By the light of generosity of my dear friends who have provided me with a luxurious country retreat this week, I very ironically have been thinking about difficulty. Trust me, I can hear a collective sigh whenever I post a writing with a dark, depressing edge. I, too, want to be delighted in childlike miracles, the warm answerability of a long held love, the tendrils of anticipation between new acquaintances, and always, the wonder of birdsong. It isn’t because these joys need the unutterable darkness from which they arise ( they do). But from a life relative to the world as being almost gluttonly possessed of inordinant security and privilege, I have come as a foreigner upon an atlas of a difficult world. And I have some questions.
Who doesn’t imagine a strange land and wonder, at the very least, could I survive there?
Under a leaf-less oak tree cradling a singly, grey, lost feather, I read George Steiner’s essay, “On Difficulty.” He is not necessarily focusing on the difficulty of horrifying experience which to repeat myself, I, in my blessedness have been writing about like a weatherman who has never felt rain or wind or snow on his skin. Rather it is the difficulty of some writing to be understood, penetrated, particularly a type of closed-off poetry which Steiner endeavors to philosophize.
At the heart of his essay, though, Steiner considers a difficult poem whose unspoken context becomes the difficulty itself.
Elsewhere Steiner once agreed with a writer who penned, “There can be no poetry after Auschwitz,” adding himself that “The world of Auschwitz lies outside the world of speech, as it lies outside reason. To speak of the unspeakable is to risk the survival of language.” Yet in his essay on difficulty, he turns to the poetry of Paul Celan, Auschwitz survivor.
You of the same mind, moor-wandering near one:
sized we lie
crocus, the timeless, teems
under our breathing eyelids,
the pair of blackbirds hangs
beside us, under
our whitely drifting
companions up there, our
(translated by Michael Hamburger)
Steiner doesnt bother to translate the whole poem into English because much of the double and multi-layered meanings in German are lost. But still, in English, one can grasp a sense of a difficult but profoundly moving statement. But “we cannot say confidently or paraphrastically ‘of what'” exactly the poem speaks about. Yet the untranslatability of the poem, and of all great works of art, is the furthest point at which “the strands of annihilation and survival are equally and simultaneously meshed.” A moment of Being.
Today’s Advice: “and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.” Mary Oliver