Osip Mandelstam, “The Poem”

The Poem (from The American Scholar)
Osip Mandelstam (trans. Christian Wiman)

White meteorite, infinity’s orphan, word
Painwaking particular earth…

Supplicants, tyrants, it doesn’t matter.
It is matter: unbudgeable, unjudgeable, itself.

Comment:

Wiman calls his work “versions,” not translations. (Still – preordering a copy of Wiman’s “versions” of Mandelstam will happen soon.)

We wonder about the Greek poiesis, with the general meaning “making” and a particular meaning of “making poetry.” It is matter, but perhaps not the matter regarding any particular political concern (“particular earth:” politics depends on saying “this is ours” and defending it to the death). It rather constitutes the world in its own eternality (“unbudgeable, unjudgeable, itself”). Why the need for such romantic overtones, though? Because poetry is making itself?

Maybe, but then we don’t hear any odes to atoms or bricks. This is a peculiar kind of structuring. It descends almost pure from the cosmos and becomes more human through finitude. “Painwaking” is after separation and orphanage. Not just pain, but an awareness that begets a new reality, a new source of growth.

That’s poetry’s power contrasted with master/slave dialectic. A very rough, oversimplified Hegel: we compete with each other selfishly. Not for resources so much, but to be identified as worthy against each other. At a given point, some just submit and others rule. Our reputations are “made.” We have our names and titles and opinions about others, and that is us. Compared to that, poetry may still not be truth, but something far more significant. It is voice upon earth, perhaps even our actual voice.

1 Comment

  1. Joe Nocera on the MF Global situation [before the got bought out]

    “In late October, during the final, desperate days before it entered bankruptcy proceedings, its executives took money from segregated customer accounts — money that belonged not to MF Global but to the farmers and commodities traders that were its clients — and used it to prop up its rapidly collapsing business. Nor was this petty cash: of the $6.9 billion in customer assets that MF Global held, a stunning $1.6 billion is missing. There is virtually no chance that the full amount will ever be recovered… Apparently, the current theory is that it was all just a big accident, the chaos of those final days causing the firm’s executives to tap into customer funds without realizing it.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/opinion/nocera-is-mf-global-getting-a-free-pass.html

    Robert Frank a professor at Cornell [safety school U as harvard refers to it] discusses how to contain college costs:

    “After adjusting for inflation, starting salaries for most graduates have remained essentially stagnant for several decades, while those at the bottom of the group have actually declined. Only the highest-paid graduates have enjoyed significant salary growth, and among those a very thin slice at the top has seen truly spectacular increases. Because of the bitter competition for those premium salaries, elite educational credentials are often a precondition for even landing a job interview. With so many applications for every vacancy, many consulting firms and investment banks, for example, now consider only candidates from a short list of top-ranked schools.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/business/college-costs-are-rising-amid-a-prestige-chase.html?_r=1

    Kardashians Tehran style:

    “That “Shahs of Sunset,” a reality show about affluent, not-so-young Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles, is coming out while war with Iran is being discussed might seem opportunistic… The resolutely generic “Shahs” has been pre-emptively categorized as the Persian “Jersey Shore” and compared to the “Real Housewives” shows (also on Bravo) and the Kardashian family shows (also from Ryan Seacrest Productions). But the closest comparison by far is to the gloriously shallow, comically aspirational British series “The Only Way Is Essex,” which people involved in “Shahs” must have studied closely. The difference is that… The lazier, broader, pseudo-documentary American approach is on display in “Shahs,” which, like so many domestic reality shows, has a snappy opening montage front-loaded with the best bits — “We don’t work in buildings, we own them!”; “I don’t like ants, and I don’t like ugly people” — followed by an hour of random irritation and spirit-sapping triviality.”

    http://tv.nytimes.com/2012/03/10/arts/television/shahs-of-sunset-on-bravo-about-iranian-americans.html

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