Monday, 13 July 2009

Pia Tafdrup: Over the Water I Walk (IV) - 6


The essence of language is also music, phonetics, metrics, atmosphere, mood. Poesie ist ein Zustand der Sprache, Helmut Heissenbüttel has said. Poetry is only one way of using language, but is characterized by a nuancing of expression. Poetry is a question of concentration, a language inside a language, where the crystals are packed closely together.

Poetry is not a mystical act, but taking Helmut Heissenbüttel’s idea further: An anti-grammar, an anti-syntax, a strange passion, a phonetic, acoustic and rhythmic possibility, which plays a part in determining linguistic expression. Poetry is an acrobatics of sound, an orientation in the world. Poetry is a life-form. Poetry is.

As Helmut Heissenbüttel emphasizes, poetry builds on the visual power of language, its musicality and ability to suggest, but also just as much on the area of meaning, of semantics. Poetry’s density of meaning is not a wish to block interpretation, but an attempt to open the way to multiplicity.


All creation also contains elements of destruction. Even though words cannot be cleared out of the way, the everyday use of language must be broken down for poetry to come out of it. Rather than something being destroyed, it is more correct to say that elements are separated from one another so that something can be built. The old meanings are what fall apart. Deconstruction in language is therefore not a purely disintegrative movement, but is equally a constructive device.

At some stage in their work all poets will experience phases of linguistic scepticism:

Language that cries so loudly
that there is only One leaf
to all the forests in the mountains around
One drop of the lake
whose shiny calm the body at any moment
may plough into furrows of silver.

If I want to travel beyond this experience of the limitations or inadequacy of linguistic expression, I must discover language’s liberating potential. Language is the prison in which I have complete freedom to tear down walls. Linguistic scepticism is a continuous and at times cynical insistence, not a stage that is prematurely “overcome”. The line between imprisonment and dignity is sometimes a surprisingly fine one.


Poetry is not a refuge for emotions. Every conception in language is hard work. This aspect of the poetic is developed in Rilke’s ‘Requiem für Wolf Graf von Kalckreuth’:

- O alter Fluch der Dichter,
die sich beklagen, wo sie sagen sollten,
die immer urteiln über ihr Gefühl
statt es zu bilden; die noch immer meinen,
was traurig ist in ihnen oder froh,
das wussten sie und dürftens im Gedicht
bedauern oder rühmen. Wie die Kranken
gebrauchen sie die Sprache voller Wehleid,
um zu beschreiben, wo es ihnen wehtut,
statt hart sich in die Worte zu verwandeln,
wie sich der Steinmetz einer Kathedrale
verbissen umsetzt in des Steines Gleichmut.

If the poet is to transform himself into words, language must be taken beyond the place where it is used every day. The language of art is therefore different from the one in which we communicate. In poetry the words must have an existence beyond their ordinary meaning, and, like the logic in a bird’s wing, enter into complex relations where musical and acoustic phenomena have precise equivalents with semantic values.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Over the Water I Walk (IV) - 1
Over the Water I Walk (IV) - 2
Over the Water I Walk (IV) - 3
Over the Water I Walk (IV) - 4
Over the Water I Walk (IV) - 5

Note: the posts with the translated text of Chapters I, II and III can be accessed here, here, and here.

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