some words on words

by

Earlier today I quoted Tomas Venclova, who read in the Purcell Room last night, from his poem Commentary:

Above all, though it’s hard, love language –
humbled in newspapers, obituaries saturated with lies,
in the bedroom’s close darkness, the informer’s confession,
in the cry at the bazaar, trenches, the stench of hospital wards,

in third-rate theatres, secret police offices, on lavatory walls…

then you’ll be the one who ’saw that it was good’ –
because letters float across the page like sludge on a river,
and suddenly bushes, an embankment, a city come into view.
And it doesn’t matter who reads this (if anyone ever).

Well, then this afternoon I was (sitting in the hairdressers) working on something completely different, and came across these lines in James Merrill’s wonderful poem Lost in Translation:

… the fluted nouns
Made taller, lonelier than in life
By leaf-carved capitals in the afterglow.
The owlet umlaut peeps and hoots
Above the open vowel. And after rain
A deep reverberation fills with stars.

Lost, is it, buried? One more missing piece?

But nothing’s lost. Or else: all is translation
And every bit of us is lost in it…

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