Friday, May 30, 2008

Poem of the Week 5/5/2008: Black and White Stone

Black and White Stone

seeds a stone
in the air
The stone rises
an old man is asleep
If his eyes open
the stone explodes
whirlwind of wings and beaks
above a woman
who flows
through the whiskers of autumn

The stone falls
in the eye's plaza
in the palm of your hand
between your breasts
languages of water

The stone ripens
the seeds sing
They are seven
seven sisters
seven vipers
seven drops of jade
seven words
on a bed of glass
seven veins of water
in the center
of the stone
opened with a glance

Octavio Paz 1971
Trans. Eliot Weinberger

Perhaps what will help the understanding of this poem most is to know that it was based on a dream Paz had. The author's note is as follows:

"I was not a friend of Joseph Sima's, but in 1969 and 1970 I had the fortune of seeing him a few times always briefly, at the gallery Le Point Cardinal in Paris. His presence and conversation created an impression on me that was no less vivid than his painting. Two days before writing the poem and dreaming the dram that are the object of this note, I had recieved a letter from Claude Esteban, asking me for a text--perhaps, he hinted, a poem--in homage to Sima. I barely remember my dream, except for the image of an almost spherical stone--a planet? giant gourd? light bulb? fruit?--floating in the air, slowly changing color (but what were the colors that alternately lit up and grew dark?) spinning around itself and over a landscape of fine sand covered with eyes--the eyes of Marie Jose who slept at my side. The undulating yellow landscape had turned into eyes that watched the stone breathe, dilating and contracting, suspended in the air. Then I was woken by a voice that said "Sima siembra" ("Sima seeds"). I got up and wrote, almost embarassedly, the poem that Esteban had requested. Three days later I read in Le Monde that Sima had died. As the newspaper arrived in Mexico three days after publication in Paris, I had dreamed the dream and written the poem just when Sima died."

Oddly, the way Sima, somebody Paz obviously admired, will be remembered best through a poem of Paz's; it is at moments like this when I reflect on and trust Shakespeare's idea of art lasting longer than the person himself.

Some other thoughts that came to me are those pertaining to latin poetry; this poem's sensuality and mysterious but clear imagery seem, to me, like Nietzsche's woman. That is, they are beautiful and true yet lead one forward, their mystery never quite grasped, quite understood. Reading this poem, it is perhaps best not to treat it like something to be Understood, but rather something by which to be humbled, or something to marvel at, legs crossed on the floor.

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