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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Wisława Szymborska on loan

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Everything’s mine but just on loan,
nothing for the memory to hold,
though mine as long as I look. . . .
. . .
I won’t retain one blade of grass
as it’s truly seen. . . .
. . .
Salutation and farewell
in a single glance.


~ From the poem “Travel Elegy”
by Wisława Szymborska, 

who bid us farewell February 1st

"Think of your spine ending inside your head, not at the top of your neck, and feel your head floating there atop the spine," my Alexander teacher tells me as she helps me relearn the posture of a child, one of many tactics of a strategy I am waging to alleviate the pain of repetitive strain injury that radiates from my hands up to my neck. So I focus on the essence of that physical relationship, and the unlikelihood of carrying around an eight-pound weight upon something as thin as a spine, like a Chinese circus performer balancing a white plate vertically on the end of a stick. It is almost easier to picture my head invisible, like those of vestal virgins standing in stone along the lane of the Roman Forum. Those heads are gone from their bodies—weightless in their absence—yet their essence remains, sacred in memory and imagination. However I think of it, there needs to be mindfulness of my head and spine as one, in flow.

What is hidden within flesh and bone? What radiates in spite of them?

The 2009 head shot of Wisława Szymborska, above, magnetizes me. The face was on loan to her for a lifetime, evolving with age, yet momentary as a sunrise. It is now just a memory, a hint of earth on a bronze brow, eyes brown stones embedded in the palest rose sky, cheeks hill pastures in the morning sun, a trace of lipstick on an upwinged smile about to fly.

Wisława returns to the sky and the soil, a bridge between hello and good-bye. At birth and death, we attend to essence as to a smudge stick of dried and bundled sage, carefully lit at the start, held closely above a candle flame. Then small rosy ember-buds sketch fragrant shadows on air for a time, until at last they burn out, just dried leaf-sticks with singed heads. Yet how wild, musky and holy their scent remains as I hold them to my nostrils, opening heaven to earth, and earth to heaven, as if their flame never burns out at all. Wisława's writing strikes me as weight born like effortless floating, all flame and fragrance simultaneously . . .

. . . For surplus and absence alike,
a single action of the neck.            


 my sage smudge stick smells like heaven to me


Poem "Travel Elegy" by Wisława Szymborska from the selected poems titled 'view with a grain of sand' published by Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993
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48 comments:

steven said...

ruth, her face captivated me even before i read her words and then your words. the whole tumbling one into the other and holding the moment with much the same grace and humour and realism and otherness that charcterizes her face. steven

The Solitary Walker said...

I'm ashamed to say I knew very little about this wonderful lady and wonderful poet until I read your post just now and then some obits. What a writer! I have much to catch up on.

Ruth said...

steven, I don't know how it is possible for so much light to shine from her face, but so it does. I am thrilled that you feel it too!

Ruth said...

Robert, then we could say that you come to know her first in farewell, that leads to salutation. So happy to introduce you!

ds said...

Oh, I am sad that she is gone. Such effortless poetry, wry and deep--and the face to go with that work, it seems.
Your description of the way your Alexander teacher is telling you to balance your head is rather like my yoga teacher's at the beginning of class when we settle in. You may become a yogi yet! ; )

rosaria said...

I didn't know of her. So glad for the introduction.

Elisabeth said...

Beautiful thoughts here, Ruth, about your body and the poet, about life and death. I have been sharing the death watch these last few days with my sisters in law. My husband is away and his brother is dying. I have wanted and needed to take my husband's place fir a while.

It is indeed a strange and tranquil time, however sad and there is a long story attached to this man, my brother in law, whose life ebbs away before our eyes.

Thanks for these moments of contemplation Ruth. Your words slow me down in a busy, over wrought world.

Anonymous said...

Do hope the Alexander technique is working --I have always thought very highly of it.
The poem below was so vivid and touching.
How achingly fragile we are --and how tough too.

elizabeth said...

Not anonymous above
Elizabeth

Cait O'Connor said...

Beautiful words, yours and Szymborska's. Her face is captivating too. I like the idea of the head floating (I too have neck problems).

erin said...

