Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Juxtapositions: Whitman and Szymborska


As part of an occasional series, two poems, presented side by side, without commentary. Read more about Walt Whitman and Wislawa Szymborska

Harry Callahan, "Lake Michigan" (1953)



"Of the terrible doubt of appearances"

Walt Whitman

Of the terrible doubt of appearances,

Of the uncertainty after all, that we may be deluded,

That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations after all,

That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful fable only,

May-be the things I perceive, the animals, plants, men, hills, shining and flowing waters,

The skies of day and night, colors, densities, forms, may-be these are (as doubtless they are) only apparitions, and the real something has yet to be known,

(How often they dart out of themselves as if to confound me
 and mock me!

How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows, aught of them,)

May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they indeed but seem) as from my present point of view, and
 might prove (as of course they would) nought of what they appear, or nought anyhow, from entirely changed points of view;

To me these and the like of these are curiously answer'd by
 my lovers, my dear friends,

When he whom I love travels with me or sits a long while holding me by the hand,

When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that words and reason hold not, surround us and pervade us,

Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom, I am silent, I require nothing further,

I cannot answer the question of appearances or that of identity beyond the grave,

But I walk or sit indifferent, I am satisfied,

He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.

Conversation with a Stone

Wisława Szymborska 

I knock at the stone's front door
"It's only me, let me come in.
I want to enter your insides,
have a look around,
breathe my fill of you."
"Go away," says the stone.
"I'm shut tight.
Even if you break me to pieces,
we'll all still be closed.
You can grind us to sand,
we still won't let you in."
I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in.
I've come out of pure curiosity.
Only life can quench it.
I mean to stroll through your palace,
then go calling on a leaf, a drop of water.
I don't have much time.
My mortality should touch you."
"I'm made of stone," says the stone.
"And must therefore keep a straight face.
Go away.
I don't have the muscles to laugh."
I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in.
I hear you have great empty halls inside you,
unseen, their beauty in vain,
soundless, not echoing anyone's steps.
Admit you don't know them well yourself.
"Great and empty, true enough," says the stone,
"but there isn't any room.
Beautiful, perhaps, but not to the taste
of your poor senses.
You may get to know me but you'll never know me through.
My whole surface is turned toward you,
all my insides turned away."
I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in.
I don't seek refuge for eternity.
I'm not unhappy.
I'm not homeless.
My world is worth returning to.
I'll enter and exit empty-handed.
And my proof I was there
will be only words,
which no one will believe."
"You shall not enter," says the stone.
"You lack the sense of taking part.
No other sense can make up for your missing sense of taking part.
Even sight heightened to become all-seeing
will do you no good without a sense of taking part.
You shall not enter, you have only a sense of what that sense should be,
only its seed, imagination."
I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in.
I haven't got two thousand centuries,
so let me come under your roof."
"If you don't believe me," says the stone,
"just ask the leaf, it will tell you the same.
Ask a drop of water, it will say what the leaf has said.
And, finally, ask a hair from your own head.
I am bursting from laughter, yes, laughter, vast laughter,
although I don't know how to laugh."
I knock at the stone's front door.
"It's only me, let me come in.
"I don't have a door," says the stone.

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