Chaconne, with organ. It is perhaps my favourite version of this masterpiece.






Sunday, 23 March 2014

From the Poetique-Onirique Archive: The First Poem, for David


Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg before it is broken.~M. F. K. Fisher

+

(For my husband, whose lullaby is my breathing every night.)

All the secrets I do not share,
and all the secrets I tell no one;
all the secrets absent in my poems,
and all the secrets I do not sing, even in the silent song
of solitude permeating my veins
like the warmth and gentle scent of your amber,
these secrets are buried deep inside, within
the dreams of your belly.
They melt, and are reborn.
They grow wings, and they fly.

In the blueness of your eyes
is the light of a deep ocean that has lived
a thousand years, a thousand years of
meditative loneliness. In your hair, the golden amber grows
into a transparent flower, fragrance of the night.
The amber flower that connects your mind
with your heart.

One day you discovered a pale feather
of an anonymous bird, colour of a pale rose.
A rare feather,
exquisite and fragile, shining under
an old tree of glittering green leaves.
It was nighttime, but the sun was out.
Your one tender kiss awoke the feather, and turned it
into the bird she once was, in a past life she had already forgotten.
The rare and exquisite and fragile bird.
And she has lived with your heart, in your heart, ever since.

Your surrender to nothingness is expansive, and
the warmest embrace there ever is, ever will be.
Your refined detachment of the closest, dearest attachment of tenderness
It gives meaning to what seems to be void of meanings at all,
resembling a delicately and beautifully
cracked porcelain vase,
its slender neck holding all the secrets which are not remembered.
The unbreaking of a broken egg, in the most perfect shade
of pearlescent ivory, with
not even the faintest lines on a rainbow-hued seashell.
I realise in this moment we are regal.
We are angels.
Your elegance is the reddest of all the red peonies
blooming between our bodies and souls.
Us.

You say I can neither understand nor imagine. I close
my eyes and think of
the most beautiful desert moon, or the saddest
love poem, or our daughter
in your arms, in the farthest and nearest yesterday
of our tomorrow.

You spoke to my philosophy professor as if
he was one of your oldest friends.
You talked about Heidegger, and game theory,
and all the dilemmas of life, in a beautiful manner which transcended them all,
as if they were lines from an old poem you had written long ago.
You say the whole life is in The Little Prince, and that you
cannot admire someone who is not an acharya,
however brilliant his thoughts,
however great his legacy.
I look at this perfect man before me, with his
bluest blue eyes and think to myself, “I married
the one rare acharya I know.”

I am your heart, as you are my poetry,
mirror of my aloneness
the soundlessness of my melodies,
the attachment of my detachment,
the meaningfulness of my meaninglessness,
the nothingness of my very own self,

my undefined/undefinable otherness.


You taught me I am myself and I am enough,
in need of no more, like Cocteau's Trinity
that binds my heart in the truest way it longs to be bound.

And so I write, different from how I have ever written poetry,
in the state of being and the state of breathing,
without striving and crafting,
without effort,

as if I was writing
for the very first and the very last time.

~June 2012

Tintype of our wedding photo by Finley & Pollard,
originally taken on 30th June 2007 by Simon Tottman.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

繆思


She walks barefoot over ancient city streets, smokes cigarettes, and eats flowersshe is heaven's gesture.


Comte de Dalmas, Motif décoratif pour chapelle Funéraire,
Héliogravure, 1924. *via Ma petite Melancolie
Vilhelm Hammershøi, Seated Figure (Anna Hammershoi), 1884

“... For although she was so elegantly modern, she had all the looks of the goddesses of Titian and Veronese. Her long silky curls shone with the same pale golden tint as their tresses; her carriage had that female majesty with which they sit enthroned or dance, and her flesh had the mysterious freshness and lustre of their flesh.

~“The Heroine, from Winter’s Tales, by Isak Dinesen


Andrey Remnev
Alphonse Marie Mucha: Model, Photographic Study, 1908. (via DantéBéa)

It was the gods that put her in my path or put me on her pathshe was the first woman in my life, the first divine womandemigoddessmeaning the first woman to haunt me in that very special muse waythat place between lust and love where fires can burn without melting the blocks of ice they are built upon.

