Café

 


Note: "I alone survived".
Bài thơ này, Gấu, cứ mỗi lần đọc, là một lần thèm dịch, tưởng tượng ra cảnh, từ xứ người trở lại La Pagode…
Café
Of those at the table in the café
where on winter noons a garden of frost glittered on windowpanes
I alone survived.
I could go in there if I wanted to
and drumming my fingers in a chilly void
convoke shadows.
With disbelief I touch the cold marble,
with disbelief I touch my own hand.
It—is, and I—am in ever novel becoming,
while they are locked forever and ever
in their last word, their last glance,
and as remote as Emperor Valentinian
or the chiefs of the Massagetes, about whom I know nothing,
though hardly one year has passed, or two or three.
I may still cut trees in the woods of the far north,
I may speak from a platform or shoot a film
using techniques, they never heard of.
I may learn the taste of fruits from ocean islands
and be photographed in attire from the second half of the century.
But they are forever like busts in frock coats and jabots
in some monstrous encyclopedia.
Sometimes when the evening aurora paints the roofs in a poor street
and I contemplate the sky, I see in the white clouds
a table wobbling. The waiter whirls with his tray
and they look at me with a burst of laughter
for I still don't know what it is to die at the hand of man,
they know—they know it well.
Warsaw, 1944
******
CZESLAW MILOSZ
What occurred in Poland was an encounter of a European poet with the hell of the twentieth century, not hell's first circle, but a much deeper one:' Czeslaw Milosz declared in his 1983 collection of lectures, “The Witness of Poetry”. "This situation is something of a laboratory, in other words: it allows us to examine what happens to modern poetry in certain historical conditions." What Milosz meant by "historical conditions" was the complete disintegration of European culture — "the sudden crumbling of all current notions and criteria" — between 1939 and 1945. Polish poets felt the need to respond in a radical way to the disgrace of Europe — how it was sinking into inhumanity, how it was complicit in genocide — by trying to remake poetry from the ground up. It was starting over again after what seemed like the end of the world.
The poet in Poland experienced history on his pulse, Milosz argued, and by writing his own experiences he was also writing the experiences of others, speaking the unspeakable. "What can poetry be in the twentieth century?" he wondered. "It seems to me there is a search for the line beyond which only a zone of silence exists, and that on the borderline we encounter Polish poetry. In it a peculiar fusion of the individual and the historical took place, which means the events burdening a whole community are perceived by a poet as touching him in a most personal manner. Then poetry is no longer alienated:' Part of Milosz's lifelong project was to write as if poetry' is no longer a foreigner in society:' He had made a poetic model out of shared trauma.
Many of Milosz's friends and fellow poets died during the Nazi occupation, especially during the Warsaw Uprising, an extensive though ultimately unsuccessful attempt waged by the Polish underground resistance to liberate Warsaw from the Germans in the summer of 1944. All his early war and postwar poems are haunted by survivor's guilt. Here is his poem "Cafe":
Café
Of those at the table in the café
where on winter noons a garden of frost glittered on windowpanes
I alone survived.
I could go in there if I wanted to
and drumming my fingers in a chilly void
convoke shadows.
With disbelief I touch the cold marble,
with disbelief I touch my own hand.
It—is, and I—am in ever novel becoming,
while they are locked forever and ever
in their last word, their last glance,
and as remote as Emperor Valentinian
or the chiefs of the Massagetes, about whom I know nothing,
though hardly one year has passed, or two or three.
I may still cut trees in the woods of the far north,
I may speak from a platform or shoot a film
using techniques, they never heard of.
I may learn the taste of fruits from ocean islands
and be photographed in attire from the second half of the century.
But they are forever like busts in frock coats and jabots
in some monstrous encyclopedia.
Sometimes when the evening aurora paints the roofs in a poor street
and I contemplate the sky, I see in the white clouds
a table wobbling. The waiter whirls with his tray
and they look at me with a burst of laughter
for I still don't know what it is to die at the hand of man,
they know—they know it well.
Warsaw, 1944
"Cafe," which Milosz translated himself, is the fourth poem in "Voices of Poor People: a six-part sequence of moral outrage and loss included in Rescue (Ocalenie, 1945), one of the first books printed in postwar Poland. The poem is written in a clear-cut, fairly plain-style free verse. Like other Polish poets of his generation and the half-generation that followed, which included Tadeusz Roiewicz, Zbigniew Herbert, and Wislawa Szymborska, Milosz distrusted so-called pure poetry— that is, poetry that turns away from the world, that seeks, as the French Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme put it, "to purify the language of the tribe." As Witold Gombrowicz formulates it in his witty and influential polemic "Against Poets," "The minute the poets lost sight of a concrete human being and became transfixed with abstract Poetry, nothing could keep them from rolling down the incline into the chasm of the absurd." Milosz put human beings at the center of his work and committed himself to a forthright and seemingly guileless language that could communicate directly. "Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed of another. / I swear, there is in me no wizardry of words," he tells a dead friend in his poem "Dedication."
