On ZH



Note: Trong tập này, là những tiểu luận tương đối ngắn, có mấy bài về Beckett, và 1, về Zbigniew Herbert, post sau đây.
Tin Văn đã giới thiệu bài của 1 số tác giả như Milosz, Hass, AZ [Adam Zagajewski] Simic… về ZH. Bây giờ, chúng ta thử đọc đọc Coetzee viết về ông, 1 trong ba nhà thơ bảnh nhất, trong “Ba Lan Tam Kiệt” – Milosz, Szymborska, ZH – hai người kia thì được Nobel. Cái gì làm ông bảnh hơn hai người kia, và cái gì làm ông tránh được vinh dự, bả, hào quang Nobel, hay dung chữ của Coetzee, cái gọi là “đạo hạnh H” ( a Herbertian virtue) là gì?
Coetzee so sánh trường hợp lưu vong của Milosz, với “không lưu vong” của ZH. Theo GCC, Milosz không có cách chi không bỏ đi. Bỏ đi, như Milosz là hy vọng chót của ông. Nên nhớ, ông là 1 viên chức CS. Bỏ đi, ông bị cả hai bên xỉ vả. ZH đâu có dính dáng gì, đến cả hai chế độ? Khác hẳn nhau. Coetzee nhìn ra sự giống nhau giữa ZB qua nhân vật giả tưởng Mr. Cogito của ông, với Don Quixote, tuyệt: In an important respect, Mr Cogito is like Don Quixote (with whom he is explicitly associated in the very first of the Cogito poems, 'On Mr Cogito's Two Legs'): he is a creature whose creator only gradually comes to realize how large a poetic weight he can bear. The Quixote of the first chapters of Book One of his adventures is a foolish old buffer. The Quixote of Book Two is larger than the pygmies who surround him, larger even than the knights of old who are his constant companions.
Đoạn về Marxism cũng tuyệt: Marxism, one need barely point out, is deeply colored by Christian eschatology…
Milosz gọi ZB là nhà thơ của sự tiếu lâm lịch sử, a poet of historical irony. Chúng ta đều biết, hài hước, tiếu lâm cái khí giới của kẻ yếu, chống lại kẻ mạnh. Coetzee tấn công thẳng thừng vào ý này, khi đọc thơ ZH.
Bài viết của ông rất quan trọng đối với Mít chúng ta, nhất là giới thi sĩ.
NQT

