We live in the moment, but also act in relation to a historical time, just as in language we make use of a consciousness that is greater than ourselves. Each moment consists both of what is current and what is a product of the past, the eternally already-given. This synchronous time, these moments like echo chambers, are what the following lines seek to put into words:
There is not One body
but the body of the human family and the heavens’ depths
not One person’s isolated memory
but a kind of universal remembering
Just as the body of a woman who gives birth
always has a knowledge
thousands of years older than herself.
This stanza also says that it is language and history, not nature, that express the divine.
Time dimensions are one of the features that make up a poem. Poetry does not say: "seven years later she gave birth to a son." Poetry establishes another space, that of the moment, and therefore one cannot question it in the way that one can question prose. Poetry is a divine present tense.
A poem has an after-time. The poem’s images form after-images and after-sounds. What is easy to remember is the tone. The mental and emotional condition that accompanied the poem when it was read may be reconstructed or may manifest itself again. Lines may turn up unexpectedly and quite unannounced hours or days later – in the same surprising way as a dream may be recalled by something. There is a special freedom associated with unfolding inwardly in after-thoughts.
Very few works on poetics deal with the subject of this after-life. I am, among other things, what I have read over time. It does not disappear, but is deposited in me like a spiritual sediment. Thus, one can also speak of a time dimension that is different from one’s own.
It is not merely difficult but quite impossible to find the “point” of the story in one’s own personal time, as stories are manufactured contexts. The gaze of a third onlooker must determine the context to which the individual moment belongs. Kierkegaard formulated it wisely when he said that life must be understood backwards but lived forwards.
The Zeitgeist is as a rule rather fatuous. A shared and easily graspable magnitude expressed at the expense of complexity. A multiplicity of events reduced to a few clear ones in an attempt to stop and freeze the flow. The Zeitgeist is a historical, political and social phenomenon, but this does not mean that culture is timeless. Art collides with time, and by no means all works of art survive the collision. But there is also art that expresses yesterday, today and tomorrow.
translated from Danish by David McDuff
Pia Tafdrup: Over the Water I Walk (III) - 1
Pia Tafdrup: Over the Water I Walk (III) - 2
Pia Tafdrup: Over the Water I Walk (III) - 3
Note: the posts with the translated text of Chapters I and II can be accessed here and here.