Reading: The Envoy Of Mr. Cogito by Zbigniew Herbert

Today, another Polish giant, Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998). He has been called the most beloved Polish poet of his day, ahead of Milosz and Szymborska. I read a revolutionary poem set in a key that affects me, a poem about the stubborn messengers of our hollow truth, in a translation by Bogdana Carpenter:

The Envoy Of Mr. Cogito
Go where those others went to the dark boundary
for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize
go upright among those who are on their knees
among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust
you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony
be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous
in the final account only this is important
and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten
let your sister Scorn not leave you
for the informers executioners cowards—they will win
they will go to your funeral and with relief will throw a lump of earth
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography
and do not forgive truly it is not in your power
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn
beware however of unnecessary pride
keep looking at your clown’s face in the mirror
repeat: I was called—weren’t there better ones than I
beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring
the bird with an unknown name the winter oak
light on a wall the splendour of the sky
they don’t need your warm breath
they are there to say: no one will console you
be vigilant—when the light on the mountains gives the sign—arise and go
as long as blood turns in the breast your dark star
repeat old incantations of humanity fables and legends
because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand
and they will reward you with what they have at hand
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap
go because only in this way will you be admitted to the company of cold skulls
to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes
Be faithful Go
Herbert once said: “The speaker of my poems is a generalized figure who speaks not for himself or for me but for humanity. He is representative; he speaks for a generation, if you like; he makes historical and moral judgements.” Mr. Cogito is modeled after Descartes and received praise as well as criticism by the literary establishment. I am not reading the entire cycle, so I won’t comment on Mr. Cogito’s character. As always, I want to see what I see, and not have the poetic meaning spelled out to me by the designated experts.

I like the golden fleece of nothingness, and the omission of “is” (Mr. Cogito has lost Mr. Sum a long time ago). It corresponds to the last line about the kingdom without limit (which is no kingdom at all) and the city of ashes, turned into nothingness. Still, we have to pursue it. We have to “attain the good we will not attain” even if we perish in the sand.

The next lines evoke the concentration camps. Yes, how important it was, and still is, to give testimony of the horrors. The courage never to forget, let alone forgive, to be true to one’s Anger and Scorn and beware unnecessary pride and losing your passion. To give testimony, to “go” is all-important yet futile. To write stories like the Gilgamesh epos or the Song of Roland, to be admitted to the company of cold skulls and defend –

Video of alternative translation:

Reading: The Envoy Of Mr. Cogito by Zbigniew Herbert was originally published on Meandering home

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Reading: The Meaning of Simplicity by Yannis Ritsos

Let’s do another Ritsos (1909-1990) poem today. I’ve read ‘Injustice’ before but felt like more Ritsos. You are looking at a translation by Edmund Keeley here, quoted (not ‘reprinted’!) from an anthology of international poetry:

The Meaning of Simplicity
I hide behind simple things so you’ll find me;
if you don’t find me, you’ll find the things,
you’ll touch what my hand has touched,
Our hand-prints will merge.

The August moon glitters in the kitchen
like a tin-plated pot (it gets that way because of what I’m saying to you),
it lights up the empty house and the house’s kneeling silence­
always the silence remains kneeling.

Every word is a doorway
to a meeting, one often cancelled,
and that’s when a word is true: when it insists on the meeting.

Hiding in order to be found is a great theme. I am reminded of Nietzsche’s famous aphorism about the old Greek: They were superficial – out of profundity! Does

Ritsos. Image Wikimedia

n’t this apply perfectly to this new Greek? So I see Yannis during silly morning rituals he enacts for the ‘you’, like making her coffee or kissing her or sharing something from the newspaper. He (his intention: his attempt to express his deep love for you) is behind these things. And hey, even if you don’t find him, she still finds the things. Your hand touches the coffee cup, the newspaper and the hand-prints merge.

I was right about that kitchen scene! But it seems to be a summer evening. He is saying things to her that light up the house, including its ‘kneeling silence’ (here is another translation by Rae Dalven, that says “silence kneeling in the house / silence is / always kneeling”). The silence is kneeling like a believer before a priest? Waiting to be spoken to, to be pierced with the words of an authority? Can it be, coming from a communist poet?

Yes. Because it is not about destroying the silence, the words must be true. And he has an innovative criterium for truth: “when it insists on the meeting”.  When it insists, despite being hidden behind simple things where there is always the risk of not being discovered, and always the little consolation that we will have shared the same time and that our hand-prints will have been on the same little things. Such is the meaning of simple things: The words and their unwavering intentions in the face of improbability are possible because of simple things.

Reading: The Meaning of Simplicity by Yannis Ritsos was originally published on Meandering home

A sample meditation

I found this prepared on my computer today. Could you help me explain what it means?

meditation

You see the elements of your memory tumbling down in front of you, in a great column of swirling hot air. You can recognize people, scenes, ideas that have been important to you.See them all fall down. Seperate yourself from them all.
You are tumbling with them because you must be. No grip.
You see them moving upwards again: the smiling, loving faces, memories, ideas, all you ever lived for.Upwards or downwards movement makes no difference.

A sample meditation

I found this prepared on my computer today. Could you help me explain what it means?

meditation

You see the elements of your memory tumbling down in front of you, in a great column of swirling hot air. You can recognize people, scenes, ideas that have been important to you.See them all fall down. Seperate yourself from them all.
You are tumbling with them because you must be. No grip.
You see them moving upwards again: the smiling, loving faces, memories, ideas, all you ever lived for.Upwards or downwards movement makes no difference.

March 11. Santiago sweet.

I decide to meet someone today I call that person Sara because that’s what first comes to my mind. She was not on our overnight bus to Santiago de Chile, I didn’t meet her on the streets of this five million metropole with the 02 area code, neither was it the woman that sold me a ticket at the musuem entrance. She just fell down from the sky, so to speak, almost like a fictitious person. Well I said doesn’t that hurt, intentionally using the negative expression to show that I had presupposed it would hurt because falling from the sky normally does. In her case, it obviously didn’t hurt but how could I know? Besides, when I would have known all about her being like a feather and all I would never have talked to her and she would never have known about my existence and a lot of beautiful interaction would never have occured. So I asked her if she was hurt and looked at her arm to see if there were bruises and scratches but she was immaculate. She just smiled and told me her name was Sara and I thought something new is happening here. Well Sara I said aren’t you hot, knowing that up there in the sky the temperature is a lot lower (I’ve been on an airplane more than once). Again I supposed Sara would feel in the same way I do, and again I was wrong. But she obviously liked my wrongness, because she smiled once more. She wasn’t hot at all, she said she was rather cold because where she came from they could heat each other with their souls. I looked at her and laughed, I told her listen I put you on hold because I just wanted to let her wait. She was really beautiful and I was attracted to her but here I felt I had some power and couldn’t resist to exert it. Frankly, I wanted to blow the cold air of our human condition in her face, instead of being heated up by her superhuman prettiness. Just wait for me Sara, just wait indefinitely until I come back.

Words should be fresh when they are written down. But the freshness of words cannot be measured by their individual smell or structure like fruits. They are all connected and build up a giant web that can have a dusty or a fresh aura. And there is another particularity. One moldy word can increase the freshness of its neighbours.

In Santiago we spent a night with Ronald, a Dutch translator about my age who travels with his boyfriend and works in every city for a couple of weeks before moving on. He used the same computer model as I did and would probably have the same shoe size too. It was kind of funny, like meeting someone who actually is in your skin. “How do you do it?”
We walked around a bit to explore Santiago since we were all new to the city. Ended up with a meal from the micromarket consisting of paltas (avocados), bread, bad wine, lettuce, yoghurt, and cheese. The couch was tough to unfold but it worked out fine in the end, whining and cracking like the odd coincidence of our meeting. Reflections about this were due. At least I could say something about the meaning that sticks to almost everything like dripping honey. Every cracking sound, the position of the chairs, the purring of a cat, the smell of onions that you’re supposed to cut, the height of the ceiling, the bubbles that rise to the surface of your tablewater, the spiral form of the light saving bulb, it all has some gigantic symbolic meaning, it’s satisfied with meaning like dough is satisfied with eggs. Don’t touch anything please, the meaning might squirt all over the place.

March 11. Santiago sweet.

I decide to meet someone today I call that person Sara because that’s what first comes to my mind. She was not on our overnight bus to Santiago de Chile, I didn’t meet her on the streets of this five million metropole with the 02 area code, neither was it the woman that sold me a ticket at the musuem entrance. She just fell down from the sky, so to speak, almost like a fictitious person. Well I said doesn’t that hurt, intentionally using the negative expression to show that I had presupposed it would hurt because falling from the sky normally does. In her case, it obviously didn’t hurt but how could I know? Besides, when I would have known all about her being like a feather and all I would never have talked to her and she would never have known about my existence and a lot of beautiful interaction would never have occured. So I asked her if she was hurt and looked at her arm to see if there were bruises and scratches but she was immaculate. She just smiled and told me her name was Sara and I thought something new is happening here. Well Sara I said aren’t you hot, knowing that up there in the sky the temperature is a lot lower (I’ve been on an airplane more than once). Again I supposed Sara would feel in the same way I do, and again I was wrong. But she obviously liked my wrongness, because she smiled once more. She wasn’t hot at all, she said she was rather cold because where she came from they could heat each other with their souls. I looked at her and laughed, I told her listen I put you on hold because I just wanted to let her wait. She was really beautiful and I was attracted to her but here I felt I had some power and couldn’t resist to exert it. Frankly, I wanted to blow the cold air of our human condition in her face, instead of being heated up by her superhuman prettiness. Just wait for me Sara, just wait indefinitely until I come back.