14. On Zbigniew Herbert 

Zbigniew Herbert lived most of his life (1924-98) under regimes that were inimical to what we can loosely call freedom of expression. His writing bears evidence of his historical situation as a man trying to live out a poetic and intellectual vocation in a hostile environment. The traces can sometimes be overt - for example, in his satiric counter-attacks on the regime- but are more usually concealed by ironic masks or Aesopian language.
Herbert was not a poet-martyr as, say, Osip Mandelstam was. Nevertheless, the record shows a lifetime of principled opposition first to the Nazis, then to the Communists. Until well into his thirties he led a fringe existence, with none of the rewards that someone of his education and talents might have expected. After the 1956 thaw, his growing reputation opened up opportunities for travel outside Poland and eventually led to residencies, fellowships and visiting professorships in the West. But unlike his contemporary Czeslaw Milosz he chose against exile.
The unspectacular, unheroic species of integrity and stubbornness that characterizes Herbert's life weaves its thread through his poetry too. For the sake of brevity (a Herbertian virtue) I will call this theme the faithful life, picking up the word faithful from the last line of 'The Envoy of Mr Cogito', a poem to which I will return (the line reads simply 'Be faithful Go'). (1)
The faithful life is not the same as the life of faith: the difference between the two (namely that you do not need to have faith to be faithful) might be called central to Herbert's ethic, were it not for the fact that privileging the faithful life over the life of faith and erecting it into a credo, an article of faith, would at once qualify it for sceptical interrogation of the Herbertian variety.
In Herbert's oeuvre there is a steady stream of poems that turn on an opposition between purity (purity of theory, purity of doctrine), which he aligns with the divine or angelic, and the impure, the messy, the human. The best known of these is 'Apollo and Marsyas' (1961). Apollo, who is a god and therefore inhuman and therefore without human feelings, flays alive the satyr Marsyas, reacting to Marsyas' prolonged howl of agony with nothing but a fastidious shudder. Apollo has won the musical contest (Marsyas is undergoing the fate of the loser), but Marsyas' howl, rudimentary though it may be as music, expresses every atom of his exposed (skinned) human (ungodlike) being with a petrifying intensity that the god cannot equal.
This is only one of a number of poems that put the case for the human in its unequal contest with the divine. The world that God has created, and that carries the imprint of divine reason, maybe perfect in theory but is hard to bear in reality ('In the Studio'). Even the next world turns out to be pretty unendurable by human standards. As new arrivals discover at the heavenly gates, not the tiniest memento of their old life will be allowed to accompany them; even babes are to be removed from their mothers' arms 'since as it turns out / we shall be saved each one alone'. God's Heaven turns out to have an uncanny resemblance to Auschwitz ('At the Gate of the Valley').
What is wrong with systems, to Herbert, is that they are systems. What is wrong with laws is that they are laws. Beware of angels and other executives of perfection. The only angel even tentatively to be counted on the side of humanity is the seventh one, Shemkel, who is kept in the squad only out of respect for the sacred number seven. 'Black nervous / in his old threadbare nimbus', Shemkel has been fined many times for illegal importation of sinners ('The Seventh Angel').
Marxism, one need barely point out, is deeply colored by Christian eschatology. The world of achieved communism in which each will receive according to his need and the state (earthly power) will have withered away, is, literally, heaven on earth. Herbert's satirical reports on heaven are inevitably also reports on life in the workers' state. In heaven, because the materials to hand are human and therefore imperfect, certain compromises have to be made. Forgone are the luminous circles, the choirs of angels, etc.; what we end up with is an afterlife not too different from life in People's Poland ('Report from Paradise').
The most interesting of Herbert's afterlife poems comes from the 1983 collection Report from a Besieged City, arguably the strongest of the nine collections he published. In a poem called 'Mr Cogito's Eschatological Premonitions', his persona Mr Cogito reflects on life after death and on what kind of resistance he will be capable of mounting when he has at last to confront the heartless, bloodless angels and their demand that he give up his humanity. Smell, taste, even hearing - these he will be prepared to relinquish. But to hold on to the senses of sight and touch he will be prepared to suffer torture:
to the end he will defend
the splendid sensation of pain
and a couple of faded images
in the pit of a burned-out eye.
Who knows, thinks Mr Cogito to himself, maybe the angelic interrogators will at last give up, declare him 'unfit / for heavenly / service', and let him return
along an overgrown path
on the shore of a white sea
to the cave of the beginning.
The image of Mr Cogito under torture at the hands of the angels repeats the image of Marsyas tortured by Apollo. The gods believe they are omniscient as well as omnipotent; but in fact suffering as animal beings suffer, unable to escape the body in pain, is beyond their ken. Being powerless is beyond the powers of the gods.
(It will not escape the reader's attention that in the greater pantheon there is a god who responds to the charge of being above and beyond suffering by committing himself to suffering in a human way, without relief, unto death. This god, the Christian Jesus, has no presence in Herbert's poetic universe.)
In 'Mr Cogito's Eschatological Premonitions', the ironic treatment of heaven - and by implication of all doctrines of salvation or perfectibility - has not been left behind, and the knife-turn of paradox is still central to its argument on behalf of the human right to feel pain. But in this late poem Herbert goes beyond the neat irony and lapidary perfection of such earlier pieces as 'Report from Paradise': in its last lines it opens out to a world (the path, the sea, the cave) as strange and beautiful and mysterious as the world we mortals live in, a world we cannot forget and cannot bear to leave (but must leave and must forget, for ever).
There are several dozen Mr Cogito poems. As a personage Mr Cogito makes his first appearance in the collection Mr Cogito (1974), and he remains a strong presence in Report from a Besieged City. He starts his life as a self-deprecating mask (persona) for the poet, not too different in spirit and style from the wry but hapless little-man cartoon characters who flourished in Polish and Czech cinema of the Cold War years. A poem like 'Mr Cogito's Abyss', about the abyss ('not the abyss of Pascal / ... not the abyss of Dostoevsky / ... an abyss / to Mr Cogito's size') that follows Mr Cogito around like a pet dog, might be a fitting script for one of these cartoons.
