Saturday, March 15, 2008

Enter the Mystics

Excerpt from the Coplas of Juan de Yepes, a.k.a. San Juan de la Cruz

Entreme donde no supe
y quedéme no sabiendo
toda ciencia trascendiendo.

Yo no supe dónde entraba
pero cuando allí me vi
sin saber dónde me estaba
grandes cosas entendí
no diré lo que sentí
que me quedé no sabiendo
toda ciencia trascendiendo.

De paz y de piedad
era la ciencia perfecta,
en profunda soledad
entendida vía recta
era cosa tan secreta
que me quedé balbuciendo
toda ciencia trascendiendo.

Estaba tan embebido
tan absorto y ajenado
que se quedó mi sentido
de todo sentir privado
y el espíritu dotado
de un entender no entendiendo
toda ciencia trascendiendo.

El que allí llega de vero
de sí mismo desfallece
cuanto sabía primero
mucho bajo le parece
y su ciencia tanto crece
que se queda no sabiendo,
toda ciencia trascendiendo.

10 comments:

Mónica said...

So I missed the lecture this week but I have a good source of information who came home with all the scoop. One idea that stuck was that of the poet as a channel for language itself, inspiration... the person who is writing disappearing, giving way to poetry. This reminded me of the Mystics, whose poems were divinely "revealed" to them, directly from God.

Scholars have argued that the source of the revelation could be more agnostically interpreted as what we plainly call inspiration, that force that suggests, whispers, shouts out (if you are lucky) the words. Many of San Juan de la Cruz's poems regard two lovers, and they have been interpreted to symbolize himself and God. It may not be farfetched to explore whether they could also refer to the poet's relationship with language.

cometa said...

I Went In, I Knew Not Where

I went in, I knew not where
and stayed, not knowing, but going
past the boundaries of knowing.

I knew not the place around me,
how I came there or where from,
but seeing where then I found me,
I sensed great things, and grew dumb-
since no words for them would come-
lacking all knowledge, but going
past the boundaries of knowing.

Of piety and of peace
I had perfect comprehension;
solitude without surcease
showed the straight way, whose intention-
too secret for me to mention-
left me stammering, but going
past the boundaries of knowing.

So wholly rapt, so astonished
was I, from myself divided,
that my very senses vanished
and left me there unprovided
with knowledge, my spirit guided
by learning unlearned, and going
past the boundaries of knowing.

He who reaches that place truly
wills himself from self to perish;
all he lately knew, seen newly,
seems trifles unfit to cherish;
his new knowledge grows to flourish
so that he lingers there, going
past the boundaries of knowing.

The higher up one is lifted,
the less one perceives by sight
how the darkest cloud has drifted
to elucidate the night;
He who knows the dark aright
endures forever, by going
past the boundaries of knowing.

This wisdom, wise by unknowing,
wields a power so complete
that the learned wise men throwing
wisdom against it compete
with a force none can defeat,
since their wisdom makes no showing
past the boundaries of knowing.

There is virtue so commanding
in this high knowledge that wit,
human skill and understanding
cannot hope to rival it
in one who knows how to pit
against self his selfless going
past the boundaries of knowing.

And if you should care to learn
what this mode of being wise is,
it is yearnings that discern
the Divine in all its guises,
whose merciful gift and prize is
to confound all knowledge, going
past the boundaries of knowing.

St. John of the Cross (1542-1591),
translated by Rhina P. Espaillat

szalvador said...

Oh, what an insight...
Language = God

In ancient times, all the writings refered to the spirit were sacred writings.

nanuka said...

...ciertamente me gustaría sentir esas pasiones místicas, reconozco la belleza y la música de esos poemas, pero hay una parte en mí que no reconoce el sentimiento...

szalvador said...

Just remember ME

vagoimperial said...

el pavorreal mazorca te ofrece trascender las fronteras del saber y mueres porque no mueres!

nanuka said...

...y por cierto, no les gusta Sor Juana?? pura curiosidad...

szalvador said...

Claro. Pero este es un foro de poesía en inglés. Habrá que ver si hay una buena traducción de Sor Juana al English

garrett said...

(I've been thinking on these things the last few days while away in DF and I apologize for taking so long to pick up the thread. For me anyway, there's a lot to talk about here and we'll definitely be taking all these things up again, not least of all in the lecture on Poetry, Truth, Feeling (Wisdom & Critique, the Touching & the Moving).)

The English word "inspiration" comes from "breathing in" the spirit; "enthusiasm," from "the god is in you."

The Apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy writes "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" - that is, the writing comes about by breathing in God. We could say, that poetry is given by breathing in - what?

Historically there are poets who have been thought to be more inspired, whose poetry flies to greater heights, so to speak, than other poets - this is discussed in literary criticism beginning at least with Longinus. For Longinus, those poets of greatest inspiration were the profoundest, while also most subject to ridiculous excesses (and hence to parody). For Longinus and other Classical writers, there was a reverent place also for a poetry that was more urbane and witty (whose excesses, in turn, lead to mere cleverness, or dryness). And the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (co-author of Lyrical Ballads with William Wordsworth) distinguished between poets of wit or fancy (verbal cleverness) and poets of imagination; Coleridge clearly favors the imagination.

In the lecture I began to psychologize the different ideas of what the poet does in Oppen - craftsman - and Spicer - radio set, and one could also psychologize San Juan de la Cruz, where "that force that suggests" would be subconscious forces, the pressure of subconscious content against consciousness. And religious ecstasy and the state of creative inspiration could be explained psychologically. But that would be psychologism; an explanation may help, may broaden the horizon of understanding - but of course explanation may also limit understanding.

"How do you know but ev'ry bird that cuts the airy way is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?" wrote Blake. (Transliterated: "How do you know that every bird that cuts through the air is not an immense world of delight, closed (off to you) by your five senses?")

But I'm going to stress poetizing, rather than psychologizing. (In part because that's what I do, in part because that's what poetry does.) In this way, it may not be farfetched to say that in that moment of inspiration poets who channel something are in fact drawing from some content, at moments more or less conscious, at moments more or less subconscious, which is language. Once we begin thinking of language as a whole, this wholeness of language, including its material and immaterial aspects, begins to have a dimension approaching unfathomability, or unknowability. That is, it is generative in itself. Poetry comes about by breathing in language.

And as John wrote, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

As for unknowing itself: poetry definitely obeys different logical rules, rules different from the rules of discursive, conversational, or formal logic. But poetry, a poem, definitely obeys its own rules. I'd go so far to say, for myself, that every poem is its own law, every poem is its own logic. The particular logic of the particular poem is the reason why we are, in fact, able to talk about poems. And talk, and talk, and talk, particularly with the greater poems.

szalvador said...

Cristal clear.