Monday, April 22, 2013

All's metamorphosis/flutters the butterfly--

Dear (r),

At some point tomorrow afternoon, you'll hear a knock at your door, and when you go to answer you will find a friendly anthropologist, and he will have brought you a parakeet.

Forgive me.  I never meant to send a parakeet.  I meant to send you this lovely little edition of Nelly Sachs's Glowing Enigmas, translated by Michael Hamburger & newly released by Tavern Books.  Written in a tiny apartment in Stockholm in the 1960s, Glowing Enigmas is a modernist long poem (echoes of H.D.'s Trilogy, say: "Job was swaddled/in the life-bearing body of the stars/Someone shakes the blackness/till the apple Earth drops/ripened to its end/A sigh/is that the soul--?" (101)) penned in exile.  So we get the biblical Song of Songs:

"Rich I am as the ocean
of past and future
and wholly of mortal stuff
I sing your song--"

but the spiritual longing is braided into the fabric of a post-war elegy:

"and then my Thou
who was kept a prisoner
and whom to release I was chosen
and whom in enigmas I lost once more
until hard silence descended on silence
and a love was granted its coffin--"

It's a gentler Wasteland, less critique & more loss.  Sachs : Wolfe :: Oppen : Eliot.  Or something like that.  It's a challenge to Adorno, a poetry of pure witness:

"My love flowed out into your martyrdom
broke through death
We live in resurrection--"

& more than that it's an object, at once earthly & human & lost:

"If I close my eyes
suns push their time
leaving golden homes
yet inhabiting them
Mineral knows the way
to saved-up eternity
no longer passable
save unconscious in love--"

The long poem is grounded firmly in postwar Europe, where, it reminds us, "You heard/something new" (93).  & it's the combination of novelty & elegy--a combination that occasions the occasional foray into figurative lepidoptery--that glows through the translation.

So when I opened to the first page ("You are beyond!" (11)), I knew I had to read the poem all the way through before I sent it along to you.  And so, because I don't often have a messenger, I sent you a parakeet in its place.*  Will you feed it pink melon?  Will you read it Jane Yeh?  Will you play it Waxahatchee?  Will you drop me a line?


*Not a real parakeet.