“Ce sont les dieux qui l’ont mis sur mon chemin ou me mettre sur son cheminelle fut la première femme de ma vie, la première femme divinedemigoddessce qui signifie la première femme à me hanter dans cette façon de muse très spécial—que entre la luxure et l’amour où les incendies peuvent brûler sans faire fondre les blocs de glace qu’ils sont construits sur.” 

Julio Romero de Torres
I just woke up from a dream, but this did not mean I was not still dreaming.

I was sitting on a couch at an exclusive nightclub in ancient Egypt... Out of nowhere my perfect woman sat down next to me. [...] After a short time she put her hands on my shoulders and bent her head towards me. Gently, she whispered my name backwards into my ear and stole all of my ideas and hid them in her stomach. I almost fainted as she made her way out of the club...


Edouard Manet, In the Conservatory (detail), 1878-1879

Friday, 21 March 2014

I ripened strangely in every impulse of my unlived youth, and you found yourself beginning a kind of savage childhood in my heart.



The Rose-Window (above), and one of my favourite poems by my beloved Rilke, To Lou Andreas-Salomé, as translated by my personal favourite translator of Rilke's poetry and prose: Stephen Mitchell.


    I

I kept myself too open, I forgot
that outside there are not just Things, not just 
animals at home within themselves,
whose eyes do not reach out from their life’s roundedness
differently than a picture from its frame;
that all along I snatched into myself
glances, opinion, curiosity.
    For all we know, eyes may appear in space,
staring down. Only when hurled in you
is my face not imperiled, as it grows
into you, as it continues darkly
forever onward within your sheltered heart.


    II

As one would hold a handkerchief in front of
one’s piled-up breath . . . no: as one would press it
against the wound from which life, all in one spurt,
is trying to escape—I held you close
till you were red with me. Who can describe 
what happened to us? We made up for all
that there had been no time for. I ripened strangely
in every impulse of my unlived youth,
and you, Beloved, found yourself beginning
a kind of savage childhood in my heart.


    III

Remembering them will not suffice: there must,
from all those moments, still remain a pure
existence in my depths, the sediment
from a measurelessly overfilled solution.
For I am not recalling: what I am
moves me because of you. It’s not that I 
discover you at the sad, cooled-off places
you left; the very fact that you’re not there
is warm with you and realer and is more 
than a privation. Yearning ends so often
in vagueness. Why should I be desperate while
your presence still can fall upon me, gently
as moonlight on a seat beside the window.


~Translated from the German by Stephen Mitchell, from Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell, 1995, The Modern Library, New York.

Kenji Wakasugi, Fusuma – Camellia, 2012, platinum print.
Micheko Galerie, München. *via Artsy
Kenji Wakasugi, Fusuma – White Plum Blossoms, 2012, platinum print.
Micheko Galerie, München. *via Artsy
Kenji Wakasugi, Fusuma – Lily, 2012, platinum print.
Micheko Galerie, München. *via Artsy
+++

Svetlana Zakharova and Edvin Revazov in the ballet 茶花女
(La Dame aux Camélias)

Thursday, 20 March 2014

月;影


Moon,

I think you would understand
my craft of writing, how it makes of me
your king and creature in this no-man's-land
of the moment;
the wide-eye, squint-eye vision that by turns
I loose upon your beauty, my soft palm
and callused fingers of an archer's hand;
and how my introspection bends me to
you, filling the mirror of this blank white sheet
with your circle of renewed virginity
that, by violating, I complete.

Moon, by Martin Edmunds, from Paris Review issue #121, winter 1991.


Hussein Chalayan, Sakoku 鎖國, spring/summer 2011

The book is an undefined object that we can discuss only in imprecise terms, an object forever buffeted by our fantasies and illusions. (...) 
Truth destined for others is less important than truthfulness to ourselves, something attainable only by those who free themselves from the obligation to seem cultivated, which tyrannizes us from within and prevents us from being ourselves. (...)
The paradox of reading is that the path toward ourselves passes through books, but that this must remain a passage. It is a traversal of books that a good reader engages in — a reader who knows that every book is the bearer of part of himself and can give him access to it, if only he has the wisdom not to end his journey there. (...) 
Encouraged from our school years onward to think of books as untouchable objects, we feel guilty at the very thought of subjecting them to transformation. It is necessary to lift these taboos to begin to truly listen to the infinitely mobile object that is a literary text. The text’s mobility is enhanced whenever it participates in a conversation or a written exchange, where it is animated by the subjectivity of each reader and his dialogue with others, and to genuinely listen to it implies developing a particular sensitivity to all the possibilities that the book takes on in such circumstances. (...)
All education should strive to help those receiving it to gain enough freedom in relation to works of art to themselves become writers and artists.

