Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Poetry of Reconciliation

From Octavio Paz's "Poetry and Modernity," translated by Eliot Weinberger, The Tanner Lecture on Human Values, delivered at the University of Utah, 1989:

For the ancients the past was the golden age, the natural Eden that we lost one day; for the moderns, the future was the chosen place, the promised land. But it is the present that has always been the time of poets and lovers, Epicureans and certain mystics. The instant is the time of pleasure but also the time of death, the time of the senses and that of the revelation of the beyond. I believe that the new star — that which has yet to appear on the historical horizon but which has already been foretold in many indirect ways — will be the star of the present, the star of now. Men and women will soon have to construct a morality, a politics, an erotics, and a poetics of present time. This change toward the present naturally involves the body, but it need not and should not be confused with the mechanical and promiscuous hedonism of the modern Western societies. The present is a fruit in which life and death are combined.

Poetry has always been the vision of a presence in which the two halves of the globe are reconciled. A plural presence: many times, in the course of history, it has changed its face and name; and yet it remains, throughout all these changes, as one. It has not been erased by the diversity of its apparitions. Even when it has been identified with the void, as occurred in the Buddhist tradition and among certain modern poets in the West, it manifests itself — a paradoxical sign — as a presence. It is not an idea: it is pure time. Time without measure: this singular, unique, particular time that is passing by right now and that has passed by endlessly since the beginning. Presence is the incarnation of the present.

On various occasions I have called the poetry of this time that is beginning the art of convergence, and I contrasted it with the tradition of rupture: “The poets of the modern age sought the principles of change; thepoets of the age that is beginning seek the unalterable principle that is the root of change. We wonder if the Odyssey and A la recherche du temps perda have anything in common. The aesthetics of change emphasized the historical character of the poem. Now we ask: is there a point at which the principle of change will be fused with that of permanence? . . . The poetry that begins with this century’s end neither begins nor returns to its starting point: it is a perpetual re-beginning and a continual return. The poetry beginning now, without beginning, is seeking the intersection of times, the point of convergence. It asserts that between the cluttered past and the uninhabited future, poetry is the present.” I wrote those words fifteen years ago. Today I would add, the present is manifest in a presence and the presence is the reconciliation of the three times. A poetry of reconciliation: the imagination made flesh in a present without dates.

No comments: