Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Wislawa Szymborska: Distraction


Portrait of Dr. Johannes Cuspinian (detail): Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1502 (Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur)

I misbehaved in the cosmos yesterday.  
I lived around the clock without questions, without surprise.

I performed daily tasks  
as if only that were required.

Inhale, exhale, right foot, left, obligations,  
not a thought beyond  
getting there and getting back.

The world might have been taken for bedlam,  
but I took it just for daily use.

No whats -- no what fors --  
and why on earth it is --
and how come it needs so many moving parts.

I was like a nail stuck only halfway in the wall 
(comparison I couldn’t find).

One change happened after another  
even in a twinkling’s narrow span.

Yesterday’s bread was sliced otherwise  
by a hand a day younger at a younger table.

Clouds like never before and rain like never,  
since it fell after all in different drops.

The world rotated on its axis,  
but in a space abandoned forever.

This took a good 24 hours.  
1,440 minutes of opportunity.  
86,400 seconds for inspection.

The cosmic savoir vivre  
may keep silent on our subject,  
still it makes a few demands:
occasional attention, one or two of Pascal’s thoughts,  
and amazed participation in a game  
with rules unknown.

Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012): Distraction, from Colon (2005), translated by Clare Cavanagh in MAP: Collected and Last Poems, 2015

Portrait of Dr. Johannes Cuspinian: Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1502, oil on wood, 59 x 45 cm (Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur)

Yes, but what time is it? | by rbrwr

Yes, but what time is it? These four clock faces in the new Bristol bus station have one hand each. The furthest right moves fast enough to be a second hand... I'm not sure about the rest. They don't seem to be pointing in appropriate directions for the time (just after five past two).: photo by Rob Brewer, 3 December 2005

File:Liesing Quando est hora ultima 23052007 01.jpg

Sundial on the steeple of the parish church Saint Nicholas at Liesing, municipality Lesachtal, district Hermagor, Carinthia/Austria: photo by Johann Jaritz, 23 May 2007

File:Kali, Hammer u. Sichel.jpg

Hindu Time Goddess Kali with written invitation for Kalipuja (festival), near Kolkata. To left, an  election mural of the Indian Communist Party of India (Marxist): photo by Christina Kundu, 23 May 2005

Listen Fates, who sit nearest of gods to the throne of Zeus, and weave with shuttles of adamant, inescapable devices for councels of every kind beyond counting, Aisa, Clotho and Lachesis, fine-armed daughters of Night, hearken to our prayers, all-terrible goddesses, of sky and earth.

Pindar: Fragmenta Chorica Adespota, 5

Now if it is not the causal connections which we are concerned with, then the activities of the mind lie open before us. And when we are worried about the nature of thinking, the puzzlement which we wrongly interpret to be one about the nature of a medium is a puzzlement caused by the mystifying use of our language. This kind of mistake recurs again and again in philosophy; e.g. when we are puzzled about the nature of time, when time seems to us a queer thing. We are most strongly tempted to think that here are things hidden, something we can see from the outside but which we can't look into. And yet nothing of the sort is the case. It is not new facts about time which we want to know. All the facts that concern us lie open before us. But it is the use of the substantive "time" which mystifies us. If we look into the grammar of that word, we shall feel that it is no less astounding that man should have conceived of a deity of time than it would be to conceive of a deity of negation or disjunction.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: from The Blue Book (1930s Cambridge lecture notes as circulated by students), 1958

Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death.
If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.
Our life has no end in just the way our visual field has no limits.   

Ludwig Wittgenstein: from Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921

The Three Fates, called by Hesiod the Daughters of the Night. Atropos or Aisa (left) was the oldest of the Three Fates, and was known as the "inflexible" or "inevitable." It was Atropos who chose the mechanism of death and ended the life of each mortal by cutting their thread with her "abhorred shears." She worked along with her two sisters, Clotho, who spun the thread, and Lachesis, who measured the length: Cecchino del Salviati, 1550 (Galleria Palatino, Pizzi Palace, Florence)

Atropos (Ἄτροπος, "inexorable" or "inevitable", literally "unturning, without turn"), in Greek myth one of the three Moirai, goddesses of Fate: Asmus Jacob Carsten (model), 1794 (Städelsches Kunstinstitut,  Frankfurt)
File:The Triumph of Death, or The Three Fates.jpg

The Triumph of Death, or The Three Fates.  The Three Fates, Clotho (right), Lachesis (centre) and Atropos (left), who spin, draw out and snip the thread of Life, represent Death, triumphing over the fallen body of Chastity, in this tapestry illustrating the third subject in Petrarch's poem The Triumphs (first, Love triumphs; then Love is overcome by Chastity, Chastity by Death, Death by Fame, Fame by Time and Time by Eternity): Flemish tapestry, probably Brussels, c. 1510-1520; image by Wilhem Meis, 5 December 2004


Bas relief of Atropos cutting the thread of life: photo by Tom Oates, 18 June 2008

File:Schadow Grabmal Alexander 2.jpg

The Three Moirai (Greek "apportioners", l. to r. Clotho, Atropos, Lachesis), tomb of Prince Alexander von Mark
: Johann Gottfried Schaddow, 1788-1789; image by Andreas Praefcke, February 2006 (Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin)

File:British Museum Queen of the Night.jpg

Ishtar, Queen of Night: Old Babylonian period baked clay relief panel; image by BabelStone, 24 June 2010 (British Museum)

Atropos (The Fates): Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1821-1823, oil on plaster mounted on canvas, 123 x 366 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

Allegory of Melancholy: Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1532, oil and tempera on wood, 77 x 56 cm (Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar)

Allegory of Melancholy: Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1528, oil and tempera on wood, 113 x 72 cm (National Gallery of Scotland)

Portrait of Anna Cuspinian: Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1502, oil on wood, 59 x 45 cm (Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur)

Portrait of Anna Cuspinian (detail)
: Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1502 (Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur)

Portrait of Anna Cuspinian (detail)
: Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1502 (Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur)

Landscape (fragment): Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1525-30, oil and tempera on wood, 43 x 28 cm (Private collection)


Nin Andrews said...

I love Szymborska! Great post.

Sandra said...

love the poem and the quotes ...!!


is nice

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Just what the doctor ordered and it's not our usual dose of omphaloskepsis.

TC said...

Lovely to be reminded this wonderful poet is not just a private taste -- many thanks to all Szymborska's brilliant testifying friends!

In response, a bit more of a good thing, this one from a half century earlier on (how many poets have that kind of staying power?):

Wislawa Szymborska: Tarsier