—Pierre Bayard, from How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read


 
Robert Mapplethorpe, Calla Lily, 1984, 1986 & 1985.

Sakoku 鎖國 ("chained country"), by Hussein Chalayan: decentered, wrapping in transition, shadow readings, imminence of water, haiku, floating body.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

“The Tobacco Shop,” by Fernando Pessoa


I'm nothing.
I'll always be nothing.
I can't want to be something.
But I have in me all the dreams of the world.

Windows of my room,
The room of one of the world's millions nobody knows
(And if they knew me, what would they know?),
You open onto the mystery of a street continually crossed by people,
A street inaccessible to any and every thought,
Real, impossibly real, certain, unknowingly certain,
With the mystery of things beneath the stones and beings,
With death making the walls damp and the hair of men white,
With Destiny driving the wagon of everything down the road of nothing.

Today I'm defeated, as if I'd learned the truth.
Today I'm lucid, as if I were about to die
And had no greater kinship with things
Than to say farewell, this building and this side of the street becoming
A row of train cars, with the whistle for departure
Blowing in my head
And my nerves jolting and bones creaking as we pull out.

Today I'm bewildered, like a man who wondered and discovered and forgot.
Today I'm torn between the loyalty I owe
To the outward reality of the Tobacco Shop across the street
And to the inward reality of my feeling that everything's a dream.

I failed in everything.
Since I had no ambition, perhaps I failed in nothing.
I left the education I was given,
Climbing down from the window at the back of the house.
I went to the country with big plans.
But all I found was grass and trees,
And when there were people they were just like the others.
I step back from the window and sit in a chair. What should I think about?

How should I know what I'll be, I who don't know what I am?
Be what I think? But I think of being so many things!
And there are so many who think of being the same thing that we can't all be it!
Genius? At this moment
A hundred thousand brains are dreaming they're geniuses like me,
And it may be that history won't remember even one,
All of their imagined conquests amounting to so much dung.
No, I don't believe in me.
Insane asylums are full of lunatics with certainties!
Am I, who have no certainties, more right or less right?
No, not even me . . .
In how many garrets and non-garrets of the world
Are self-convinced geniuses at this moment dreaming?
How many lofty and noble and lucid aspirations
–Yes, truly lofty and noble and lucid
And perhaps even attainable–
Will never see the light of day or find a sympathetic ear?
The world is for those born to conquer it,
Not for those who dream they can conquer it, even if they're right.
I've done more in dreams than Napoleon.

I've held more humanities against my hypothetical breast than Christ.
I've secretly invented philosophies such as Kant never wrote.
But I am, and perhaps will always be, the man in the garret,
Even though I don't live in one.
I'll always be the one who wasn't born for that;
I'll always be merely the one who had qualities;
I'll always be the one who waited for a door to open in a wall without doors
And sang the song of the Infinite in a chicken coop
And heard the voice of God in a covered well.
Believe in me? No, not in anything.
Let Nature pour over my seething head
Its sun, its rain, and the wind that finds my hair,
And let the rest come if it will or must, or let it not come.
Cardiac slaves of the stars,
We conquered the whole world before getting out of bed,
But we woke up and it's hazy,
We got up and it's alien,
We went outside and it's the entire earth
Plus the solar system and the Milky Way and the Indefinite.

(Eat your chocolates, little girl,
Eat your chocolates!
Believe me, there's no metaphysics on earth like chocolates,
And all religions put together teach no more than the candy shop.
Eat, dirty little girl, eat!
If only I could eat chocolates with the same truth as you!
But I think and, removing the silver paper that's tinfoil,
I throw it on the ground, as I've thrown out life.)

