Wednesday, August 11, 2010

`The Only Form of Clarification and Justification'

An eighty-two-year old volunteer in the Arthropod Room at the National Museum of Natural History fed a cricket to a Mexican orange-kneed tarantula. She retired as a statistician with the National Institutes of Health and resumed her childhood love of insects and spiders. “Now I’m happy,” she said. On the wall was a sentence from Oliver Wendell Holmes’ The Poet at the Breakfast Table:

“No man can be truly called an entomologist, sir; the subject is too vast for any single human intelligence to grasp."

Later, my in-laws and I took a cab out of D.C. into Virginia. Our driver, another retiree, wore a tie, jacket, cap and gloves. “Every day,” he said. “I do what I’ve always done.” He worked for forty years as a porter in the U.S. Senate. He’s also eighty-two and started driving a cab two years ago. His speech is formal, courtly and weathered-sounding. He never smiled but seemed perfectly doing what he was doing. “The tips are not good,” he said.

Tuesday was the publication date for The Collected Prose, 1948-1998 by Zbigniew Herbert. I ordered a copy last month and hope it’s waiting for me when I return home next weekend. Thanks to Dave Lull, I got preview of a Herbert essay from 1951 I've never read before, “The Blood of Thought”:

“Thinking is sometimes seen as a form of luxury in life, a narrow little puff of reflection trailing from the forehead. Down below the instincts, senses, and all the other condemned dark forces are seething. Thought is opposed to life as the only form of clarification and justification.”

[Go here to read Herbert’s “Elegy for Fortinbras,” dedicated to Czeslaw Milosz and translated by Milosz and Peter Dale Scott.]

1 comment:

Cynthia Haven said...

You might also enjoy the month-long Zbigniew Herbert celebration James Marcus and I hosted in 2008 at the Words Without Borders site, which includes my interviews with Peter Dale Scott, Anna Frajlich, and Andrzej Franaszek.

I'd give the website address, but it's kind of scattered and best accessed via google.