Wednesday, June 11, 2008 11:02:15 PM
An ultramarine vase with a long narrow neck stands within our field of vision. Although it isn't a vase either, if a bit above the blue neck you can also make out a little crown.
The tail is still furled. He'll unfurl it when he's ready. He almost waits for us to ask him to unfurl it. Sometimes he doesn't unfurl it at all. He drags it behind like a rather dry and unprepossessing bundle of twigs, although some of those twigs are thick, thicker than his blue neck with its irridescent blue scales.
He struts on wide feet.
The ancient world was filled with admiration for the peacock. Kings, queens, generals, and senators gazed at him. Now he's lost significance as one of life's adornments. In Europe, by the way, his role was and still is performed by the swan. I like the peacock less than I do the swan. My northern European soul shuns the peacock, which somehow seems hot to it. I get a migraine of the soul whenever I see one.
The peacock is the East. It's just as nakedly without shade, without twilight, as are the buildings of the Alhambra, the ornamental designs of the Registan, the verses of the Eastern poets, or the precise and mistless Eastern fountains, whose streams evoke more a sense of precious stones than of water.
The swan swimming away into a greenish penumbra of ooze and willow is mysterious; the peacock stands in the midst of sunlight - clear, docile, yet harsh like the rule of a tyrant.
Yury Olesha, No Day without a Line: From Notebooks (1998), p. 196.
(Translation Judson Rosengrant)
Monday, September 3, 2007 2:40:00 PM
MR COGITO COMES ACROSS A STATUETTE
OF THE GREAT MOTHER IN THE LOUVRE
This little cosmology of fired clay
slightly larger than a hand comes from Boeotia
at the top her head like the holy mountain Meru
from which hair falls - the earth's great rivers
her neck is the heavens warmth pulses there
a necklace of clouds
send us the holy water of abundance
you from whose fingers leaves grow
we born of clay
like the ibis the snake and the grass
we want you to hold us
in your mightly palms
on her belly the square earth
under guard of a double sun
we don't want other gods our flimsy dwelling of air
is enough a stone a tree the simple names of things
please carry us heedfully from one night to another
then blow out our senses at the question's threshold
in the display case the abandoned mother
watches with the astonished eye of a star
Zbigniew Herbert, Mr Cogito, 1974. (transl. Alissa Valles)
Wednesday, August 8, 2007 8:50:20 PM
Birches are truly very beautiful trees. But just because I was born in the south I used to look at them somewhat cautiously and mockingly, rather thinking of literary birches, which bored me, than of real ones.
Some birches are very tall and voluminous. A white trunk and translucent, bright leaves. The black crosswise grooves resemble steamboats, hammers, figures out of diagrams. In the leavage little siskins sit, small and green of themselves and resembling the leaves. One was sitting on a little hill looking at me like a woman who has swept back the borders of her shawl from her face.
I must write a book about the parting from the world.
Yuri Olesha, [autobiographical notes], 1950s.
Saturday, July 14, 2007 10:38:45 PM
"When he had come out into the glade he looked around him; the sun was no longer visible above the tree-tops. It had grown cooler and the place seemed to him quite strange and not like the country round the village. Everything seemed changed—the weather and the character of the forest; the sky was wrapped in clouds, the wind was rustling in the tree-tops, and all around nothing was visible but reeds and dying broken-down trees. He called to his dog who had run away to follow some animal, and his voice came back as in a desert. And suddenly he was seized with a terrible sense of weirdness. He grew frightened. He remembered the abreks and the murders he had been told about, and he expected every moment that an abrek would spring from behind every bush and he would have to defend his life and die, or be a coward. He thought of God and of the future life as for long he had not thought about them. And all around was that same gloomy stern wild nature. ‘And is it worth while living for oneself,’ thought he, ‘when at any moment you may die, and die without having done any good, and so that no one will know of it?’ He went in the direction where he fancied the village lay. Of his shooting he had no further thought; but he felt tired to death and peered round at every bush and tree with particular attention and almost with terror, expecting every moment to be called to account for his life. After having wandered about for a considerable time he came upon a ditch down which was flowing cold sandy water from the Terek, and, not to go astray any longer, he decided to follow it. He went on without knowing where the ditch would lead him. Suddenly the reeds behind him crackled. He shuddered and seized his gun, and then felt ashamed of himself: the over-excited dog, panting hard, had thrown itself into the cold water of the ditch and was lapping it!
