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Jeffrey Yang Leads Us into the Abyss
“I used to keep a list of books in which ‘the abyss’ appeared — the physical-metaphorical-metaphysical-condition-of-the-bottomless-existence-of-our-darkest-nightmares-realized abyss,” begins Jeffrey Yang in his essay “Translating the Abyss” in our March issue. His catalog grew so long that he stopped keeping a physical list. This made us curious: how many references to the gaping void have appeared in Poetry’s pages? Quite a few, in fact. It’s an international phenomenon:
Pascal’s abyss went with him at his side,
closer than blood—alas, activity,
dreams, words, desire: all holes! On every side,
spaces, the bat-wing of insanity!
Above, below me, only depths and shoal,
by the earth’s green froth
bunches of carrots—
the sea’s truth, survived
the unknown, the
darkness, the depths
of the sea,
le grand abîme,
to that deepest night.
Hölderlin saw the stream of people in dark water, streaming over
the ledges in the human-geological world, the levels of the abyss, Paradise’s various degrees of stasis”
You are like me, but my abyss is clear.
And you have roads whose secrets never end.
They descend and ascend, descend and ascend.
“Splendid occupations: making jam, sewing, darning. Darning holes in nothingness, scrubbing up the abyss, stitching painful opposites together.”
“Poem—a pebble tossed in the abyss.”
“The space of loneliness. A slit in space. The eye of the abyss. The abyss is an overblown concept. No getting around it.”
Of course, American poets have been known to sidle up to the “fathomless rift,” too:
“Birds of intermitted bliss,
Singing in the night’s abyss;”
When the last Pullman of the day pulls into the Grand Canyon station,
And in the sunset light the passengers come
One after another over the platform, over the sward to the rim
Line up, look down,
The shadows loom
Fast into pools bluer than morning,
Abyss drawn by its river miles from home,
And they look into it as into a family-album,
Where every eccentricity has room.
Thunderheads gathering at the rear
abyss of things,
Lightning, quick swizzle sticks, troubling the dark in-between.
Tags: Anna Kamienska, Charles Baudelaire, Charles Wright, Clare Cavanagh, Fady Joudah, Goran Sonnevi, In this issue, Jeffrey Yang, Josephine Miles, Mahmoud Darwish, Pablo Neruda, Rika Lesser, Robert Lowell, Robin Robertson, Wallace Stevens
Posted in From Poetry Magazine on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 by Lindsay Garbutt.