Does the infinite space we dissolve into, taste of us then?

Pasolini's Teorema

The Second Elegy, trans. Stephen Mitchell

Every angel is terrifying. And yet, alas, I invoke you,

almost deadly birds of the soul, knowing about you.
Where are the days of Tobias, when one of you, veiling his radiance, 
stood at the front door, slightly disguised for the journey, no longer appalling;
(a young man like the one who curiously peeked through the window).
But if the archangel now, perilous, from behind the stars took even one step down toward us:
our own heart, beating higher and higher, would beat us to death.
Who are you?

Early successes, Creation's pampered favorites,

mountain-ranges, peaks growing red in the dawn of all beginning,--
pollen of the flowering godhead, joints of pure light, 
corridors, stairways, thrones, space formed from essence,
shields made of ecstasy, storms of emotion whirled into rapture, and suddenly alone:
mirrors, which scoop up the beauty that has streamed from their face
and gather it back, into themselves, entire.

But we, when moved by deep feeling, evaporate; we breathe ourselves out and away; 

from moment to moment our emotion grows fainter, like a perfume.
Though someone may tell us: "Yes, you've entered my bloodstream, the room,
the whole springtime is filled with you . . . "--what does it matter? he can't contain us, 
we vanish inside him and around him.
And those who are beautiful, oh who can retain them?
Appearance ceaselessly rises in their face, and is gone.
Like dew from the morning grass, what is ours floats into the air, like steam from a dish of hot food.
O smile, where are you going?
O upturned glance: new warm receding wave on the sea of the heart . . .
alas, but that is what we are.
Does the infinite space we dissolve into, taste of us then?
Do the angels really reabsorb only the radiance that streamed out from themselves,
or sometimes, as if by an oversight, is there a trace of our essence in it as well?
Are we mixed in with their features even as slightly as that vague look
in the faces of pregnant women?
They do not notice it (how could they notice) in their swirling return to themselves.
Lovers, if they knew how, might utter strange, marvelous words in the night air.
For it seems that everything hides us.
Look: trees do exist; the houses that we live in still stand.
We alone fly past all things, as fugitive as the wind.
And all things conspire to keep silent about us, half out of shame perhaps, half as unutterable hope.

Lovers, gratified in each other, I am asking you about us.
You hold each other. Where is your proof?
Look, sometimes I find that my hands have become aware of each other,

or that my time-worn face shelters itself inside them.
That gives me a slight sensation.
But who would dare to exist, just for that?
You, though, who in the other's passion grow until, overwhelmed, he begs you:
"No more . . . "; you who beneath his hands swell with abundance,
like autumn grapes; you who may disappear because the other has wholly emerged:
I am asking you about us.
I know, you touch so blissfully because the caress preserves, 
because the place you so tenderly cover does not vanish;
because underneath it you feel pure duration.
So you promise eternity, almost, from the embrace.
And yet, when you have survived the terror of the first glances, 
the longing at the window, and the first walk together, once only, through the garden:
lovers, are you the same?
When you lift yourselves up to each other's mouth and your lips join,
drink against drink: oh how strangely each drinker seeps away from his action.

Weren't you astonished by the caution of human gestures on Attic gravestones?
Wasn't love and departure placed so gently on shoulders 

that it seemed to be made of a different substance than in our world?
Remember the hands, how weightlessly they rest, though there is power in the torsos.
These self-mastered figures know: "We can go this far,
this is ours, to touch one another this lightly; the gods can press down harder upon us.
But that is the gods' affair."

If only we too could discover a pure, contained, human place,

our own strip of fruit-bearing soil between river and rock.
For our own heart always exceeds us, as theirs did.
And we can no longer follow it, 
gazing into images that soothe it or into the godlike bodies where,
measured more greatly, it achieves a greater repose.

to render, say, out of sight out of mind as invisible lunatic

excerpt from Employment for the Castes in Abeyance

I was a translator at the Institute:
fair pay, clean work, and a bowerbird's delight
of theory and fact to keep the forebrain supple.

I was Western Europe. Beiträge, reviste,
dissertaties, rapports turned English under my
one-fingered touch. Teacup-and-Remington days.


The trade was uneasy about computers, back then:
if they could be taught not to render, say, out of sight
out of mind as invisible lunatic

they might supersede us - not
because they'd be better. More on principle.
Not that our researchers were unkindly folk:

one man on exchange from Akademgorod
told me about Earth's crustal plates, their ponderous
inevitable motion, collisions that raised mountain chains,

the continents rode on these Marxian turtles, it seemed;
another had brought slow death to a billion rabbits,
a third team had bottled the essence of rain on dry ground.

They were translators, too, our scientists:
they were translating the universe into science,
believing that otherwise it had no meaning.


Les Murray's Employment for the Castes in Abeyance and Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalghia, featuring a Piero della Francesca in the chapel where the Italian cult of the Virgin is ritualised; miraculous birds fly out of the Madonna as a woman prays for a child. The Madonna is a protector of women and symbol of childbirth, and although she doesn't feature heavily in the bible, over time, especially over the late middle ages and early Renaissance, she has become an equal figure to Christ himself, and most prominently in Italy. The film is about a writer who is as unsure about the modern age as the poet in Employment; he befriends a mad man convinced that 1 + 1 does not equal 2 but a more comprehensive 1, and that he must wade through a steam pool with a lit candle in order to save the world. Gorchakov begins to dissolve into a transferred madness, exacerbating his alienation from the modern world; fusing his wife, the Madonna, and his interpretor; and attempting to fulfil the madman's vital task.

Andrea Mantegna and cardiacesque coral

La Vierge de la Victoire // Madonna della Vittoria (1496)

Hither, Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), one of my favourite painters and a principal figure in the Early Italian Renaissance, whose dramatic use of perspective and foreshortening combine with a sculptural style to emphasise arrested energy and the human subject. Trained in the study of marbles, he revered antique art over that of his time and even went so far as to avow it more eclectic in form than nature, (which would have had more than a slap of controversy about it). His painted cloths are always severe and closely folded; Mantegna is said to have dressed his models in paper or gummed weaves to achieve this stiff perfection of form.

This work is Completely Striking, particularly the ornately adorned arch filled with exotic birds, fruits, and precious stones, and the cardiacesque coral, a symbol of the Passion of Christ, which reminds me of another coral favourite, Piero della Francesca's Madonna di Senigallia (hither>>). 

The painting is a commissioned commemoration of the Battle of Fornovo in 1495; it shows the Virgin protecting Gonzaga (bottom left of frame), the military leader of the Holy League of Venice who successfully defeated the French invasion. The latin inscription, barely visible on the base of her throne, reads REGINA // CELI LET. // ALLELVIA (Queen of Heaven, rejoice, Alleluia). 

Ironically, around three centuries later, the painting was looted by the French army during the Napoleonic invasion of Italy and exhibited in the Louvre, where it remains, and where I visit it with antique adoration.

wastes and wonders in the gyre

“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;  
They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Öd’ und leer das Meer.

Kermit Oliver, the wonderful painter-mystic