Marcin Świetlicki, “April 1, Wągrowiec, Poland”

April 1, Wągrowiec, Poland (trans. Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese)
Marcin Świetlicki

Woken up. At once entangled
in the business of the lake. A few hours before
dawn. Most probably. And the lake already
lives, breathes, sends off the swans
to eye him: a shadow
in the darkness seeking the path
to the human terminal. Awake. At a loss.
First shoots of grass take off from the dark ground.
Blindly. What for? Without himself, without time.
Time has grown so spatial that it is
invisible. Lost in the darkness.
Woken up. What for? If only he still had
the watch he was given for his First Communion,
if, at a suitable moment, he’d become a scout
and had a compass, if he knew how to rightly
use the compass

– he wouldn’t be here.

’95

Comment:

I did some googling. Still have no idea what the title refers to or what the ’95 is doing at the bottom, exactly. And it goes without saying I don’t know Polish.

So this comment is even more guesswork than usual. Which is fine, because some of this poem is exquisite. “A shadow / in the darkness seeking the path / to the human terminal” and “Time has grown so spatial that it is invisible” make me want to learn Polish. Maybe I’ll get to write like that.

There is nothing certain about “the business of the lake.” It does seem to be like the soup life emerged from, except it is itself alive. Is it conscious? “He” isn’t really conscious. “Woken up” and “most probably” testify to his lack of understanding. “At once entangled” makes me think he is the lake or mirrored in the lake. “Swans,” perhaps more refined desire, are in a way the “eyes” of something primal. The only difference between “him” and the lake is that he moves toward the “human terminal.” That not terribly positive implication regarding life’s meaning again pushes us to think he is the lake and the lake is he. This is a dreamworld, where all kinds of desires predominate and the only recognizable ones spy us more than the other way around.

Then we’re told he’s awake. He doesn’t understand why there is growth. He doesn’t understand time. Has the path been found? Did it disappear? The latter is the easy conclusion, but I don’t think we can take it. If time is spatial and has become invisible, he’s treading down a path. He recognizes something like growth. “Lost in the darkness:” you don’t need to be completely disoriented to wonder if you’re going down a useless path or not. He may be on the path, but he’s “without himself.”

Finally, it turns out that he may not have really awoken yet. This second “woken up” is explicitly about moral guidance and a sensitivity to needing it. If in the other two parts we’re wondering about whether the speaker is the person being talked about, there seems to be a strict distance between the narrator and subject in this part.

What’s happening may be this: let’s talk about a man wholly governed by appetite, in a lustful turmoil (see M – Black Monday’s last three lines; this is a theme Świetlicki and Kundera share). That man is not without strengths. At least the image of man itself, its shadow, moves toward an end. And one can’t say a sensuous dreamworld isn’t alive in some way. Moreover, we can say such a man isn’t oblivious of time, but that time is real for him in a way it isn’t for those of us who conceptualize. His world simply is. But there’s a catch. The same man cannot account for growth or motion toward. Moral guidance is literally needed to be able to have time and place. There isn’t even a way of marking his progress or lack of it. These considerations might push us to say man is a moral creature. Two caveats: 1) we certainly can relate to the turmoil where we are continually awaking and never realizing anything 2) “Man” is considerably narrowed in the last few lines. “Communion,” “scout,” “suitable moment:” man has a particular role or set of roles. The construction of such roles depends on favorable circumstances.

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