Thursday, October 20, 2011

Any explanation of a poem is, I think absurd.

It is my belief that in the Greek light there is a kind of process of humanization; I think of Aeschylus not as the Titan or the Cyclops that people sometimes want us to see him as, but as a man feeling and expressing himself close beside us, accepting or reacting to the natural elements just as we all do. I think of the mechanism of justice which he sets before us, this alternation of Hubris and Ate, which one will not find to be simply a moral law unless it is also a law of nature. A hundred years before him Anaximander of Miletus believed that “things” pay by deterioration for the “injustice” they have committed by going beyond the order of time. And later Heraclitus will declare: “The sun will not overstep his measures; if he does, the Erinyes, the handmaids of Justice, will find him out.”

The Erinyes will hunt down the sun, just as they hunted down Orestes; just think of these cords which unite man with the elements of nature, this tragedy that is in nature and in man at the same time, this intimacy. Suppose the light were suddenly to become Orestes? It is so easy, just think: if the light of the day and the blood of man were one and the same thing? How far can one stretch this feeling? “Just anthropomorphism,” people say, and they pass on. I do not think it is as simple as that. If anthropomorphism created the Odyssey, how far can one look into the Odyssey?

We could go very far; but I shall stop here. We arrived at the light. And the light cannot be explained; it can only be seen. The rest of this scenario may be filled in by the reader—after all, he has to do something too; but let me first recall the last words of Anticleia to her son:

The soul, like a dream, flutters away and is gone.
But quickly turn your desire to the light
And keep all this in your mind.

[Odyssey XI, 222-224]


Any explanation of a poem is, I think absurd. Everyone who has the slightest idea of how an artist works knows this. He may have lived long, he may have acquired much learning, he may have been trained as an acrobat. When, however, the time comes for him to create, the mariner’s compass that directs him is the sure instinct that knows, above all, how to bring to light or to sink in the twilight of his consciousness the things (or, as I should prefer to say, the tones) that are necessary, that are unnecessary or that are just sufficient for the creation of this something: the poem. He does not think of these materials; he fingers them, he weighs them, he feels their pulse. When this instinct is not mature enough to show the way, the most fiery sentiment may become disastrous and useless, like frozen ratiocination; it will be able to do nothing but stammer.

-- George Seferis, via Poetry International Web; translated by Rex Warner and Th. D. Frangopoulos in On the Greek Style.  Pictured: The Furies

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