Vincent’s comfy red dress

Vincent asked what the last book I read was, and in which dress, because I told him how tired I was of moving and how I had had to pare down my books and my dresses– I laughed thinking how morbid the question sounded, as if I were reading on my deathbed, and I said it would be As I Lay Dying, of course, in a white shroud. He said he would read the Duino Elegies in his comfy red dress. He said that the German poet Rilke was visiting the Duino castle, strolling along a cliff that dropped steeply into the sea when he heard a voice in the wind calling out the first line of the elegies, Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?

I put it down in German because it’s beautiful. I don’t know much German at all, just enough to compare cognates and the scraps of words I recall. A.S. Kline’s translation reads, Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic Orders? This line is also wrenching: And so I hold myself back and swallow the cry of a darkened sobbing.

***

I wouldn’t be frightened of moving to a city because I’m not worried that I’ll lose my identity. Some people say they’re country girls because their identity is too wrapped in a larger-than-life persona, one so sad, so teen mom, so desperately typical that a move to a place where there are far more of those would sink their personas– or so they think, not knowing that we’re all either super special or else we’re all basically the same, depending on which way you consider it. Then there are others who want to lose themselves in the anonymity of a city. Either way these people believe they’re sinking into oblivion. Maybe oblivion should be embraced, though, like Henri Michaux’s Clown. This is my favorite poem of his– whoa it’s a foreign poem night, it seems– here. I’ve included the translation.

Here is one of only two translations I found online. I really don’t like either of them very much; the second was better but it was all mucky and I couldn’t copy and paste it without accompanying garbage. So here’s the first:

 

One day,
One day, maybe soon.
One day I’ll uproot the anchor that keeps my ship far from the seas.
With the sort of courage that’s needed to be nothing and nothing but nothing, I’ll let loose what seemed indissolubly close to me.
I’ll carve it up, I’ll knock it down, I’ll smash it, I’ll give it a shove.
All at once disgorging my miserable modesty, my miserable schemes and “needle and thread” chains.
Drained of the abscess of being someone, I’ll drink nourishing space again.
Striking with absurdity, with degradation (what is degradation?), by explosion, by void, by a total dissipation-derision-purgation, I’ll oust from myself the form they believed was so well connected, compounded, coordinated, suited to my entourage and to my counterparts, so respectable, my so respectable counterparts.
Reduced to a catastrophe’s humility, to a perfect levelling as after a big scare.
Dragged down beyond measure from my actual rank, to a low rank that I don’t know what idea-ambition made me abandon.
Annihilated in pride, in reputation.
Lost in a far off place (or not), without name, without identity.

CLOWN, demolishing amidst laughter, amidst grotesqueness, amidst guffaws, the opinion which against all evidence I’d formed of my importance.
I’ll dive.
Without a cent into the underlying infinite-spirit open to everything,
open myself to a new and unbelievable dew
by force of being null
and blank…
and laughable…

 

This is horrible. I’m sorry. I don’t know the etiquette for replacing your own words with someone else’s translation, so at risk of being pedantic, I’d like to rewrite the last stanza as follows, which is closer to the sense in which I read it:

CLOWN, knocked about in the ridicule, in the bursts of laughter, in the grotesque, the sense that against all clarity I’d built up my own importance,
I will plunge.

Without a purse into the underlying infinite, guts open for all to see,
open, myself, to a new and incredible dew
by force of being a nothing
and shaven…
and laughable…

 

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

  • “Its inhabitants are, as the man said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches’, by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through a different peep hole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.” ~Steinbeck

    Love and Cheers, K

  • Ohhh Kat that’s amazing. It’s true! Have you read East of Eden? If you haven’t I think you’d love it– but you probably have. xoxo

  • I liked your translation much better! Bravo! Ras indeed means shaven but I think by shaven he implied bare, denuded or naked–implying returning to zero.

  • Bea, your approval makes me very happy! I’ll tell you why I liked translating ras as shaven– for me, it reminded me of how symbolic hair is. In the Old Testament there was no greater humiliation for an Israelite than to be shaven. It signified shame, impurity, and godlessness.
    Wherefore Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away. When they told it unto David, he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed: and the king said, Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return (2 Samuel 10:4-5)
    So the word “ras,” while I agree with what you said, carries a heavy sucker punch when I read it as “shaven.” And also, actually, the second biggest thing that the word made me think of was that old custom of representing women in art as hairless in the pubic region, and under the arms as well. Regardless of your views on maintaining the lady garden, haha, hair inevitably begins to grow back. It’s prickly. It’s itchy. It can be embarrassing. I thought of a clown, humiliated, shaven all over, stubbly, laughable, contemptible in his barrenness. Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor bare, forked animal, hey?

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