Philippe Jacottet: ‘Come Again, Destroyer’

Quote

Come near again, Destroyer,
That I may look upon your face and it give me counsel
in shattering
But it is I who approach and I believe I see him before me
Behind the mask scented with carnival violets
Isn’t it urgent to know him before he breaks my bones?
But he takes the question out of my mouth,
he disarms me, scattering me like almond flower petals
and the more I search, the more he misleads me,
the more I want to defy him, the larger he grows and
escapes me.
I’ve already given up earthly concerns to contemplate
only him
when he attacks beauty, when he demolished the city walls.
In him I saw the source of day,
and in him I must learnt to recognise
the one who poisons the water.
I must contain in one invisible reality
Both source and ashes, lips and a dead rat’s carcase.
I was too quick to praise him for what daylight he spreads,
his revenge is to seem unspeakable in this clarity,
refusing me peace at so low a price,
regaining vigour in this exquisite guise.

Rowan Williams’s ‘Collected Poems’

I am already imagining trees coming into leaf as I read Rowan Williams’ poem:

Under the soil, humming,
lips closed till the frequencies break cover,
flower.

Yet I don’t wish this blessedly cold winter to end, to yield to what Williams elsewhere has called the false hope of spring. But that image: the frequencies break cover is so moving.

These poems have within them a kernel of light. Although it is the first book of Williams’s poems I own, I am inordinately fond of his work through PN Review. His poems speak of his own religious experience, of his reading of poetry, of beautiful frescoes and landscapes. Each poem offers a word-clothed vision of Williams’s imaginative power.

FEOFAN GREK: THE NOVGOROD FRESCOES

Did Yeats mean this? because when sages
stand in the fire, this happens Skin
umbers and cracks and shines. And then
on hands, shoulders and skirts, the splash
and dribble; you should think the bells
have melted from their perch,
so that the roaring hollows fall, lazy as snow,
bright liquid pebbles. And then, long
after the eyes have gone, the cheekbones
gleam, razored with little scars in parallel,
the surgery of initiation, letting through
furnaces under the dun hard skin.
We slow down more and more as the heat rises; surfaces
dry up, something inside swells painfully.
The razor makes its first cut. From the oven walls,
out of the searing dusk, they smile
(not at us) blindly.

Dag Solstad’s ‘Armand V’

A whimsical story disguised as a series of footnotes referring to a phantom unwritable and unreadable novel, Solstad’s realisation of the idea that the form of a work reflects and contains its subject. It’s scrupulously rendered and requires a reader to co-create its narrative. Fascinating and gave me the idea of a multi-year exploration of human culture.

Armand V sadly brings me to the end of Solstad’s books currently translated into English, and I very much hope there will be others. His work is highly re-readable, and I’ll likely be revisiting them.

The First Traces of Human Civilisation Reading List

Reading list for this year’s non-fiction reading project: a contemporary exploration of the first traces of human civilisation, circa 10,000-5,000 BC.

  1. Meave Leakey with Samira Leakey. The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search for the Past. Mariner Books, 2020.
  2. Chris Gosden. Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction. OUP, 2018.
  3. Rens Bod. World of Patterns: A Global History of Knowledge. trans. Leston Buell. John Hopkins University Press, 2022.
  4. Thomas Higham. The World Before Us. Penguin (Viking), 2021.
  5. Louise Humphrey and Chris Stringer. Our Human Story. Natural History Museum, 2018.
  6. Kermit Pattinson. Fossil Men. Harper Collins (Wiliam Morrow), 2021.

If there any titles you’d care to add to my reading list I am open to suggestions of anything published in the last ten years.

Solitude and Rain-Soaked Walks

‘Who are the good people of the book?’ asks Nabokov in his dissection of Madame Bovary, a question you may well ask of Anita Brookner’s Altered States. Alan’s mother, perhaps, and more convincingly his business partner’s wife, Felicity. Brookner’s polished sentences soften the force of vengeance she brings to bear on her carefully hewn characters. After the autopsy comes the mourning that is this book’s subject.

I am pleased to read that Hermione Lee is currently working on a biography of Anita Brookner.