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Literature and Ideas

The Two Roads

The Card Players by Paul Cézanne (1839–1906).

Many writers consider their art not as something to be mastered — and as something that must be mastered — but as a game of chance, on which they can test their luck. They will happily hand themselves over to Fortune, basing their own worth on nothing more than her valuation (although they are bound to inflate it a little, of course).

There are two traps, two roads to destruction: the first consists in adapting too easily to the tastes of the public, the second in holding too faithfully to one's own idiosyncratic system.

Paul Valéry (1871–1945)
Tel Quel

Beaucoup d'écrivains considerent leur art, non comme chose dont il faut se rendre maitre — sine qua non — mais comme un jeu de hasard ou l'on peut risquer sa chance. Ils se remettent tout entiers a la fortune et se donneront la valeur qu'elle voudra bien leur conférer. (Ils ajouteront meme quelque chose.)

Il y a donc deux écueil, deux manieres de s'égarer et de périr: l'adaptation trop exacte au public; la fidelité trop étroite a son propre systeme.

Beyond Choice

Fate of the Animals by Franz Marc (1880–1916).
I follow you, Fate. And, hell, if I chose to rebel,
I'd follow you still — under duress and bated breath.
Schicksal, ich folge dir! Und wollt’ ich nicht,
ich müsst’ es doch und unter Seufzen tun!

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)
couplet from Morgenröte, section 195

War Cry

Wolf and Two Doves
by Sinibaldo Scorza
Like predatory wolves
that prowl through pitch-black mists,
instinctive and impelled
by noxious stings of hunger,
while the cubs that were left
behind are waiting
with dessicated throats,
we march to certain
death. We shall sprint
through their volleying spears,
storming their city
while the night stays black.

And darkness keeps us safe from attack.
                                        … inde, lupi ceu
raptores atra in nebula, quos improba ventris
exegit caecos rabies, catulique relicti
faucibus exspectant siccis, per tela, per hostis
vadimus haud dubiam in mortem, mediaeque tenemus
urbis iter; nox atra cava circumvolat umbra.

Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil)
Aeneid 2.355–60

Sails and Flies

Study of a cow by Silvio Bicchi (1874–1948).
Better by far to sleep on shaded grass
than on a gilded bed. Your purple sheets
don't overawe me. I'm at ease, at last.

Perhaps a cheerful heart can overthrow
all darker thoughts and every sordid pain.
I feel completely calm and unalone.

As sun begins to dawn, the cows repeat
their gentle sounds, herds harmonising peacefully.
Perchè dolce più assai era fra l’erba 
Sotto l’ombre dormir queto e sicuro, 
Che ne’ dorati letti, e di superba 
Porpora ornati: e forse più ogn' oscuro 
Pensier discaccia, ed ogni doglia acerba, 
Sentir col cor tranquillo, allegro, e puro 
Nell’ apparir del Sol mugghiar gli armenti, 
Che l’armonia de’ più soavi accenti.

Vittoria Colonna (1492–1547)

The Cause of Things

Close-up of the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa,
sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
From never-ending yearnings rise
our ending deeds that tremble like
the falling fruit, borne before its time
of fruitless weeping. Paradise
is felt through one's organic might —
a truth shown by those flitting cries,
but one well hidden otherwise.
Aus unendlichen Sehnsüchten steigen
endliche Taten wie schwache Fontänen,
die sich zeitig und zitternd neigen.
Aber, die sich uns sonst verschweigen,
unsere fröhlichen Kräfte — zeigen
sich in diesen tanzenden Tränen.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)


Alert to the sounds of early nothings. Dark
and abandoned auroral streets. Hand on metalwork.

The rustling stopped me, threatened an ignorance.
Scanned for its source, which stayed unseen. I glanced —

Balled at my feet — the creature calmly disturbed.
It lay on the pavement like a kitten barbed.


There lies my childhood,
high on that hill.
I see its inhabited
lights from my night-
time carriage.

Pulling in at the station,
the burning stench
of crop-stalks
hits me.

A spreading, ancient stench,
like the various voices
I seem to hear
call me.

But the train drives on. I don't know where to.

The friend beside me, he barely stirs.

No one thinks, can conceive,
what this land of my birth
might mean as I speed
on through like an
Giace lassù la mia infanzia.
Lassù in quella collina
ch'io riveggo di notte,
passando in ferrovia,
segnata di vive luci.
Odor di stoppie bruciate
m'investe alla stazione.
Antico e sparso odore
simile a molte voci che mi chiamino.
Ma il treno fugge. Io vo non so dove.
M'è compagno un amico
che non si desta neppure.
Nessuno pensa o immagina
che cosa sia per me
questa materna terra ch'io sorvolo
come un ignoto, come un traditore.

Vincenzo Cardarelli (1887–1959)