Vladimir Holan

(from) A Night With Hamlet

On the way from nature to being
walls are not really kind
walls soaked with the urine of talents, walls running with the spittle
of eunuchs in revolt against the spirit, walls no smaller
for not yet being born,
walls that enclose the ripened fruit...

The supple ripeness of Shakespeare
invites licence. It's meaning,
which like amazement should be
festive, with the decline of the times,
(in face of the possible signs of his absence)
becomes a supercharge levied on every apartment
into which a director has rudely shoved his way.
Fraud alone is certainty here. And the spectator,
crawling out before his time like St George's dragon,
basks in the bile of the critics...
And those who dare to map desire
are at their ease, though their bad temper
shows that the brute is always with us...
Nature is a sign
which, if not mute,
denies itself. And the male of the species,
that opener, feels dumb simply because
the spirit always moves forward
while everything closes behind it...

And he was like that... Hamlet!
He had an arm missing and evening
rolled through the empty sleeve of his coat
as through a blind man's sex nipped by music...
Nature merged our contempt for the town
with the rock urine of mosses uprooted
at the golden summit of power
and waited for the caterpillar of the vine to change into a butterfly,
but waited in vain,
for he despised wine from the day
he was driven by thirst to open a horse's artery
and drink the blood...
So he made up his mind to admit the jinn
and exclude the apparently unrevealed mysteries,
and caught between himself and himself
to plead for the abyss.
Afterwards he spoke only from its depths
even when talking of a certain saint
who no longer had anything except the pain
of remembering an ancient love,
a pain little enough to be easily hidden
in a hollow tooth...

It doesn't matter
whether what we heard was the sucked saliva
running from sleeping crickets' mouths,
builders of midnight bridges,
creators who made themselves double tombs,
or phantoms whose wages is prophecy.
Only art made no excuses...
And also life insisted
insisted dangerously that we would survive,
though we might really wish to die...
There was no refuge... Nowhere, not even in the unconscious...
But he was there, Hamlet, who like a Mozart-tippler
overturned the Alps in order to stand a bottle shakily
on the creaking stairs of the fear of death,
so locked in himself that all immortality
could fit inside him...
And it is true that in his presence
the knife raised above a sheep
would not cut
and the melted pewter of old baptismal fonts
returned to its primal form.
Anxiety endures. He got in the way of eternity
and had to heal the wound. He was in the grave of the father
and had to be the child of the sons... He was
face to face with the holy spirit of music
and had to live for the takings of a whore
or the price of a dog.

Oh, not that he knew everything, for he well understood
that when egoism overeats
it doesn't throw up but digests and starts again -
not that he was wise, like a single wooden pillar
among columns of stone -
not that he trembled like an aspen facing
that ancient floor painted with menstrual blood -
not that he was a miser, thinking of final things
and living in King Atreus' tomb
where the treasury led straight to the charnel-house -
not that it mattered to him
whether Alexander the Great's crooked neck
had straightened out anything in history -
no, no, but I always see his grimace
at those for whom any mystery
is a void into which
they hurl all the fury of the castrated...

He who gives is still a miser...
But we who do not believe are always expecting something,
and maybe people always expect something
because they have no faith... They are enlightened
but don't give light... They are thin-blooded
yet for them nothing exists unless blood is shed,
they are damned though not yet excommunicated,
they are curious but haven't found the mirror
in which Helen-Helen
looked at herself from below-from below,
and they are so deaf they would like to hear
Christ's voice on a disc.

Meanwhile everything, everything here
is a miracle only once:
only once Abel's blood
which was to destroy all wars,
only once the irrecoverable, the unconscious of childhood,
only once youth and only once song,
only once love, in the same breath lost,
only for once everything against heredity and custom,
once only the loosing of contracted ties and liberation
and so only once the essence of art,
only for once everything against the prison,
unless God Himself should wish to build a house
on this earth...

