I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. (Virginia Woolf) We become ourselves through others, and the self is a porous thing, not a sealed container (Siri Hustvedt) En vez de mirarme en mi espejo quiero que mi espejo se mire en mí (Alejandra Pizarnik)
I have written two poems on paintings by de Chirico which sieze my imagination – “The Disquieting Muses” and “On the Decline of Oracles” (after his early painting, “The Enigma of the Oracle”) and two on paintings by Rousseau -a green & moony-mood piece, “Snakecharmer”, & my last poem of the eight, as I’ve said, a sestina on Yadwigha of “The Dream”. I shall copy here some quotations from a translated prose-poem by de Chirico, or from his diaries, which have unique power to move me, one of which, the first, is the epigraph to my poem “On the Decline of Oracles”:
1- Inside a ruined temple the broken statue of a god spoke a mysterious language
2- “Ferrara” the old ghetto where one could find candy & cookies in exceeding strange & metaphysical shapes
3- Day is breaking. This is the hour of the enigma. This is also the hour of prehistory. The fancied song, the revelatory song of the last, morning dream of the prophet asleep at the foot of the sacred column, near the cold, white simulacrum of god.
4- What shall I love unless it be the Enigma?
And everywhere in Chirico city, the trapped train puffing its cloud in a labyrinth of heavy arches, vaults, arcades. The statue, recumbent, of Ariadne, deserted, asleep, in the center of empty, mysterioiusly-shadowed squares. And the long shadows cast by unseen figures- human or of stone it is impossible to tell.
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. Anchor, 2000.
Video. Sylvia Plath reads On the Decline of Oracles
On the Decline of Oracles
My father kept a vaulted conch
By two bronze bookends of ships in sail,
And I listened its cold teeth seethed
With voices of that ambiguous sea
Old Böcklin missed, who held a shell
To hear the sea he could not hear.
What the seashell spoke to his inner ear
He knew, but no peasants know.
My father died, and when he died
He willed his books and shell away.
The books burned up, sea took the shell,
But I, I kept the voices he
Set in my ear, and in my eye
The sight of those blue, unseen waves
For which the ghost Böcklin grieves.
The peasants feast and multiply.
Eclipsing the spitted ox I see
Neither brazen swan nor burning star,
Heraldry of a starker age,
But three men entering the yards,
And those men coming up the stair.
Profitless, their gossiping images
Invade the cloistral eye like pages
From a gross comic strip, and toward
The happening of this happening
The earth turns now. In half an hour
I shall go down the shabby stair and meet,
Coming up, those three. Worth
Less than present, past – this future.
Worthless such vision to eyes gone dull
That once descried Troy’s towers fall,
Saw evil break out of the north.