The face was on loan to her for a lifetime, evolving with age, yet momentary as a sunrise. It is now just a memory, a hint of earth on a bronze brow, eyes brown stones embedded in the palest rose sky, cheeks hill pastures in the morning sun, a trace of lipstick on an upwinged smile about to fly.

this is the most important thing anyone will ever write. it has been written before. it will be written again. it will be forgotten a hundredfold in between.

xo
erin

George said...

If her poetry says as much as her face, it is great indeed! I must confess, however, that she is new to me. Perhaps there is new terrain to be explored here. Hope the Alexander technique is successful and that you will be increasingly pain-free.

Maureen said...

I'm hoping that Dawn Potter will record her reading of Szymborska's poems. The latter's translator was on News Hour Art Beat the other day and offered a poem at the conclusion. So much to love in her work. And what a lovely homage your own words are, Ruth.

JeannetteLS said...

I want to write something... but all I can do is float my head from side to side, as I was taught to do by my REiki/body work therapist.

And suddenly be aware of my breathing and slow myself down.

Her face. There is such light. I have read this post four times. So often I come to your blog to breathe.

Margaret said...

Puffy eyes, sunspots, wrinkled lips and face, sagging chin, grey hair... and utterly beautiful!

She reaches out with her eyes and I am captivated and smile back! I will be getting my hands on her writing, I can promise you that. Thank you.

Vagabonde said...

I hope your therapy will help you. When Wisława Szymborska won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 I tried to find her book at the local bookstore – “View with a Grain of Sand” but could not find it (that was before Amazon.) She had such a beautiful face. She was quite a poet and a translator too (she translated many French baroque writings like Agrippa d’Aubigné (1552-1630) into Polish.)

Matt D said...

This is beautifully written and it leaves me contemplative. I hope your therapy goes as smoothly as your writing flows ...

Ginnie said...

The face, the sage. To begin and end like that was surely serendipitous, Ruth?

Ruth said...

ds, thank you. Funny, when I 1st read your comment yesterday, I was reading about Michael Murphy ending Esalen project. I had just read about his visit to Yogi Aurobindo, a different kind of sage. :-)

Ruth said...

rosaria, thank you for reading. I'm quite happy to introduce you to her. I admire her close attention to the details of ordinary things.

Ruth said...

Hello, Elisabeth. There are so many varieties of ways people enter the world, and depart it. I am sorry to hear that you are in this time of sadness with your brother-in-law, yet to hear that it is a tranquil time makes me grateful for you, and for him. It was like this with my father when he passed. In fact, it represents the most intimate connection I ever felt with him. All the best to you, to your husband, to your brother-in-law, and to your family as you walk through this passage together.

Ruth said...

Oops, ds, I did not mean “ending” Esalen; dictation software misrepresented me. :-) I meant “and the” Esalen project. But! It recognized Esalen! How incredible.

Ruth said...

Elizabeth, thank you. I have had one session with my Alexander teacher, and I am very impressed. I can honestly say I am much more mindful about flow in my body, and I look forward to this week's session. Thank you for reading my last poem; yes, how intensely I feel fragility these days. Maybe feeling tough will come soon!

Marcie said...

She does have the most beautiful face. And - I'm intrigued by your thoughts around the head and the spine. So much to think about here.

Ruth said...

Cait, thanks so much. I hope that you will find ways to relieve the problems with your neck. This process is slowing me down, and I guess that is not all bad.

Ruth said...

erin, how is it that for the most part we do not tire of these cycles? We live and relive, write and rewrite, fall and fall and rise again. Thank you so much, my friend.

Ruth said...

Thanks, George, I am delighted that you also read so much in her face, and to introduce you to her work. She was tender, a bit fragile while also being tough. It took her some time to recover from winning the Nobel Prize, for instance. I might not have discovered her myself if a friend had not given me this volume of her poetry many years ago.

Thank you for your wishes regarding the Alexander technique. Progress in all of my tactics is quite slow, and this alone takes great patience. But of course, bad habits and their results are not undone quickly.

Ruth said...

Maureen , there is much I do not know about this poet, which means, happily, that I must spend much more time with her. Thank you for your kind words.

Ruth said...