He too had a drink, and then followed the dog in the direction it wished to go, thinking it would lead him to the village. But despite the dog’s company everything around him seemed still more dreary. The forest grew darker and the wind grew stronger and stronger in the tops of the broken old trees. Some large birds circled screeching round their nests in those trees. The vegetation grew poorer and he came oftener and oftener upon rustling reeds and bare sandy spaces covered with animal footprints. To the howling of the wind was added another kind of cheerless monotonous roar. Altogether his spirits became gloomy. Putting his hand behind him he felt his pheasants, and found one missing. It had broken off and was lost, and only the bleeding head and beak remained sticking in his belt. He felt more frightened than he had ever done before. He began to pray to God, and feared above all that he might die without having done anything good or kind; and he so wanted to live, and to live so as to perform a feat of self-sacrifice.
Suddenly it was as though the sun had shone into his soul. He heard Russian being spoken, and also heard the rapid smooth flow of the Terek, and a few steps farther in front of him saw the brown moving surface of the river, with the dim-coloured wet sand of its banks and shallows, the distant steppe, the cordon watch-tower outlined above the water, a saddled and hobbled horse among the brambles, and then the mountains opening out before him. The red sun appeared for an instant from under a cloud and its last rays glittered brightly along the river over the reeds, on the watch-tower, and on a group of Cossacks, among whom Lukashka’s vigorous figure attracted Olenin’s involuntary attention."
Leo Tolstoy, The Cossacks, ch. XX-XXI. Translation Louise and Aylmer Maude.
Friday, April 6, 2007 7:41:45 PM
This great subject of culture [ie. beauty] - and not only European culture - has to be dealt with. People wanted to express something through beauty - it seems, the good. When sacred art existed, it was simple: A temple was built for the glory of God. Now everything has been stifled. I think the subject will be tackled, and in different areas - architecture, good painting, good poetry, which serves man, gives him courage, and says: "Look, we can sing."
Thanks to him [ie. Rodin, who advised Rilke to go to the Jardin des Plantes and study the animals], fine poems arose. Which is to say, one must go out from oneself to the object. I know it from myself - always whining and bellyaching, but going in that direction, along that road: studying the object, not oneself, contemplating something which is outside of me. That philosophical surprise, that something is, just as I am.- Zbigniew Herbert, 'The Art of Empathy; A Conversation with Zbigniew Herbert', from: Polish Writers on Writing (2007), edited by Adam Zagajewski, translation Alissa Valles.
Monday, March 12, 2007 1:03:17 PM
After a sleepless night the body gets weaker,
It becomes dear and not yours - and nobody's.
Just like a seraph you smile to people
And arrows moan in the slow arteries.
After a sleepless night the arms get weaker
And deeply equal to you are the friend and foe.
Smells like Florence in the frost, and in each
Sudden sound is the whole rainbow.
Tenderly light the lips, and the shadow's golden
Near the sunken eyes. Here the night has sparked
This brilliant likeness - and from the dark night
Only just one thing - the eyes - are growing dark.- Marina Tsvetaeva, 'Insomnia', from: Psyche (1923), translation Ilya Shambat.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 8:40:52 PM
All man's organs are bald and smooth. The stomach, intestines, lungs, are bald. Only the heart has hair - reddish, thick, sometimes quite long. This is a problem. The heart's hair inhibits the flow of blood like water plants. The hair is often infested with worms. You have to love very deeply to pick these quick little parasites from you beloved's cardiac hair.- Zbigniew Herbert, from: Study of the Object (1961), translation Alissa Valles.