The Tombs of Ravenna
PN Review 42:2 November - December 2015
From Yves Bonnefoy's essay "The Tombs of Ravenna," translated by John Naughton:
If nothing is less real than the concept, nothing is more real than this alliance between form and stone, between the exemplary and a body: nothing is more real than the Idea that is risked.
Ornamentation belongs to that category of beings that joins together in its profound purity the universal and the particular. It is the Idea made presence, and in the joy it awakens in us, I tasted the savor of a true eternity.
The universal is not a law that is everywhere the same and so never worth anything anywhere. The universal has its locale. In every place, the universal exists in the way it is looked at, in the way it is used.
Poetry and journey are of the same substance, the same blood - I am repeating what Baudelaire has said - and of all the actions that are available to man, these are perhaps the only useful ones, the only ones that have a goal.
I will say by allegory: it is this piece of the somber tree, this torn leaf of ivy. The entire leaf, constructing its immutable essence with all its veins, would already be the concept. But this torn leaf, green and black, dirty, this leaf that shows in its wound all the depth of what is, this infinite leaf is pure presence, and hence my salvation. Who could tear from me the fact that it was mine, and in a contact, beyond destinies and sites, that binds me to the absolute? Moreover, who could destroy it, since it has already been destroyed? I hold it in my hand, I hold it tight as I would have loved to hold Ravenna, I hear its tireless voice. - What is presence? It seduces like a work of art; it is rudimentary like the wind or the earth. It is black like the abyss and yet it reassures. It seems a fragment of space among others, but it calls to us and contains us. And it is a moment that will be lost a thousand times, but it has the glory of a god. It resembles death...
Whoever seeks to make his way through sensory space reconnects with a sacred water that runs through each thing. At the slightest contact with it, one feels immortal.