Words should be fresh when they are written down. But the freshness of words cannot be measured by their individual smell or structure like fruits. They are all connected and build up a giant web that can have a dusty or a fresh aura. And there is another particularity. One moldy word can increase the freshness of its neighbours.

In Santiago we spent a night with Ronald, a Dutch translator about my age who travels with his boyfriend and works in every city for a couple of weeks before moving on. He used the same computer model as I did and would probably have the same shoe size too. It was kind of funny, like meeting someone who actually is in your skin. “How do you do it?”
We walked around a bit to explore Santiago since we were all new to the city. Ended up with a meal from the micromarket consisting of paltas (avocados), bread, bad wine, lettuce, yoghurt, and cheese. The couch was tough to unfold but it worked out fine in the end, whining and cracking like the odd coincidence of our meeting. Reflections about this were due. At least I could say something about the meaning that sticks to almost everything like dripping honey. Every cracking sound, the position of the chairs, the purring of a cat, the smell of onions that you’re supposed to cut, the height of the ceiling, the bubbles that rise to the surface of your tablewater, the spiral form of the light saving bulb, it all has some gigantic symbolic meaning, it’s satisfied with meaning like dough is satisfied with eggs. Don’t touch anything please, the meaning might squirt all over the place.

March 11. Santiago sweet.

I decide to meet someone today I call that person Sara because that’s what first comes to my mind. She was not on our overnight bus to Santiago de Chile, I didn’t meet her on the streets of this five million metropole with the 02 area code, neither was it the woman that sold me a ticket at the musuem entrance. She just fell down from the sky, so to speak, almost like a fictitious person. Well I said doesn’t that hurt, intentionally using the negative expression to show that I had presupposed it would hurt because falling from the sky normally does. In her case, it obviously didn’t hurt but how could I know? Besides, when I would have known all about her being like a feather and all I would never have talked to her and she would never have known about my existence and a lot of beautiful interaction would never have occured. So I asked her if she was hurt and looked at her arm to see if there were bruises and scratches but she was immaculate. She just smiled and told me her name was Sara and I thought something new is happening here. Well Sara I said aren’t you hot, knowing that up there in the sky the temperature is a lot lower (I’ve been on an airplane more than once). Again I supposed Sara would feel in the same way I do, and again I was wrong. But she obviously liked my wrongness, because she smiled once more. She wasn’t hot at all, she said she was rather cold because where she came from they could heat each other with their souls. I looked at her and laughed, I told her listen I put you on hold because I just wanted to let her wait. She was really beautiful and I was attracted to her but here I felt I had some power and couldn’t resist to exert it. Frankly, I wanted to blow the cold air of our human condition in her face, instead of being heated up by her superhuman prettiness. Just wait for me Sara, just wait indefinitely until I come back.

Words should be fresh when they are written down. But the freshness of words cannot be measured by their individual smell or structure like fruits. They are all connected and build up a giant web that can have a dusty or a fresh aura. And there is another particularity. One moldy word can increase the freshness of its neighbours.

In Santiago we spent a night with Ronald, a Dutch translator about my age who travels with his boyfriend and works in every city for a couple of weeks before moving on. He used the same computer model as I did and would probably have the same shoe size too. It was kind of funny, like meeting someone who actually is in your skin. “How do you do it?”
We walked around a bit to explore Santiago since we were all new to the city. Ended up with a meal from the micromarket consisting of paltas (avocados), bread, bad wine, lettuce, yoghurt, and cheese. The couch was tough to unfold but it worked out fine in the end, whining and cracking like the odd coincidence of our meeting. Reflections about this were due. At least I could say something about the meaning that sticks to almost everything like dripping honey. Every cracking sound, the position of the chairs, the purring of a cat, the smell of onions that you’re supposed to cut, the height of the ceiling, the bubbles that rise to the surface of your tablewater, the spiral form of the light saving bulb, it all has some gigantic symbolic meaning, it’s satisfied with meaning like dough is satisfied with eggs. Don’t touch anything please, the meaning might squirt all over the place.