Milosz chose a rather unassuming title, "Cafe:' which serves both as the poem's initial setting and as an indelible vision at the end of the poem. Cafes, especially those deemed "artistic" cafes, were important local gathering places for Polish poets, writers, artists, and intellectuals of all sorts in the interwar period. The first three-line sentence explains the significance of this unnamed cafe: "Of those at the table in the cafe / where on winter noons a garden of frost glittered on windowpanes / I alone survived." Notice the suspenseful effect Milosz achieves by first populating the cafe with "those at the table," then providing a luminous visual detail, the noon frost on the windowpanes. Only in the third line does Milosz's speaker reveal the fact that "I alone survived." This simple, poignant declaration echoes the announcement in Job 1:15 made by a messenger who has witnessed a massacre: "And I alone have escaped to tell you." In referencing this passage, Milosz posits himself as a messenger, the sole survivor of a massacre, who must relate the story to others. The stanza ends with another three-line sentence, this one in the conditional tense: "I could go in there if I wanted to." It suggests the ability to enter a place his friends can no longer enter. However, he knows that if he went inside, his fingers would touch only “a chilly void" and he would summon only "shadows."
In the second stanza the speaker is suddenly inside the cafe, perhaps in his imagination, where "with disbelief" he touches "the cold marble" of the table and, implicitly, the tomb. He then touches his own hand, as if estranged from his own body, from his own physical warmth. Notice how the following line stutters and interrupts itself when the speaker tries to express the astonishment of his continuing existence, separating the personal pronoun from the "to be" verbs with dashes and a comma — "It — is, and I — am." He sees his hand's presence and his own presence in the world as in a constant state of flux, "in ever novel becoming:' which he differentiates from his friends' absence from the world, which he sees as static, since "they are locked forever and ever / in their last word, their last glance," frozen in their youthful identities. They have become as distantly historical as the fourth-century Roman emperor Valentinian or the little-known, ancient nomadic tribe of the Massagetes, though only a short time has passed.
In the third stanza the speaker lists some of the things he might do in the future, such as cutting lumber, giving a speech, making a movie, or learning the taste of exotic fruits. He repeatedly uses the modal verb "may," which indicates not only what he might do, if he feels like it, but also what he can do, what being alive allows him to do. The last activity on the list, being "photographed in attire from the second half of the century:' contrasts with the image of his dead friends as "busts in frock coats and jabots in some monstrous encyclopedia." While his photograph would show him dressed in up-to-date fashions, his friends' encyclopedia entry depicts them as statues cut off at the shoulders and absurdly dressed in out-of-date frock coats and jabots, those decorative cloth pieces worn at the throat by men in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
After this chilling image of anachronistic busts in the encyclopedia of the dead, the last stanza begins with the vibrant image of a colorful evening sun- set that "paints the roofs in a poor street." When the speaker looks at the sky, he sees "in the white clouds / a table wobbling." Just as he does in the first stanza with "I alone survived," Milosz waits to reveal what the speaker sees in the clouds by enjambing lines z and 3 to startling effect, bringing the cafe back into the poem. There's a wonderful aural and associative subtlety in the linking of "white clouds" and "a table wobbling." Notice the repetition of w, t, and I sounds in both phrases, as well as the visual image of the table's unmentioned white tablecloth; the white clouds must have reminded him of it. Czeslaw Milosz elaborates on this vision, repeating some of the same sounds in "The waiter whirls with his tray" The next line, where his friends regard him "with a burst of laughter: seems to add lively detail to this whimsical scene. However, the enjambment after "laughter" dramatically changes the tone, as the laughter and the cafe scene vanish into the final two lines of the poem: "for I still don't know what it is to die at the hand of man, / they know — they know it well."
Whereas “Cafe" begins at a cafe where the speaker's friends are present only as potentially summoned shadows, the poem ends at another cafe, where the speaker is an outsider. He cannot join his friends at the table because of his ignorance of a certain type of death, "at the hand of man: and their intimate knowledge of it; this forms a barrier between them that cannot be crossed.
Though his friends have gained a bitter wisdom that the speaker lacks, they paid for it with their lives.
Edward Hirsch

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Hoàng Hạc Lâu

TDT