Do You See?
The days are getting longer here in Stirling. The sky remains lit up almost till 9 p.m. It’s fantastic and at the same time, achingly hopeless. Not sad, but painful. Not desperate, but demanding. In such a situation, it is normal that Milosz’s poetry would keep me occupied. And yet, this same poetry darkens the etchings of longing and lived time. Okay, even if I don’t make any sense, this should:
I looked at that face, dumbfounded. The lights of métro stations flew by; I didn’t notice them. What can be done, if our sight lacks absolute power to devour objects ecstatically, in an instant, leaving nothing more than the void of an ideal form, a sign like a hieroglyph simplified from the drawing of an animal or bird? A slightly snub nose, a high brow with sleekly brushed-back hair, the line of the chin – but why isn’t the power of sight absolute? – and in a whiteness tinged with pink two sculpted holes, containing a dark, lustrous lava. To absorb that face but to have it simultaneously against the background of all spring boughs, walls, waves, in its weeping, its laughter, moving it back fifteen years, or ahead thirty. To have. It is not even a desire. Like a butterfly, a fish, the stem of a plant, only more mysterious. And so it befell me that after so many attempts at naming the world, I am able only to repeat, harping on one string, the highest, the unique avowal beyond which no power can attain: I am, she is. Shout, blow the trumpets, make thousands-strong marches, leap, rend your clothing, repeating only: is!
She got out at Raspail. I was left behind with the immensity of existing things. A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itself; a river, suffering because reflections of clouds and trees are not clouds and trees.
By Czeslaw Milosz from “The Collected Poems 1931-1987”, 1988
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Pinsky
We could still recite slowly: “A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itself; a river, suffering because reflections of clouds and trees are not clouds and trees.” And let the evening subside in calm.
Since I’m trying to make this post a 2-in-1 thing, here are some photographs from a “book dominoes” event, a book launch, and my own Charles Wallace fellowship reading (my pics are VERY BLURRY) at University of Stirling. Click HERE.
A few poetry cohorts who don’t like leaving comments but slyly come and read my posts, lambasted me elsewhere for not writing a proper post about my reading. But what else could I write here, except state that I read? I’m also chided for making Milosz a vehicle of my pastoral sentiments! Oh come on.
All I can say is, my reading was fabulous, especially because the students seemed to enjoy it. That’s the best part. Faculty and other guests were obviously very encouraging about their feedback. And I wasn’t dancing at all, although a couple of those photos might suggest something in that vein. And Milosz is not at all a channel for my pastoral musings. I know, they are pulling my leg. Hey poetry cohorts, Milosz is both husk and grain for me! Take that.