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Esse - Czeslaw Milosz

I'm on a bit of a poetry binge this week, and Monday afternoon found me lying on the luxurious shag rug of a friend's tiny apartment, re-reading some of my favourite poets (ee cummings, William Carlos Williams, Czeslaw Milosz). It is an adventure to re-open a collection and wonder what will pop out, knowing something you've read before will strike you afresh, or you will be reminded of a particularly moving line that you had somehow forgotten. Like this piece from Milosz, which floors me.

Every. damn.* time.

The first time I read it, I lay in a park with a friend (this same friend who offered me her rug as my reading burrow) and demanded that I share it with her. I spoke it carefully, and then, into the post-reading silence, I slammed the book shut, and dropped it as loudly as I could onto the grass.

"I'm never reading anything again," I declared, "What else is there to say?"

Esse

I looked at that face, dumbfounded. The lights of m├ętro stations flew by; I didn't notice them. What can be done, if our sight lacks absolute power to devour objects ecstatically, in an instant, leaving nothing more than the void of an idea form, a sign like a hieroglyph simplified from the drawing of an animal or bird? A slightly snub nose, a high brow with sleekly brushed-back hair, the line of the chin - but why isn't the power of sight absolute? -- and in a whiteness tinged with pink two sculpted holes, containing a dark, lustrous lava. To absorb that face but to have it simultaneously against the background of all spring boughs, walls, waves, in its weeping, its laughter, moving it back fifteen years, or ahead thirty. To have. It is not even a desire. Like a butterfly, a fish, the stem of a plant, only  more mysterious. And so it befell me that after so many attempts at naming the world, I am able only to repeat, harping on one string, the highest, the unique avowal beyond which no power can attain: I am, she is. Shout, blow the trumpets, make thousands-strong marches, leap, rend your clothing, repeating only: is!

She got out at Raspail. I was left behind with the immensity of existing things. A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itself; a river, suffering because reflections of clouds and trees are not clouds and trees.


(Brie-Comte-Robert, 1954)

*I kind of apologize for the profanity, except that this evokes such a strong response in me that it is the only language emphatic enough to to capture how I feel. That or a guttural ARGH.

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