Sunday, September 23, 2012

What I Wanted to Say

Letter to Emile Bernard from Paul Cezanne
via the Coutrauld Art Institute

"So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."
    —"East Coker," by T. S. Eliot, via even*cleveland

Lately I've been feeling that the art of communication is far beyond me, perhaps because for me,  communication really does look like a form of poetry. Maybe I've been thinking too much about Zen masters like Dogen, who could use words to teach such all-encompassing truths with such brevity and clarity. Or, on the less happy side, maybe I've been thinking too much about human failures of communication, in the realm of politics, or in the realm of families. Sometimes simply communicating seems like the most difficult poetry of all, and yet, all we can do is try.

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