Wednesday, May 29, 2024

39 Books: 2020

It may be a sign of something that I read Louis-René des Forêts's Poems of Samuel Wood several years after reading A Voice from Elsewhere in which Maurice Blanchot dedicates three unusually personal (and often bewildering) essays to them. The book's title is adapted from a line on the final page:

If making a voice heard from somewhere
Inaccessible to time and erosion
Proves no less illusory than a dream
There is nonetheless something in it that endures
Even after it has lost its meaning
Its timbre still resonates in the distance like a storm
No one can tell is approaching or passing.
                        [Translated by Anthony Barnett]

The daytime sign displays the vagaries of publishing in that the essays where published in translation by a university press in 2007, four years before the poems were published by Allardyce, Barnett, a small press based in Lewes, just a few miles from where I sat reading them. It was only in 2020 that I discovered the translation existed.

The poems form a sequence similar to Four Quartets if one reads them as Gabriel Josipovici suggests one reads that sequence "not as a philosophical examination ... but as the narrative of a person talking to himself at four o‘clock in the morning". If Eliot's poem is about time then des Forêts's is about the outside of time, the other sides of life, dream and death. The narrator is haunted by a child figure seen in a dream, a mysterious presence Blanchot compares to the effect L'Inconnue de la Seine had on Giacometti.

There she is again standing smiling
Amid the asters and the roses
In the full light of her gracefulness
As proud as she always was
She is never seen except in dreams
Too beautiful to lull to sleep the pain
With such false changes of heart
Attesting to her absence.

No, she is here, really here
No matter that sleep deceives us
We must sear our eyes
Endure such sweet suffering,
Unhinge, even lose our minds
Destroy what would destroy
This marvellous apparition
Received as one would tremble
At the sight of a face seized by death
In the final glow of flowering.

"Thus the dream and the rational day pursue an unceasing battle", writes Blanchot.

Blanchot says that while he wrote his commentary "I closed my eyes to my fault, which lies in transforming the poem (the poems) into a prose approximation. There is no alteration graver than that".

These poems by Samuel Wood have their voice, which one must hear before thinking one understands them. [...] How I would like to be able to express the rhythm that…gives it a somber, sometimes solar glory–the sublime within simplicity–yet here, by these epithets, I stifle the voices that summon us and draw us toward the ultimate point.
                            [Translated by Charlotte Mandell]
This is the nighttime sign: the dream's revelation of purity becomes the impossibility of poetry, of which the poem is the account.

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