Saturday, 30 January 2010

Pia Tafdrup: Over the Water I Walk (VII) - 5

It could be said that the Psalms of David, written about 3,000 years ago, refute my point of view. If God is the highest authority, God will not only see the poem as it is, but will also know it before it is written. In Psalms 139, 4-5 we read: ‘For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.’

The first part of the quotation reveals an idea about fate and providence, while the second part expresses a present action. There is a big difference between God already knowing everything, and God being simultaneous with events. If God knows the poem before I have formulated it, then God must know ‘all things’ ending’. It is not necessarily true that God knows ‘the end’. That is no precondition of His almighty power. If God created Adam in his likeness, it must be supposed that God’s likeness is in Adam. I am incapable of saying anything that would surprise God, because I can never come before God, but God apparently resigns Himself in listening and being at the same time.

Since I myself do not know the poem until I have written it, or perhaps just because of that, it is possible to insert God as an authority who in the last analysis is spoken to, and not as the one who knows the poem in advance.


Every significant work is itself, but that does not prevent it from wanting a dialogue. On the contrary. Doesn’t art become art only when it is perceived? When the poem acquires its reader? In spite of the fact that some parts of it will remain foreign to the reader, the poem’s will is to reach the unknown mind.

Although I have my centre, there are none the less collective patterns that become valid beyond the subjective, but if today one constantly has a sense of living apart from other people, it is because it has become so difficult to see the structures that are shared. Perhaps in some invisible place we are more alike than apart? At least it must be said that we have fantasies and longings in common. And perhaps at certain happy moments there is a bridge of seconds, where not only can one individual’s aloneness communicate itself to another, but where also a process takes place.

On rare but definite occasions the unknown reader identifies himself with the poems in a surprising way. A reader once told me: ‘If I could write poems, I would like to have written yours’. Some of it was already there in the reader, but had not been put into words before.

I am incapable of knowing what a poem means to the person who reads it, but if a poem can have an effect on another person like the effect it had on me when I wrote it, can one ask for anything more?

A poem cannot find a response if the readers or listeners are not in the mood, prepared to be in the poem and at the same time allow it to be in them. When a picture is looked at, it is best seen from a given location, and in the performance of music there must be a balance between closeness and distance, but the poem also demands that its audience should take a position with regard to it. That it should take its bearings from it in a spiritual sense, whether it is read or heard.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

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

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