A green hawthorn leaned over the wall
scattering on the road the buds of its curiosity.
The window opened the wind, bringing a draught:
Your deeds are many and yet none,
but to do and to be is the envy of everyone!
Night smoked history, ate the fried wings
cut from Mercury's ankles,
and drank it down
with the sweat of St Tragedy's organist...
'Only when you make your peace with death,' said Hamlet,
'will you understand that everything under the sun is really new...
Our body is not a canvas hangar
for cutting into strips...
But our subconscious plays tricks... Even if we give
alms, it is we who profit!
So it is when we make love in error... Yet no!
The groping sex of human beings means only
to have the relation without the man... And yet
love's liver is found in sin.
The tensing of the body reminds you of
the profaning and chastisement of the spirit...
Even in the presence of the sleeping we are not at ease
for we do not know where they will halt,
while we are stuck in our tracks...
Consider how heavy a cat suddenly becomes
when dead, while some man
will spend the whole day shooting sparrows!
Yes, there is the shame of a man and the shame of a woman.
A man cannot bear to look at cotton-wool.
And woman? No sooner born in the dry season,
she is already flattering the rains...'

In a moment Hamlet added: 'Children are never satisfied
with an answer...
They will play with a cupboard full of secrets
and finally carry off the key within themselves.
Or they are ill and secretly open the letters
of an imprisoned poet who used to
pay for his own little room simply because
the letter was opened by them...
Or when ill they see in their dreams a pillar of fire
and cry: It's a bough, a vein of God!
Or in illness cannot free their minds
of the unending handwork of women
which aims only at keeping them warm
and would weave a man into its pattern or else seize up...
Or they are well! Every moment
hands reach for the slices of bread...
And when they run out of the barn
they may trample on the last grain of last year's harvest
so that soon they will be more tempted
to crown the skull of fire with a sheaf's golden wig.
They are as full of life as a horse
that doesn't feel its rider a stranger
but its own thought... Rejoicing, shouting,
they have been a year together without regrets,
they have a sure remedy for anything that's not a miracle -
all stains are only mud-stains
on a new dress and can soon be washed off...
Children! They have found the true names, we have only to
pronounce them!

I interrupted and told him he looked like
a mill-stone quarry.
Have a drink, Hamlet! I said. Do you want it along with
the oven, soul of the farm,
or with the passion of the blood's cardinal points?
But he didn't take it badly and said: 'Po-pa!'
What's that? I asked and he replied:
'They talk that way in Tibet!'
and went on: 'Virgins, ah yes, they know
when a tree is unwell!... But I have known convicts.
For some of them it's enough to imagine
huge backsides, huge only because
the leaden memory of the same crime
forces them to squat without legs,
unless they are swollen from all the beatings,
since they smell of tar...
"There was no train!" said the woman. And the man
replied: "It's worse when a ship is late,
you, I mean, who like a ship
leave in you under you a continuous line..."
Yes... Whereas virgins, yes,
they know when a tree is unwell... And the cloth
of their innocence
always covers the male graftings,
even if their stockings are made from the hair of whores...
Freedom, you know, is always kin
to voluntary poverty...'

Night overlapped night... It bowed to the earth
or became a tomb for everything
the living and the dead were doing...
Maybe the living felt shy and were insolent...
And the dead, envious, not deliberately
but from heredity or vengefulness.
I understood when Hamlet said, not knowing my thoughts:
'What only surrounds us now
one day will bury us...
Once I was present at a fire...
One of countless flames was enough for me to notice
that the whole hand of a fish-pond keeper who was there
had only a single joint
and to make me think of the bony sculpture
of nothing upon nothing...
The hair of a hanged man
is more sensitive when silky on the spine
and comes no closer to being
than to the hairs of knowledge.
But still more spacious
for the shivering quinine of Elsinore
was the sound of Ophelia cutting her toe-nails...
You know...'
No, I don't know, I said... But right now
I'm expecting guests, I added, annoyed
that he plainly liked his own misfortune...

Again he was not offended and went on:
'Querer la propria desdicha... But what
moves a mother
would shatter argosies on the open sea...
Besides... If there is no God,
no angels and nothing after death,
why don't the worshippers of nothingness
bow down just to them,
the non-existent?
I had this feeling once
while hunting white falcon... It also rises
from Chinese tombs... And the tables of Moses
say the same... But from an inverted humility
or pride that is not yet clear -
for the bellows are only now being stitched up -
we would rather kiss a greyhound between the eyes and a
horse on the hoof,
and are not afraid to enter a library...
While hunting white falcon I have felt rhythm,
and, among the Ainus, gods, near, far, light and heavy...
Besides, at the moment
you are expecting guests
and they are already here since they've come before their time...
Yes, to see each other and talk together
and feel a warm trust
and heartbeat true as Rembrandt's needles,
though each of us is different from the other
(for that is what the soul does),
and yet not to catch the serpent by another's hand.

