Guest Entry: An Etymological Meditation: Humoristic-anguished essay in a register poetico et eleganti

Existence  is  a  gadfly  to  the  poet,  sometimes  a  burden.  It  is  fitting  here  to  recognise  that existing is to each of us our lot and the cross of the individual, task which weighs upon him more imperiously than the sky on Atlas’ shoulders, for the latter had the luxury of being freed from  it,  even  if  it  was  by  chance  and  for  a  few  hours  only.  The  poet  does  not  have  the privilege of life, nor of the pain or the rage of living: he is man and in that he is no stranger to what is human. At most are there people who seem more adapted to the weight of existence, so that one could say of them, along the image given by Baudelaire, that they are on its stage more  akin  to  rude-armed  sailors  than  to  albatrosses  entangled  in  their  wings  like  in  a straightjacket. One could also say that if the world is a cosmos of perfect proportions, then the poet  is  like  a  grain  of  sand  in  a  Swiss  clockwork;  he  is  an  incongruity,  an  atom  of  chaos, irreconcilable; a sort of rebel despite himself, a shipwrecked, without a country so without a shore to sigh after:

Ne suis-je pas un faux accord
Dans la divine symphonie

BAUDELAIRE, Charles: L’Héautontimorouménos. In: Les Fleurs du Mal, 1861.

What remains of Ulysses after one has abstracted Ithaca? Not very much, I would say – a man of twists and turns and an endless sea the colour of wine … “Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait  un  beau  voyage”. (2) Notice,  please,  how  the  verb  in  the  verse  is  in  the  past  tense:  the journey is over, the hero has returned. – Blissful Ulysses, happiest of men! Your ecstasy after twenty years of yearning is a taste of Elysium to come, but will you still weep for the soul that roams the living world like a defunct the meadows of Asphodel and that will never be home, even if it erred for a thousand years? Will you only be able to understand its disquiet? – And is it really pity that it deserves? …

Que faut-il faire de mes jours
Que faut-il faire de mes nuits
Je n’avais amour ni demeure
Nulle part où je vive ou meure
Je passais comme la rumeur
Je m’endormais comme le bruit

ARAGON, Louis: Bierstube Magie allemande. In: Le Roman inachevé, 1956.

The myth of  Leto strikes me in this  context as an aestheticised representation of the poet’s existence,  as  a  staging  modo  poetico  of  his  inner  turmoil.  Leto  was  the  lover  of  Zeus  and expectant when Hera learned about her husband’s unfaithfulness; irate, she ordered all earth to shun the parturient and sent the serpent Python to track her down. (Whoever is acquainted with  Greek  legends  will  know  that  this  is  a  laughably  common  plot:  the  reason  for  this  is perhaps  that  the  Greeks  knew  well  that  contact  with  the  divine  curses  those  very  same  it blesses – a fact brought to its frightening summit in the great monotheisms and which one can also  argue  is  at  play  in  the  domain  of  aesthetics  when  one  sees  that  madness  often accompanies genius like the shadow cast by its brilliance.) Rejected and pursued, tired and in pain,  ostracised  by  every  city  and  every  country,  with  nowhere  to  go,  Leto  experienced absolute alienation, her drifting only finding an end when she reached an island as uprooted as her, unconcerned by Hera’s decree, where she found the respite to give birth to Artemis and Apollo. To thank the island, Zeus gave it a fixed location between sky and sea and named it Delos: “the manifest”.


(2) DU BELLAY, Joachim: Sonnet XXXI. In: Les Regrets, 1558.

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