There were never words for this emptiness
For me it was just giving up
To conformity and a determination
To keep going and to exist
For those I was sister to fern and otter.
And the world stopped its questioning.
I will retire to the woods
I will let myself live.
This is a short poem by Pilar Pallarés from Livro das devoracións (Espiral Maior: A Coruña, 2009). I remembered it as I was reading Blanco Amor yesterday and wanted to dip back into the collection because it seemed to me that she has taken on the cloak of saudade and brought it into the twenty-first century.
I think of saudade as a softer version of angst rewritten for a beautiful country draped in mists and mystery.
The lines that I remembered were the closing lines: I will retire to the woods, I will let myself live. I suppose they popped into my head because I left Blanco Amor with a question in my mind about the nature and purpose of poetry. Poetry is seductively beautiful but, if it is wrapped up in sorrow and heartache, how does it relate to other ways of talking and thinking? Or, as I imagine my mother saying, “What’s the use of being so miserable? She should just pull her socks up and get over it!” She should read The Power of Positive Thinking.
I read some of Pilar Pallarés’s poems to Carmen in my first blush of enthusiasm and she was similarly doubtful. She found the poet’s vision too disconsolate. Well, you would not be reading this unless you were a reader; you need to be a dedicated book lover to get this far in one of my posts. As a reader you must have come across people who cannot understand the point of it all and want to cut out all that poetic crap and dive straight to the point.
It makes me think of Pessoa the great Portuguese writer of The Book of Discontent. What an extraordinary book! I remember stopping in a weak spring sun to sit on a bench by the steel factory to read and reread a section because it seemed so immediate and necessary. It was as though the words had been wrenched from my own gut and slapped down there on the page. It was poetic. Yet I could not help feeling that if he had smoked a little less and done some exercise he might have had a brighter outlook on life.
I have no particular reverence for genius so this seems like a bona fide question to me. Poetry has accompanied me all through my life. I also have what I recognise as a melancholic temperament which has drawn me down into depression more than once. Think of the Durer print Melancholia. Ah, the dark humour, the sultry meditation, the yearning to go deeper! When I was depressed I went to the doctor: he talked to me about brain chemistry and put me on some appalling pills. I was surrounded by people speaking different languages: pop psychology, health and fitness, neurotransmitters, motivational reading.
This poem reminds me of my own path: retire to the woods; let yourself live. I will let myself live: deixarei-me vivir. And I have dipped and dallied around reading blogs here and there enough to realise there are plenty of people who need to do that: people who are right now in the grip of depression or worse; people who are struggling with a sense of futility or meaninglessness. They could do worse than let themselves live and go to the woods.
Does poetry give you a sense of meaning? Or is it a beauty that wounds?