Merleau-Ponty is right1: only by silence
Are words redeemed. Only by the ability
And strength to inspect the grounds,
Even slowly, is our own monstrous vision
Harnessed2 – to use a delightful term
Of Seamus Heaney’s. And that’s the quick,
The only quick there is…
When Dionysus the God (not the Tyrant
Of Syracuse whom Plato wrote to)
His image in a glass sought askance,
It was the world which appeared to his view,
He came into his own just by chance.
Something similar happens in democratic milieu;
But the divine element in the experience
Is, through fault of no one, hard to hold onto.
“Voyez-vous cette tête?3 …” I would counter,
"…Avec cette tête, je bouleverserai
Tout obstacle à la divinité sur la Terre!4"
Our heads are masks in Nature’s play,
Three-dimensional, planted neck and crop
Atop our bodies, the vital costume.
As also many a bad parent has proved,
Genetically and otherwise
They can easily be destroyed
At any time in their role’s cycle.
Every head will get all sorts of battering
Before it’s through, though,
All that grey matter inside being
The favourite target for darts of Apollo5—
Who, we all know, can be simple and cruel.
But, whatever its contents, a head does a job
To express them: by Nature it is equipped
To do so; what with the eyes to laugh and to sob,
Nose to nudge and to kiss, forehead to hit with,
Hair to wave to flutter to tickle
Warm seduce frighten and prick,
Skin, muscle to relax pull or wrinkle—
I won’t even mention the mouth and what it can think—
Only the ears are at a loss, really;
But by a fabulous trick they too can wiggle.
And I confess to an evolutionary bias:
What other species holds its head as high as,
As upright upon the spine as Man?
Everything he is, he owes it to the plan
That proffered his brain to the heavens.
Yet, as Goethe once said: “What is hardest
In the world? That which seems the simplest:
To see with the eyes what is in front of the eyes.”
Thus it is that in democracies,
Where a man can see all of his fellows
When he surveys himself, amid too many “hellos”
And “what-can-I-do-for-yous”, a real, befuddled animal6
Slights the sense-studded coffer which is his skull.
Luckily, he can lean and vault on polls
To try to stay abreast of goals
He might consider to enhance his Freedom:
Vanna White7 may not be optimum for him
But, surely, somewhere in his head
He can find it to let her stay in bed;
And if he truly has had enough of beer,
With the eerie cool of a second Lear8
He can upstage both fridge and belly
And, by Grace of God, unplug the telly.
Then, a little more peaceful if no less alone,
He might to this of all poems turn
And be mirrored Finite and Eternal.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, French philosopher (1908-61), author of The Phenomenology of Perception (1945). ↩
“Harness yourself, Seamus; harness yourself”: self-exhortation of Seamus Heaney, Irish poet, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature. ↩
Fr. “Do you see this head?”; cf. Denis Diderot, Conversation between D’Alembert and Diderot (1769) (“Do you see this egg?”). ↩
Fr. “With this head, I shall overturn/All obstacle to divinity on the Earth!”; cf. ibid. (“It is with this [egg] that one overturns all the schools of theology and all the temples of the Earth!”). ↩
cf. Giorgio Colli, Dopo Nietzsche (“After Nietzsche”, 1974), (“as supreme divinity despoiled of all human semblance, Apollo, ‘the God who strikes from afar’, was described by Empedocles in the following terms: ‘there appeared only a sacred and unnamable heart, who with quick thoughts swoops across the whole world’. Apollo’s darts are thoughts!”) ↩
cf. W.H. Auden, “…the real, unlucky dove/smarting falls from brightness,/its love from living.” ↩
a soubrette on American television. ↩
Shakespeare’s King Lear being the first. ↩