Jeannette, it seems that there are many methods to reteach us lightness of being. These days I welcome them all. Thank you for your expressions, so subtle and heartfelt.

Ruth said...

Margaret, welcoming and embracing age is beautiful too, but something I am only spotty at doing for myself. I'm glad you will read more of Szymborska's work!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Vagabonde. I am glad you know her work. I would like to read more than this one volume I have, the one you looked for, which was given me by a friend many years ago.

Ruth said...

Matt D, thanks so much for such kind and thoughtful words!

Ruth said...

Boots, yes, serendipitous, only after I sat down to write out my thoughts. Thank you, dear sister.

Ruth said...

Marcie, thank you for reading and for your interest here.

hedgewitch said...

Thanks for the lovely thoughts on continuity and essence here, Ruth--enjoyed the poem bit also--and may all out faces grow to have this sort of ripened and stored apple beauty. Please don't worry about responding-just wanted you to know I'd been by and read.

Margaret said...

Just had to compliment Hedegwitch on the phrase "stored apple beauty". Absolutely perfect here!

"Auntie" sezzzzzz... said...

"...a smudge stick of dried and bundled sage, carefully lit at the start, held closely above a candle flame. Then small rosy ember-buds sketch fragrant shadows on air for a time, until at last they burn out,..."

How lovely...

I've gone all these years, and never held a smudge stick. How sad.

This should be rectified. But I have no idea, where to find one...........

Deslilas said...

Bel hommage !
Owing to Google it's possible to get many portraits of this lady all along her life.
I'll run towards our public library in Troyes to get some of her books.
Thanks !

Barb said...

My friend who is traveling in NZ sent me the news of Wislawa Szmborska's death. We've share a love of her poetry that I'm sure won't diminish with her death. Sometimes, words and images are like the smudge stick, continuing to give off a sweet remembrance and resonance even after the flame is gone. I like that photo of her - she seems to "know" something that pleases her.

ds said...

Well, I had to Google "Esalen" now, didn't I? Interesting stuff. My skybluepink friend understood that very well--and yes, something of us does live on, perhaps (is that the pure vanity of humankind, to think so?), other than memory. A sense. As in, there are spots at home in which I can yet feel my grandmother; there are times when I feel sbp hovering...So appropriate to link that (indirectly)with Ms. Symborska. Have you read "The Sky" ? Ahh...sage :D

Lorna Cahall said...

Thanks for the wonderful portrait and the sage. Smells like heaven to me, too.

shoreacres said...

How interesting to see the role of the white plate change from post to post - first a receptable for the torn and discarded, then a lovely symbol of balance and beauty.

Taken together, the images capture what Szymborska herself said about her poetry: "I borrow words weighed with pathos and then try hard to make them seem light."

The plate weighed down, the plate swirling in the air. It's the way of life - not either/or, but both/and, time after time after time.

Ruth said...

hedge , thank you for reading, and for that wonderful phrase Margaret and I admire “stored apple beauty.”

Yes, Margaret , and how!

Auntie , if you haven't found a smudge stick yet there are lots of them online, and at stores where meditation tools are sold. Enjoy!

Ruth said...

Deslilas, merci! She has been translated into French, so I believe you should be able to find something to enjoy of hers.

Barb, I wonder how many of us friends who knew her work sent notice to each other of her death. I think I heard a beautiful hum on the weekend.

Dear ds, yes. :-)I knew you would have to look it up. I am reading a book George recommended called what really matters , a compendium of various spiritual practices in the US these last few decades. It is wonderful, and I think you would like it too. Thanks to you, I just read “The Sky”. I feel small and big simultaneously.

Ruth said...

Lorna, welcome and thank you for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed it and the fragrance of a beautiful poet, who will be missed.

Dear, Linda, I really appreciate that you noticed the reappearance of the white plate. And then you connected them in your own lovely way, and with her own words. It takes a very special mind of observation to do what you do, habitually.

Jeanie said...

This poem is so beautiful -- what a tribute -- I wish she could have read it.

Christine said...

As for others here Wisława Szymborska is new to me. This has been my introduction to her work and her poetry. Thankyou for this.

Sandy said...

Beautiful post and beautiful face - and love the sage photo.