Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Wislawa Szymborska, "Travel Elegy"

Everything's mine though just on loan,
nothing for the memory to hold,
though mine as long as I look.

Memories come to mind like excavated statues
that have misplaced their heads.

From the town of Samokov, only rain
and more rain.

Paris from Louvre to fingernail
grows web-eyed by the moment.

Boulevard Saint-MartinL some stairs
leading into a fadeout.

Only a bridge and a half
from Leningrad of the bridges.

Poor Uppsala, reduced to a splinter
of its mighty cathedral.

Sofia's hapless dancer,
a form without a face.

Then separately, his face without eyes;
separately again, his eyes with no pupils,
and, finally, the pupils of a cat.

A Caucasian eagle soars
over the reproduction of a canyon,
the fool's gold of the sun,
the phony stones.

Everything's mine but just on loan,
nothing for the memory to hold,
though mine as long as I look.

Inexhaustible, unembracable,
but particular to the smallest fiber,
grain of sand, drop of water—

I won't retain one blade of grass
as it's truly seen.

Salutation and farewell
in a single glance.

For surplus and absence alike,
a single motion of the neck.


From Salt (1962)

This poem treats at greater length, and more directly, one of the questions of travel posed by Bishop in yesterday's poem: what I refered to as the insolubility of the foreign and objective, here the impossibility of incorporating sense experience into the self via memory. Szymborska's poetry often obsesses over inaccessibility and the impossible (see, for example, "Conversation with a Stone"). Here she strikes a typical note of combined nobility and tragedy, hubris and resignation to the shortcomings of the human condition, "surplus and absence alike". Such a feeling seems as common to poetic inspiration as to the experience of travel—a sense that the wonders of the world outpaces all attempts to capture them, but that one is compelled to try to do so by that very awe.

(More about Szymborska: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1996/szymborska-bio.html

No comments: