The Poets

From room to hallway a candle passes
and is extinguished. Its imprint swims in one’s eyes,
until, among the blue-black branches,
a starless night its contours finds.

It is time, we are going away: still youthful,
with a list of dreams not yet dreamt,
with the last, hardly visible radiance of Russia
on the phosphorent rhymes of our last verse.

And yet we did know – didn’t we? – inspiration,
we would live, it seemed, and our books would grow,
but the kithless muses at last have destroyed us,
and it is time now for us to go.

And this not because we’re afraid of offending
with our freedom good people; simply, it’s time
for us to depart – and besides we prefer not
to see what lies hidden from other eyes;

not to see all this world’s enchantment and torment,
the casement that catches a sunbeam afar,
humble somnambulists in soldier’s uniform,
the lofty sky, the attentive clouds;

the beauty, the look of reproach; the young children
who play hide-and-seek inside and around
the latrine that revolves in the summer twilight;
the sunset’s beauty, its look of reproach;

all that weighs upon one, entwines one, wounds one;
an electric sign’s tears on the opposite bank;
through the mist the stream of its emeralds running;
all the things that already I cannot express.

In a moment we’ll pass across the world’s threshold
into a region – name it as you please:
wilderness, death, disavowal of language,
or maybe simpler: the silence of love;

the silence of a distant cartway, its furrow,
beneath the foam of flowers concealed;
my silent country (the love that is hopeless);
the silent sheet lightning, the silent seed.

Vasily Shishkov (1939)

A Silence That Is Better

Illustration by R. Crumb: From Despair Comics (1971)

Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity: speech is shallow as Time.

Thomas Carlyle
Sir Walter Scott (1838)

Illustration by R. Crumb: From Despair Comics (1971)

Against Communication

The Charles Bukowski Tapes (1985)

Directed by Barbet Schroeder

[Before you deplore citing the “genius” of Adolph Hitler and Idi Amin, look the word up in a reliable dictionary. It is a morally neutral term.]

To Arrive at the Simplest Truth

Illustration by R. Crumb from Zap Comix No. 1 (1967)

To arrive at the simplest truth, as Newton knew and practiced, requires years of contemplation. Not activity. Not reasoning. Not calculating. Not busy behavior of any kind. Not reading. Not talking. Not making an effort. Not thinking. Simply bearing in mind what it is one needs to know. And yet those with the courage to tread this path to real discovery are not only offered practically no guidance on how to do so, they are actively discouraged and have to set about it in secret, pretending meanwhile to be diligently engaged in the frantic diversions and to conform with the deadening personal opinions which are being continually thrust upon them.

G. Spencer Brown
Laws of Form (1969)

Illustration by R. Crumb, from Zap Comix No. 1 (1967)

Death Is Nothing

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.

John Donne
Holy Sonnet 10 (c. 1609)

Music by Keith Jarrett: Sand Part III
Staircase (1976)

Photo by Franco Fontana (1976)

Death Is Nothing

Painting by Remy Zaugg: Not Here (1995)

Get used to believing that death is nothing to us. For all good and bad consists in sense-experience,and death is the privation of sense-experience. Hence a correct knowledge of the fact of death makes the mortality of life a matter for contentment, not by adding a limitless time to life but by removing the longing for immortality.

Epicurus (341-270 BC)
Letter to Menoeceus

Painting by Remy Zaugg: Not Here (1995)