A jet engine is not for the poet...
And as a tree remains a tree while it bears some fruit
that ripens too soon
and some at the right time and some still later -
no, one cannot hurry with words
for we do not nor have we come
from the pitiable right of mankind
to be human for man's sake!
Effective love, you know?... The everyday is the miraculous...

The greater the poem, the greater the poet,
and not the contrary!' he added,
And you are already a great poet if you ask yourself with whom
you are to be lost...
Yes, art as something that stops a swollen head...
I tell you, art is a lament,
something for somebody, nothing for everyone,
for simply by hoping you are already in the future...
There is always something that outstrips us, for even love
is only part of our certitude... Atonal harmony...
And pain as punishment
for being a fugitive...
Or is it that human aid,
which might have helped,
calls upon the aid of God?
I don't know, but from the form of some people I have
recognized
the true proportions of an octopus...'

The wind wrangled in the chimney... And in some grove
ruffled the hair on a fallow-deer's penis...
And somewhere in history it chased Raleigh's drunken galleons
only to rip them apart,
as your mother once impatiently
tore her sleeves listening to Wagner...
But you can't drive out the soul by drinking, like a gopher
from its hole,
for even if you think of it as so full-bosomed
that you say: what reserves! - you are still a being,
fixed in transitory form by the winged hate
of man and woman.

'Salamander in the fire!' Hamlet broke in.
And then frying the seed of the Word on the melted
bacon of his tongue, hissed:
'What a poet writes, an angel or demon does...
Thus dreams revenge themselves on uninterrupted consciousness!
I am always looking for a free canteen
where the little window would not be that
of a prison cell through which
the prisoner is watched,
the peephole called the judas...
"He that will not work shall not eat" True,
but what is work? To be faithful to one's lot, unselfishly,
or to sell indulgences
or become a zealous stoker in a crematorium,
stick a thermometer in the rectum of war
or have to sing at the vintage
to prove you don't eat grapes,
examine a horse's teeth or like an executioner
rip out the nostrils of the condemned,
be corroded by vinegar and bile and take revenge on others
or burn off a woman's right breast
to make her an archer,
to be the seed of fate in history's womb
or the feeling that is condemned to forced labour
under the grey Siberia of old heads -
or on penalty of death to file off your fetters
and rather force your eyes out
than look at the horrors of today,
and yet still hear the singers
dead long ago, but free?...

Composition's net at best gathers in the ornamental...
I'm not indifferent to one little step or fall
of a child in the nettles... If his mother tells him:
Go and get some rum for the tea,
off he goes, repeating: rum for the tea, rum for the tea,
and ends up whispering: heaven for me...
No, no, I'm not indifferent to the single fall
of a child... Yet evil always rises
up humanity's spine, spattered with blood
like a dentist's staircase... Ancient
and weary, at each step it recoils in disgust,
yet rises again and again to the brain of pride,
for after so many attempts
by saints and poets,
after so many attempts by saints and poets to switch off the
current -
it believes only in the moment of harmony
when there is a short circuit
between heaven and hell.
But of course... We can also wait
until something bursts and love falls on us...
Maybe our hope is in patience
and waiting. Imagine
life's terminus...
An old man stands there, cowering
like words in the rain.
"I'm 'ere," he says, "waitin' for a gent
'o promised me a room, said it'd be unfurnished -
wouldn't worry me a bit - "
It was raining. And the old man's trust
was so blind or so openhanded
that it saw a snug future for him
and only the passers-by understood
that someone had taken him for a ride
under the mezzo rilievo of the moon... But you know how it is:
suddenly nothing, absolutely nothing,
absolutely nothing facing us
like the moment when it seems
the future is behind us.
Lovers should be joyful!
The universe, though as they say finite,
is also unlimited... A man is suddenly sick at heart,
a woman cold, instead of killing each other
they come together, grateful
once again to see something of their fate,
though it leads with shameless precision
to the poorhouse.'



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Vladimir Holan