Thursday, July 08, 2010

`Solitary, Silent, Compellingly Warm'

“If you want to set out on a journey let it be long
wandering that seems to have no aim groping your way blindly
so you learn the roughness of the earth not only with your eye but by touch
so you confront the world with your whole skin”

A metaphor for life and writing. Ironclad itineraries stifle and turn exploration into paint-by-number painting, an empty ritual. The driver racing across the continent, eating fast food and peeing in a bottle, sees nothing, learns nothing, goes to sleep at his destination the same person he was 2,700 miles earlier. When I start writing a paragraph I’m cheered by not knowing how it will end. If I knew I probably wouldn’t write the first word.

“Discover the insignificance of speech the royal power of gesture
uselessness of concepts the purity of vowels
with which everything can be expressed sorrow joy rapture anger
but do not hold anger
accept everything”

In "Legacies of Mr Cogito," an article about Zbigniew Herbert she published in 2008 in the Times Literary Supplement, Cynthia Haven writes: “Jozefa Hennelowa wrote in the pages of Tygodnik Powszechny that `Zbyszek's sense of humour was as dark as the era’, but at the same time he was calm and unyielding. Although he was penniless and not allowed to publish until the thaw of 1956, nevertheless he persisted as if there were no such circumstances - or rather, as if they did not have any importance. Hennelowa remembered him as solitary, silent, compellingly warm, but always with a touch of distance and irony.”

“So if it is to be a journey let it be long
a true journey from which you do not return
the repetition of the world elementary journey
conversation with the elements question without answers
a pact forced after struggle
great reconciliation”

On my long journey, readers and writers like the blessedly named Haven, an enthusiast of essential poets like Herbert and Anthony Hecht (who dedicated a poem to the Pole, “The Hunt,” in Millions of Strange Shadows), are precious and rare. In an e-mail she writes: “I need a separate room, where my double sits reading and does not look up.”

[The lines quoted above are stanzas one, five and seven from Zbigniew Herbert’s “A Journey,” translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter in Elegy for the Departure, 1999.]

1 comment:

Cynthia Haven said...

Ah, but to be an honest woman I must confess my debt. From the "Nones" section of Auden's "Horae Canonicae":

"To dark chateaux where wind sobs
In the pine-trees and telephones ring,
Inviting trouble, to a room,
Lit by one weak bulb, where our Double sits
Writing and does not look up."

An underrated poem, I think, from his "unfashionable" later period.

And now after your kind words, I feel a little guilty that Hecht's excellent Hidden Law, about Auden's poetry, sits on my shelf, still unread after several years...

Where is my Double when I need her?