Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Last Hike" by Keith Harvey

Last Hike

Singing is her green talent.
We follow her, summer children, up the mountain.
She sings to bears that we are eight,
a sinister number;
her Belfast brogue buzzing like bees.

With steady gait, her bonny head bent,
she stops at a blind bend.
Beckoned, blue-black clouds appear.
She raises her hazel eyes;
her fairy voice fractures frozen air.
A lightening strike and she sings us together,
a brood hen shooing chicks to cover.

It rains, then snows, then clears.
A loon swims alone on a lake.
A silver trout severs its silk surface.
Chipmunks chatter in the heather,
while ravens circle above trees.

I wear a ruby rain suit, a cabiri,
carrying my twin self.
My lungs labor in duplex
against the frugal air,
my knees ache, as my back bends
under the double load of my pack.
I thrill at her voice but pray
the bears do not hear.

We traverse the tree line,
stumbling on geodes and scree.
The sun burns our faces and hands.
No bears in this thin country.
They are below, fat and dark,
eating berries in the shadow of larch and fir-
so intent on their feast they cannot hear
her Irish song.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"Waiting" by Keith Harvey


Moss and heather disguise death,
denying past winters’ decay,
casting brown and green
onto the volcanic rock.
Wolf moss clings to the larch.
Fleabane flowers.
Rain darkens the eastern wall;
its frozen drops
pucker the lake’s calm.
A big horn sheep and his ewe
drink; a silver trout
strikes the still surface.
Bear bells tinkle on the pack of some tourist.
Night descends. The moon rises;
its twin lunar face doubles.
The larch needles turn,
as flecks of snow fall.
Summer wanes
as the lone loon waits,
swimming in his singular domination,
scanning the sky for his lost mate.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Das Wort vom Zur-Tiefe-Gehn" By Paul Celan

I am continuing to wrestle with Paul Celan’s Die Niemandsrose. In a previous post we discussed the first poem of the group-Es War Erde in Ihnen, which on the surface is clearly a reference to the holocaust and his parents’ death. However, there is also a movement toward something-to that unknown other-where a marriage of opposites might occur. This movement toward “marriage” is expressed in the last line of the poem and seems to be the purpose of the poem. From reading his poetry, I believe the movement is toward depth, depth in the sense of psychological depth as set forth in the literature of die Tiefenpsychologie.

The second poem in the sequence-Das Wort vom Zur-Tiefe-Gehn- is more problematic; however, I sense that themes established throughout the work are also here. The poem is quite personal and was written on his anniversary as a gift to his wife. The title refers to a line in a poem by Georg Heym. The title of Celan's poem refers to a direct quote from Heym's poem, where the protagonist asks to be allowed to plunge into the other’s eyes in order to descend to their depth. Here, once again, we have the movement toward the other. And once again we have a movement to the deep/depth of the other through darkness.

The complexity of this short poem arises from the use of a cluster of images involving “word,” “write,” “room,” “deepen,” and “depth.” I believe that Celan is saying that through the “word”-through poetry that they have read together-they have deepened their relationship and this relationship once formed is endless. Through seeing the other through writing they deepen each other in their depth. On one level this is an expression of love from Celan to his wife. On another level it is an expression of love to the unknown other. This unknown other could be God or the Self.

The following translation is mine. I used the German version from Paul Celan, Die Gedichte, Suhrkamp 2003.

The word from To the Depth Goes
that we have read.
The year, the word since then.
We are it still.

You know the room is endless,
you know you do not need to fly,
you know what you have written in your eye
deepens in the depth.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

"Talos" by Keith Harvey


Born below the ash trees,
in their tarnished shadows,
hammered into being
in the heat of the lower level,
half machine, half bull,
he runs, a warden of the isolated isle,
bright in his bronze skin,
three times daily through sugary sand
at the command of his master, the mage.
And in his mechanical gait
he crushes seashells,
his feet whitened by the gulls’ droppings,
singing his forged songs of servitude,
shining on the edge of the surging sea,
scaring sullen seafarers.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Alchemical Images in Celan's "Die Niemandsrose"