But at least, from my bitterness over what I'll never be,
There remains the hasty writing of these verses,
A broken gateway to the Impossible.
But at least I confer on myself a contempt without tears,
Noble at least in the sweeping gesture by which I fling
The dirty laundry that's me–with no list–into the stream of things,
And I stay at home, shirtless.

(O my consoler, who doesn't exist and therefore consoles,
Be you a Greek goddess, conceived as a living statue,
Or a patrician woman of Rome, impossibly noble and dire,
Or a princess of the troubadours, all charm and grace,
Or an eighteenth-century marchioness, decollete and aloof,
Or a famous courtesan from our parent's generation,
Or something modern, I can't quite imagine what–
Whatever all of this is, whatever you are, if you can inspire, then inspire me!
My heart is a poured-out bucket.
In the same way invokers of spirits invoke spirits, I invoke
My own self and find nothing.
I go to the window and see the street with absolute clarity.
I see the shops, I see the sidewalks, I see the passing cars,
I see the clothed living beings who pass each other.
I see the dogs that also exist,
And all of this weighs on me like a sentence of exile,
And all of this is foreign, like everything else.)

I've lived, studied, loved, and even believed,
And today there's not a beggar I don't envy just because he isn't me.
I look at the tatters and sores and falsehood of each one,
And I think: perhaps you never lived or studied or loved or believed
(For it's possible to do all of this without having done any of it);
Perhaps you've merely existed, as when a lizard has its tail cut off
And the tail keeps on twitching, without the lizard.
I made of myself what I was no good at making,
And what I could have made of myself I didn't.
I put on the wrong costume
And was immediately taken for someone I wasn't, and I said nothing and was lost.
When I went to take off the mask,
It was stuck to my face.
When I got it off and saw myself in the mirror,
I had already grown old.
I was drunk and no longer knew how to wear the costume hat I hadn't taken off.
I threw out the mask and slept in the closet
Like a dog tolerated by the management
Because it's harmless,
And I'll write down this story to prove I'm sublime.

Musical essence of my useless verses,
If only I could look at you as something I had made
Instead of always looking at the Tobacco Shop across the street,
Trampling on my consciousness of existing,
Like a rug a drunkard stumbles on
Or a doormat stolen by gypsies and it's not worth a thing.

But the Tobacco Shop Owner has come to the door and is standing there.
I look at him with the discomfort of a half-twisted neck
Compounded by the discomfort of a half-grasping soul.
He will die and I will die.
He'll leave his signboard, I'll leave my poems.
His sign will also eventually die, and so will my poems.
Eventually the street where the sign was will die,
And so will the language in which my poems were written.
Then the whirling planet where all of this happened will die.

On other planets of other solar systems something like people
Will continue to make things like poems and to live under things like signs,
Always one thing facing the other,
Always one thing as useless as the other,
Always the impossible as stupid as reality,
Always the inner mystery as true as the mystery sleeping on the surface.
Always this thing or always that, or neither one thing nor the other.

But a man has entered the Tobacco Shop (to buy tobacco?),
And plausible reality suddenly hits me.
I half rise from my chair–energetic, convinced, human–
And will try to write these verses in which I say the opposite.

I light up a cigarette as I think about writing them,
And in that cigarette I savor a freedom from all thought.
My eyes follow the smoke as if it were my own trail
And I enjoy, for a sensitive and fitting moment,
A liberation from all speculation
And an awareness that metaphysics is a consequence of not feeling very well.
Then I lean back in the chair
And keep smoking.
As long as Destiny permits, I'll keep smoking.

(If I married my washwoman's daughter
Perhaps I would be happy.)
I get up from the chair. I go to the window.

The man has come out of the Tobacco Shop (putting change into his pocket?).
Ah, I know him: it's unmetaphysical Esteves.
(The Tobacco Shop Owner has come to the door.)
As if by divine instinct, Esteves turns around and sees me.
He waves hello, I shout back "Hello, Esteves!" and the universe
Falls back into place without ideals or hopes, and the Owner of the Tobacco Shop
     smiles.

Translated from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith


Medardo Rosso, “Enfant malade (Sick child),” c.1909, aristotype, 7.9 x 6.3cm. Private Collection.

Detail from Van Gogh’s “Roses”


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