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

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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.

February 8,9. Pombal built this city.

Marquise de Pombal is the Hausmann of Lisbon. The streets of Rossio are laid out like a chessboard, like Barcelona or Manhattan. That’s Pombal’s work. They have Pombal-style houses that are made of wood in order to make them earthquake-proof. In the 1755 earthquake the city was almost completely distroyed by the tsunami and the terrible fires. The story goes that in the neighbourhood that was spared from the fire, Alfama, was the place where the most sinful people lived (prostitutes). That made it very difficult to show that the catastrophe had happened with some hidden intention of the Almighty. The ingenious writers of a theodicea had a very hard time trying to do so. Everybody knows that. They did a good job rebuilding the city.

I spent those days writing. The memory of them was dissolved in the hot air where they were created. I didn’t care. Nothing happened. Probably I had breakfast, and dinner. Probably I had nice conversations, introducing myself as the traveling writer again. The skin of a day’s memory disappears at night; I am like a snake. But the written words remain. They become a thick winter coat I will need when I am old. That’s my personal way to protect against the risk of getting old and being eaten alive by the sensation of utter meaninglessness. I don’t save up money, I save up words. Reading them when I’m grey, reading them aloud for my old friends, will console like the looks of a beautiful woman could console us in our virile days. Ah, that souci, that unability to plunge into life without fathoming its depts, that vain wish to influence what will be left of us when we close our eyes for the last time. Does it matter if your dead head sinks into a pillow of down or on a dirty rag? I know it doesn’t. But I also believe that what Heidegger tells us about Sorge is true. In some way or another we are always taking care of who we become, no matter how laugable and utterly futile this care is. And so we live a life of sex, drugs, rock’n roll and aloe vera skin cream to keep our skin moisterized and young. There will be an end to all this, but at least we can smear aloe vera all over it.