When are poets writing about themselves and when are they writing about others? What do they own, and what is missing? A few thoughts on possessions, and the point of writing and life.
“I have nothing whole of my own,” Shimon Adaf writes in the opening of his poem Someone writes about another. A similar thought appeared in slightly different words a generation and a half before Adaf was born, written by the Hebrew poet Shaul Tschernichovsky (1875-1943): “I haven’t got anything of my own.” But these words and thought are not the sole province of Hebrew poetry – the well-known Greek director Theodoros Angelopoulos has written in ‘I am a Visitor’:
There will always be someone to say:
This is mine.
Me – I have nothing of my own,
I once said arrogantly.
Now I learn that nothing means
That you haven’t even got a name,
and now and then you have to borrow one.
Shimon Adaf’s name as a young and talented poet, writing directly and honestly about himself, his parents and Sderot, the place he came from, first became known just over ten years ago. His lines “I have nothing whole/ of my own” arouse wonder in the reader: Why doesn’t he have anything whole of his own? What does he have then? What is something “whole”? What is “my own”? The speaker goes on to mention parents, and according to him, even they maintain silence; that is, they too have nothing whole of their own, for they have no words.
It is not quite clear why the parents lack words: Is it because they have immigrated and lost their mother tongue; have they lost the capacity of fully expressing themselves in the language of their new country? Is it because they do not dare to share their reflections concerning the next generation? Or is the silence an integral part of their nature? Yet the absence of words shows the presence of silence; the existence of the parents shows that the children are not orphaned; the existence of the children means that the parents are not bereaved. Are words, orphaning and bereavement more whole than silence, parents and children? Does what we possess lose value because of the fact that we have got it? How many losses must be felt before people appreciate what they have, even if it is small, partial and imperfect?
Adaf’s poem ends with a statement about what is in hand: “a great cycle of blood of stars.” After all, we all belong to a complex system of the human and the cosmic, which also lacks wholeness, and always will. Better to leave perfection to the gods; perhaps they will know what to do with it. What can people do, aside from read poetry? In a better world, perhaps we might have heeded the recommendation of the wonderful Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano: Live each night as if it were the last and each day as if it were the first.