Die Niemandsrose by Paul Celan is a progression of poems that expropriates both alchemical images and mystical symbols of the Kabala to express his psychological distress and his return to Jewishness. I believe he was undergoing the suffering associated with the nigredo, the first stage of alchemical psychological transformation. I also believe he had intimations of a successful outcome: the achievement of the philosopher’s stone. However, his experiences and his personality were such that he could only approach the opus alchymicum in a cynical and pessimistic way. In psychological terms, he was undergoing individuation and as part of the process he was returning to, remembering, and evaluating his earlier spiritual influences. This thesis can be shown through a close reading of the first poem of the collection Es war Erde Ihnen. I have explicated this poem in an earlier post but I did not concentrate on the alchemical symbols. In this poem, Celan uses both images of the concentration camp as well as alchemical signals to illustrate a progression or movement through darkness. The subjects of the poem “dig.” On one level they dig their own graves in the earth but on another level the earth is in them and their digging is in the spiritual body. In alchemy, “earth” is one of the four elements and to achieve the earth metaphorically is to obtain or provide "divine service." In Celan’s poem to dig into the earth is not to achieve “divine service,” although he says that God wants it. Instead his or her dig is to “no one.” However, through the digging the “I” approaches the “you.” In other words, through the digging the “I” approaches and resurrects figuratively through language those who died in the concentration camp. Through the language of the poem, the "I" and the "you" draw closer to wholeness. The "I" says und am Finger erwacht uns der Ring. Through the digging, the “I” approaches the “you” and a certain perfection or wholeness is achieved through the use of the symbol of the “ring.” It is a synecdoche expressing mutiple meanings: the circle of life, the marriage of the opposites or the purification ritual, and wholeness.

"Northman" by Keith Harvey


From the north he flew
and sat still on silent stone,
reading the sky from right to left
until rain runs into the navel below:
green grass,
scree and geodes,
a menhir shifting toward the south
rubbed raw by the weather;
sheep graze among the crystals,
outcroppings spot the scene.
He sits
and sits,
and stares,
and waits,
his hair falling on his shoulders,
his beard spliced with gray
in its redness, dreaming.
His almond eyes green,
hidden, note his past,
until a cuckoo sounds
and the sun breaks

through bluing clouds,
melting the wax of his wings
and awakening him to gold.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

"Journey" by Keith Harvey


Her son chased crows and rats from the dying stalks.
Winter was coming.
Her belly rounded and swelled, heavy with the swan’s
child. She felt its darkness and she feared for its safety.
Crow man lay on his back in buffalo grass and watched
white clouds wither and break. Northern breezes hinted at frost
and he thought of clams buried in the sugary sand of the south.
Raven and wolf-girl waded through the tall grass
calling his name until their shadows surrounded him.
Raven said, “the manatees eat tasty grass in the bayou.”
Crow man smiled his crooked smile. He stood and adjusted the stag
horns he now wore. Dried feathers fell, wilted onto the earth.
He thought of the slow manatees
scouring the floor of the bayous,
saltwater bays, and estuaries.
He picked up his reed bag and checked his possessions:
cuckoo egg, peacock feather, rat’s bones, and dried gourd.
He was ready for his fool’s journey.
He would swim with the manatees,
ride their backs into the surf
and sing their oceanic songs.
He would blow the conch shell
and touch the second door.
With a hoot and howl
he struck out through the buffalo grass
with wolf girl snapping at his heels
and Raven above, shading him from the sun.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The "mandorla" in the poetry of Paul Celan

As I read more and more Paul Celan poetry, I have come to realize that his poetry is meant to be a mandorla, a sacred space of creation. The mandorla symbolizes that dark fecund space between the two doors of existence, where the poet, alchemist, or the shaman can create, conjure and remember the greenness of life. Remember the lines from Epitaph for François that I quoted in an earlier post: Die beiden Türen der Welt/ stehen offen/ the two doors of the world stand open.

As J.E. Cirlot states in A Dictionary of Symbols (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1995), “two circles are sometimes used to symbolize the Upper and Lower worlds, that is heaven and earth.” In the poetry of Celan, the two worlds break down between the void or darkness before life and the void or darkness after death. The two circles intersect to form life, where the living remember, observe and create art, which grows the memories of the dead, through the express medium of language. The poet, then, is an alchemical creature, a Hermes, that creates between the two doors. Further, through this creation of man, God becomes whole.

In a poem in Die Niemandsrose, Celan explicitly states his theme. Your/ Being beyond in the night./ With words I fetch you back, there you are,/all is true and a waiting/ for truth. (Poems of Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger, Persea Books 2002, p. 139).