Thursday, May 25, 2006

Speaking at Delphi - IV

(Horace Engdahl on Pia Tafdrup [my tr.], continued)

One must, however, be careful not to exaggerate the homogeneity in Pia Tafdrup’s writing. Her poetry has a shadow side, which one does not see at first because of all the sunlight in one’s eyes. After the large-scale Queen’s Gate, named after the entrance for the woman who never existed in patriarchal Jerusalem but whom the poet’s imagination had to add, after the expansive orchestration of the hymns in a major key comes the unexpected contrast of Thousandborn, a collection of aphoristic four-liners written in a tone of defiance and resignation. The language which caressed is now the mouth of a pistol. Love is a long goodbye after the first sovereign soaring over the abyss. I can’t resist quoting from this book in translation:

Don’t look for poetry’s black box,
it hasn’t recorded any answers,
is merely full of the dream’s counter-questions
or a silence to feel one’s way into.

The virtue of a collection like this one – apart from the fact that one is allowed to consign oneself to melancholy, according to Leopold the condition in which one sees things as they are – is that it sharpens one’s view of a rebellious aspect in Pia Tafdrup. One rereads the poem “Meteor” in Queen’s Gate, in which the poet’s I most closely resembles a life-threatening war machine. One discovers that the prevailing season in her poetry is actually winter, the harsh, windy Danish winter with its endless wet snow. One finds the terrible “Waiting Blow” in The Bridge of Moments, a poem about how the effort to reach someone who has been close to one must be given up for ever, in the same way as one accepts an incurable illness.

From Thousandborn I should also like to quote this scene, which could equally well be a portrait of poetry:

The boy up in the tree
sits there all day,
he sings loudly and refuses to come down
from his branch and be a person.

How well one understands the boy! If Pia Tafdrup’s poetry is at last dominated by openness and not by a stance of aversion, it is thanks to the secret union between poetic creation and the inexorable labour of time, which turns everything into its opposite. From emptiness and torpor, a reborn I finally rises, “thousandborn”, as for the romantics of an earlier age, when the Word made the world’s condition change from dead to living. “Between always and never,” the final poem in The Innermost Zone, is about the incomprehensible moment of change.

Between always and never
things happen
for a breathless second
when one least expects it
the world changes

sunk upon itself
at a depth of seven hearts
is the thing one suddenly imagines
a time when the stone
begins to bleed


People who are in alliance with change are always interested in reality.

Horace Engdahl is the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.

(concluded)

See also: Speaking at Delphi
Speaking at Delphi - II
Speaking at Delphi - III
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