The risk a poet runs in investing too heavily in a persona of the stature of Mr Cogito was, I suspect, clear to Herbert from the beginning. 'From Mythology', a prose poem in the early collection Study of the Object (1961), spells out the danger. It presents itself as a potted history of religion, ironical in its dismissive brevity. Stage one: savages dancing around idols. Stage two: the Olympians (thunderbolts, creaking beds). Stage three: the age of irony; people carry around in their pockets votive statues of the god of irony, made of salt. 'Then came the barbarians. They too valued highly the little god of irony. They would crush it under their heels and add it to their dishes.'
The god of irony, believed by his devotees to be all-powerful, able to wither his foes with his knowing smile, turns out to be powerless against the barbarians. Worse than that: they relish him, or at least use him as relish. To translate the allegory baldly: the ironist can find himself participating in a morally degrading game with the powers that be in which, as long as he pretends not to be confronting them, they will pretend to take no notice of him. So much for irony, not only as a political strategy but as an ethical refuge, a way of life.
If Mr Cogito is not to be crushed under the heel of the barbarian and used as a condiment, if the Mr Cogito poems are not to suffer the fate of being bought by high-ups in the regime as birthday presents for their wives, or even of finding themselves on the school syllabus, then Mr Cogito cannot just be Mr Zbigniew Herbert, homme moyen sensuel, rhymester and Polish citizen, viewed in the shrinking and distorting glass of irony. He must be more.
In an important respect, Mr Cogito is like Don Quixote (with whom he is explicitly associated in the very first of the Cogito poems, 'On Mr Cogito's Two Legs'): he is a creature whose creator only gradually comes to realize how large a poetic weight he can bear. The Quixote of the first chapters of Book One of his adventures is a foolish old buffer. The Quixote of Book Two is larger than the pygmies who surround him, larger even than the knights of old who are his constant companions. 'Mr Cogito Bemoans the Pettiness of Dreams', near the beginning of the Cogito series, is a poem based on a common and rather petty trick: using the absence of material (the loss of inspiration) as the material of a poem. 'The Envoy of Mr Cogito', with which the series concludes, is one of the great poems of the twentieth century.
The not entirely transparent title of 'The Envoy' invites one to read it as an envoi addressed (Go) both to the collection of poems Mr Cogito and to the self who appears in it, at last unmasked. It can be read by itself, and even by itself its force is undeniable; but for its proper effect it needs to be read as the last of the Mr Cogito collection, looking back on its avatars and unmasking them in the cause of telling the truth. Reading it in this way, as a demand - indeed a command - to the self to persist in the faithful life even in the absence any credible faith, one must be struck by its rhetorical grandeur and moral ferocity, not qualities one usually associates with Herbert, but potentialities that the reader may well have sensed from the beginning, behind the ironic masks.
There is one strain notably absent from Herbert's poetic oeuvre: the erotic. Of course poets are not obliged to write love poems. But all the evidence of Herbert's essays on art and travel suggest a sensibility open to experience and acutely responsive to beauty. 'Prayer of the Traveller Mr Cogito', from the 1983 collection, though not a great poem in itself, is a heartfelt and palpably sincere prayer of thanks for the gift of life: 'I thank you O Lord for creating the world beautiful and various and if this is Your seduction I am seduced for good and past all forgiveness'.
But after the 1950s the erotic fades out of Herbert's work, save in one late poem, 'Oath' (1992), which looks back with regret to beautiful women glimpsed and then lost, in particular a woman in a news agent's in the Antilles:
for a moment I thought that - if I went with you -
we would change the world
I will never forget you -
a startled flutter of lids
matchless tilt of a head
the bird's nest of a palm.        
Regret at a life not fully lived, and doubt that his achieved work has compensated for that, become a gnawing theme in Herbert's late poetry. Of course one might say that the Soviet empire made it hard for any of its subjects to live a full life - in other words, that history was more to blame than the man himself. But to so nagging and lucid a self-doubter as Herbert, shifting the blame is not an acceptable strategy. The hero of his poem 'Why the Classics' (1969) is Thucydides, who makes no excuses for his failure as a general during the Peloponnesian War: he faces his judges, reports the facts, and accepts his punishment. Herbert's verdict on himself comes in a pair of poems, 'Mr Cogito and the Imagination' and 'To Ryszard Krynicki - A Letter' (both 1983) in which, crucially, he identifies his greatest virtue as a moral being - namely, his steady, undeceived vision of the world - as his principal limitation as a poet:
he adored tautologies
explanations
idem per idem
a bird is a bird
slavery slavery
a knife a knife
death is death
'Mr Cogito's imagination / moves like a pendulum / it runs with great precision / from suffering to suffering'. For this Mr Cogito 'will be counted / among the species minores '.
'So little joy - sister of the gods - in our poems Ryszard,' he writes to his friend Krynicki, 'too few glimmering twilights mirrors wreaths ecstasies'. Or, as he puts it in an even more sear-ingly personal poem, 'memory too large / and a heart too small' ('A Small Heart').
Of course there is irony at work here. Poetry may tell a higher truth, but that does not mean it is exempted from having to tell elementary truths too, truths that stare us in the face. The poem that mocks Mr Cogito for confining himself to tautologies also implicitly invites us to ask, Yet who besides My Cogito was saying in 1956 that slavery is slavery?
But irony can come wrapped in irony. The decision to become an ironist for life can, ironically, backfire; or, to recall the extended figure that Herbert uses in 'A Small Heart', the bullet that you fired decades ago can go all the way around the globe and hit you in the back. The infallible but rudimentary moral sense that you pretended to disparage but really affirmed when you wrote the poem 'The Knocker' in the 1950s ('my imagination / is a piece of board ... I thump on the board / and it prompts me / with the moralist's dry poem / yes - yes / no - no') begins to sound very tired by the 1980s. Worse than that: what has been the point of a life spent thumping the same old board?
This is the pessimistic question that Herbert asks in poem after poem as he looks back over his life. But is it the right question? There is an alternative way of understanding why it is that, looking back from the 19805, a poet like Herbert should feel exhausted and defeated. As long as slavery was slavery - under Stalin, under Gomulka - Mr Cogito knew his way (and knew his vocation). But when slavery modulated into subtler forms of servitude, as in the reform era presided over by Gierek, when , shops were suddenly stocked with imported goods bought with borrowed money, or even more markedly when Poland made its entry into the world of globalized consumerism in 1989, Mr Cogito's power to do justice to a new reality failed him. (This is hardly a damning charge: who among the world's poets has measured up to the challenge of late capitalism?)
Mr Cogito's monster
lacks all dimensions

