Tuesday 4 November 2014

With a change in the weather and most of the leaves down from the big sycamore outside my window, in the aftermath of Central Asia and the soul tribe: Fragments by Heraclitus, translated by Brooks Haxton.
The soul is undiscovered,
though explored forever
to a depth beyond report.
I used to say to students: read René Daumal's Le Mont Analogue in the light of Heraclitus.
The waking have one world
in common. Sleepers
meanwhile turn aside, each
into a darkness of his own.
Read Proust in the light, in the darkness, of Heraclitus.
Whoever cannot seek
the unforeseen sees nothing,
for the known way
is an impasse.
Set Heraclitus as a gauge of whatever you read and see what that gives.

These translations of Heraclitus have lived for the last twelve years among the elite, heterogeneous books on my desk, beside Henri Michaux's Tent Posts and Journey to the Land of the Flies by Aldo Buzzi, to say nothing of the handbook on Cacti and Succulents I bought when I was about twelve, and The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon.

Of Heraclitus' writing we have only fragments, an attraction to anyone who wakes up each day feeling that something is missing. You can read them at speed and then go straight back and read again. Lectio divina. Vertical attention. Islands of words. I'm glad I don't know Greek. Though I do, or did, know Latin. Formative reading of Virgil, Catullus, then later Lucretius in English.

In our tired post-post society we're refreshed by ancient forms of language and thought: this much was said and no more.
Of all the words yet spoken,
none comes quite as far as wisdom,
which is the action of the mind
beyond all things that may be said.

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