Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Rimbaud too: the force and the lack

The most moving reading experiences tend to happen, at least for me, late at night, last thing, or before dawn. An example from the other night, with silence and darkness all around but for high winds and shifting banks of shingle in the distance.

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry, at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow...
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep's faded papier-mâchè...
The sun was coming from the outside.

That scrawny cry - It was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

This is the final poem in Wallace Stevens' Collected Poems, yet only halfway through the edition in my hands, the Library of America's Collected Poetry and Prose. I turned the page to discover it was over, the final poem of the final book of poems. Doubly I was pitched into the night. This was what moved me, this abandonment. Soon, I closed my eyes and slept.

But not for long. Before night had become morning I was reading "The Final Work", an essay on Rimbaud opening part three of Blanchot's The Infinite Conversation. I have not read Rimbaud. However, this is never a drawback with reading Blanchot. Of course I know the myth, that Rimbaud abandoned poetry and became a traveller, a trader, a gun-runner. He became Leonardo DiCaprio. Blanchot blurs the sharpness of the break: "the end of literature" he writes "involves all of literature, since it must find in itself its necessity and its measure." He uses the words of Yves Bonnefoy to explain further:
It may be that "poetry, engaging us wholly in the quest for unity, in a relation as absolute as possible with the very presence of being ... does nothing other than separate us from other beings." Thus, "having wanted ... to find reality again in its depth, in its substance, the poet loses it all the more as harmony and communion." Rimbaud expressed this fundamental contrariety in diverse ways and at difference levels, in accordance with the movements that were proper to his life and his research: the contradiction within him of a force and a lack. The force is his uncontrollable energy, the power of invention, the affirmation of everything possible, and untiring hope; the lack, after the "stolen heart", is infinite dispossession, destitution, ennui, separation, affliction (sleep). But once again, and from out of this essential default, poetry in Rimbaud sees itself charged with the duty of transforming lack into a resource, the impossibility of speaking that is affliction into a new future of speech, and the privation of love into the exigency of "a love to be reinvented"; to take up another of Yves Bonnefoy's expressions, it is as though the degradations of being to something inert and produced ... had to be borne and assumed by the poet, brought into relation with that which is always of the future in poetic presence. But the contradiction remains: a contradiction between the personal search for salvation ... and the impersonal experience in which the neutral hides.

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