it's hard to describe
it eludes definitions
it's like a vast depression
hanging over the country

it can't be pierced
by a pen
an argument
a spear. ['Mr Cogito's Monster']
There is one further quality of his hard-to-describe monster that Mr Cogito might have mentioned: that it has somehow managed to transcend, or at least get beyond, good and evil, and is thus out of reach of the dry moralist's yes/no. To the monster all things are good in the sense that all things are consumable, including the ironist's little salt artefacts. 





NATASHA TRETHEWEY
Shooting Wild
000
At the theater I learn shooting wild,
a movie term that means filming a scene
without sound, and I think of being a child
watching my mother, how quiet she'd been,
soundless in our house made silent by fear.
At first her gestures were hard to understand,
and her hush when my stepfather was near.
Then one morning, the imprint of his hand
dark on her face, I learned to watch her more:
the way her grip tightened on a fork, night
after night; how a glance held me, the door-
a sign that made the need to hear so slight
I can't recall her voice since she's been dead:
no sound of her, no words she might have said.
from Poet Lore

NATASHA TRETHEWEY was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1966. She served two terms as the nineteenth Poet Laureate of the United States (2012-2014) and is the author of four collections of poetry: Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000), Bellocq's Ophelia (Graywolf, 2002), Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)-for which she was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-and Thrall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). In 2010 she published a book of nonfiction, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (University of Georgia Press). Monument, a volume of new and selected poems, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2018. She has received fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation,
the Beinecke Library at Yale, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. In 2013 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2017 she received the Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities. At Northwestern University she is Board of Trustees Professor of English.
Of "Shooting Wild," Trethewey writes: "I have been working on this poem for twenty years. I began writing it in 1997, twelve years after my mother's death, in an attempt to explore why the sound of her voice was the part of my memory of her that I began to lose first. Once, a few years after she was gone, I found an old cassette recording of her speaking. I put the tape in the cassette player and she came back to me, vividly, for a few moments. Then the tape snagged and no matter how many times I took it out, unraveled and rewound it, it would no longer play. It caught again and again on the reels until it snapped."

(1)

ZBIGNIEW HERBERT
(born 1924)

THE unusually large number of Herbert's poems in this anthology is due to the fact that they translate exceptionally well, because of their intellectual structure. There is also, of course, the deep affinity I feel with his writings. He was over thirty when his first book of poems appeared. Before 1956 the price for being published was to renounce one's own taste and he did not want to pay it. His personal qualities (good health, toughness, an orderly mind) helped him to survive the war when he was a member of the underground movement, and later, the period of required political orthodoxy. The form of his poetry shows the continuity of a line going from the pre-war Second Vanguard through Rozewicz to younger poets, but his tone is unmistakable. If the key to contemporary Polish poetry is the collective experience of the last decades, Herbert is perhaps the most skillful in expressing it and can be called a poet of historical irony. He achieves a sort of precarious equilibrium by endowing the patterns of civilization with meanings, in spite of all its horrors. History for him is not just a senseless repetition of crimes and illusions, and if he looks for analogies between the past and the present, it is to acquire a distance from his own times. His theory of art is based upon the rejection of' purity': to the imperturbable Apollo he opposes the howling, suffering Marsyas, though his own reticent poetry is the opposite of a howl. I should add that his solid humanist formation - he has a diploma in law, has studied philosophy and history of art - explains many themes in his poems. Written after two years spent in France and Italy, his essays (on the Albigenses, on the Templars, on the proportions of the Greek temples in Paestum, on the accounts of medieval masonic guilds) are linked organically to his poetry, as are his short plays. He lives in Warsaw but visits Western Europe from time to time.

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