The Life of the Poem and the Poem of Life


… If you ever, when writing poems, encounter such enormous joy, or incredible pain as would make you carve words out of yourself, than any mere word-play would seem ridiculous and abominable to you…

            What would, from this perspective, seem to amount to “modernism”, and, above all, what that would mean to you. It would, if anything, mean the ability to feel things more accurately, to have a deeper, more complex and more passionate insight into things than anyone had before you. Without such quality, picking up the words of Baudelaire or Whitman, would be but one and the same thing: meaningless. Empty words would be hanging on a poem like crows on a scarecrow, and, at best (if you are able to handle words with some skill) the poem would look like a mouse in a boot… Nevertheless, let me stress here that the “contemporary” quality does not necessarily entail being affirmative of any thing contemporary. In many aspects, I still remain being in quarrel with the modern man, even though I am aware of the risks involved in such attitude… To conclude, let me express my view (which I have no intention of imposing on anyone) that the human kind in its late 20th century seems to strand from what seems to me to be the natural path, buying its “happiness” in exchange of horrible ignorance which may lead it to disaster. I cannot help but to feel awkwardness in its actions, life hollow and devoid of any thing spiritual, I feel the loss of balance, which is so alarming as to prompt me to fear human reason, just like children playing with fire prompt fear in us. This is how I feel and I would have to call myself a boneless person, If I spoke differently just because of being charged with having a tragic feeling of life.

(Word to My Peers, 1958, 28)

… All I know is that the irrational contact between the poet and the universe is getting lost. The contact , wherein once, in a  manner yet to be defined, reality was vested in the artistic subject, so that it could be directly and immediately projected, and, ultimately, self-reproduced through art. So was, for instance, Dostoevsky able to say mystifying things about our inner world, without consulting it with Mr. Jung or Mr. Adler. As man is becoming growingly rationalized , so is the idea of art and the artist. The method, the scientific concept of a work of art is becoming more and more prominent, at the expense of uniqueness, replaced as it is by the art of shock, deliberate and calculated. Under such circumstances, art is running the risk of standardization, becoming more like a product of an industry… What I find so attractive about art is its inexplicable quality, which sets it apart from any empirical, mediated experience. I have always asked myself the same question: how was it that the ancient saga were so clearly and accurately able to define the human predicament, its Promethean nature, its heroic-tragic ambiguity of being split between the animal and the God-like: neither of these and yet both of them. How is it that they knew this without proper experience, at  a time so “unenlightened” as to consider the earth to be a board afloat? How did the artist used to be in touch with reality, in what way did reality used to delegate itself into their hands? I don’t know. I only fear that the contact is getting lost. Instead, there is the growing modern superstition that the impersonal immanent ratio of the thing itself will do what we are unable or unwilling  to do. Given the psychology of contemporary man, this escapism seems very attractive. Yet, it is but an escape route, even though happening with music and illuminated. By the way, I cannot help thinking about the so-called children poetry with its purity making no room for any pretenses or replacements: either you have the gift of vision, or you are out of it, unbearably and ridiculously sentimental. There is no other option. Unlike anywhere else, it is not allowed here to churn out metaphors, when at bay, only to hide in it like Adam did in front of God; no assemblies of what has in fact not arisen are allowed here either. Children are not given to self-delusions, children are wise. It is this primary wisdom that I am after, If you see my point.

(Great Provisorium, 1966, 42-3)

Namely, the underlying constituent of any literary work is language, which then plays a contradictory double-role, providing wings to fly and being a burden at once, being its home and prison-house, prerequisite and limitation. A faithful and lasting father, language not only gives birth to work of literature, but also, in a way, takes care of its funeral…

            Who is Pavol Orszagh Hviezdoslav in the context of Slovak thought and the historical travails of this community? The poet-lawmaker. At this birth, standard Slovak language was literally wearing its baby-panties: he was only six. The two were peers, actually. And yet, he was able, by using this tender language, to make a universal statement about the human predicament. Figuratively speaking, he was like a Michelangelo, who first had to toil in the Carrara marble mines, using his bare hands to break pieces of marbles, and only then was able to carve David out of it.

            “That struggle with the language, the great pot maker fighting something as simple as clay, its creating out of almost nothing, was heroic. Why did he actually choose to undergo such fight? How is man’s fate decided? He had a choice, he could use the already cultivated and melodious Hungarian. Why did he choose not to do what Petoffi did before him? Why did he return home and carried his load of poetry across Lethe on such breathtakingly thin ice which was the  language and culture of a bonded nation?…

            A great exile of his surroundings. A hermit, living beyond his external world. Leading a conversation with none else than the genius of a nation, which was just to learning to speak. Universal spirit, marginalized at the northernmost edge of its ethnicity, seemingly useless, unpraised and uncalled to action…

            How strong and universal a spirit he must have been, when, through the shingledroof of periphery, through the bars of loneliness and prejudice, he managed to remain in direct and uninterrupted touch not only with his nation, its myth, but with the world at large, and even, through nature, with the Universe!”

            These words I once used to describe Hviezdoslav’s legacy, his pioneering impact on the spiritual context of his nation and in his dialogue with humanity. As I find these formulations to be, despite their metaphoric form, still accurate and perspicacious, I chose not to paraphrase or modify them, preferring mere quotations.

            Indee, this is the right time and space to celebrate Hviezdoslav’s universalism, his participation at the Panhuman communion.

            The greatness and importance of a poet does not consist merely of what he has been to his own nation. He was a dignified partner of European poets of the 19th century, equal among his peers. His language, however limited by the fates of his national community, rings true of the Panhuman condition. That is what makes his poetic actions so overwhelming. That makes him a poetic law-maker, Creator, perhaps. What terrains of Panhuman idea and cultural memory of mankind was he able to embrace using his tender language made by…

(Translating Hviezdoslav, 1983, 190-92)

Nevertheless, I still have some concern over the honest and good word afforded by Michal Gafrik [i.e. his monograph of Razus] . A sort of prescience that in our time such poets will be overwhelmingly forgotten. They won’t be read as there will be no one to publish them. And what these authors saw as our qualities and gave life to it by word will be buried under the debris of toilette paper banalities or frenzied meat. No ideological instructions will be necessary as to who should be erased from the common memory. All of us will be erasers, voluntarily working hard to erase what is to be erased in the name of a better future. This is a risk all too enormous for a community, whose historical memory has a record of being full of holes.

(My Martin Rázus, 2001, 124)