Time becomes visible in words, but time is also fleeting and therefore impossible to capture in writing. Words do not cross one’s lips at the same speed as the body registers, just as the perceived object is only seen when the rays of light reach us. Every perception and every communication by means of words is always delayed in relation to sensation. Associated with the written word there is also an inertia which today seems almost provocative. To work with language is, however, to be aware of the fact that even before the word is spoken or set down on paper the phenomenon may not exist any more. Things exist before language gets there. Language will always be too late with regard to sensation and will consequently belong to a time dimension different from the factual time of the senses – phenomena that play no role in the everyday, where one experiences a simultaneity with the events that take place.
A poem has its own continuum in time and space. The poem lasts for the time it takes to read it or hear it. It lasts for the number of times the heart beats while it is being read. The poem’s unfolding in time involves the period required to perceive it, to make its individual elements interact with one another. The time consumed while it is being produced is different. That process has a different continuum. The question of whether the poem’s genesis is long or short one has no effect on the experience of time associated with its reading. The finished poem is free of the time that was needed to work on it. A poems with a long period of genesis is not necessarily better in quality than a poem with a short one.
In spite of all limitations the poem also constitutes a multiplicity of time – a transcendental phenomenon. While biological life is limited: from Here and to There, I can read myself into the universe of any dead poet. I can also read a poem over and over again. On each occasion it is an aesthetic event, both because with each reading the poem is renewed, and because I myself am constantly in motion and therefore accentuate differently.
The “now” of the poem is both an unending moment and a limitation. Words and images strive for continuum, but point inexorably to ending. The poem wants the infinite, eternity, but at the same time has annihilation built into it.
Because the poem lives not by words alone, but also by silence, it is able to preserve and protect the enigmatic.
translated from Danish by David McDuff
Pia Tafdrup: Over the Water I Walk (III) - 1
Pia Tafdrup: Over the Water I Walk (III) - 2
Note: the posts with the translated text of Chapters I and II can be accessed here and here.