*Selections from Where the Arrow Falls (St. Martin's, 1974)·
We have lost our natural images. All the images we make are twisted, hammered, brilliant. But the complexity of our time is a fiction, like Dante's dark wood. We must find the trail that runs through it, our senses become extra persons walking beside us. That is not to deny the self but to increase it. The increased self is not the figure of man attached to all other men in a carcase-strewn web of dead and living relationships. He is alone as he ever was and perhaps that is not bad. Perhaps he should not try to communicate but to himself. He must learn not to lie to himself before he can not lie to others. Our literature is full of striptease, learning aloud and confessions of failure, invitations to touch in others what we do not want to touch. It looks like truth, but it is the big lie that facts make truth. If there is a truth, it is a total fiction, a gigantic metaphor encompassing all. In which, if the parts naturally fit, it is all right. The lesson in Genesis is that there is a way we ought to think in order to survive. Our fiction is that this is not enough. Our gods are the unaccountable, uncontainable facts, the flies in the ointment. We are afraid of the thought of the full circle: not as the Hopi were, who left the design unfinished so the soul could escape: but because the full circle would free us from the trivia we have become addicted to. What we need are allegories so harsh and simple that they will dissolve the objections of what they fail to contain, and free us to think in natural and not artificial terms. Then the politicians will be forced to lie in a new way we can perceive, therefore they will come to question whether their lies are worth it. And it will not be, on either side, the cant of violence and war: which are ways of breaking out of the circle only to enter a smaller one. By natural metaphors I mean, those which are necessarily part of the world, not those which we have added for our convenience as ways of saying, 'I am'. McLuhan has perceived a wrong turn, and described it. He must be a worried man; but his disciples are not, they do not see the turn as wrong, they see that it relieves them of all future obligations to intervene as other than wires buttons and eyes. This system is not the kind of circle I mean. If McLuhan-man can spend a month in the Arizona desert without his gadgets, then return to his gadgets unbeaten, he is a better man than I thought. A man who can do that can conceive the kind of circle I mean. This may be why Jesus went into the wilderness, to think. It is our unrelieved addiction to one sort of thing that kills us, not the dilemma of alternatives, not the attempt to live two lives, or many lives, within the circle. The prophets after all demanded blood, and fear, and pain, not a swaying with the times. In our day that which is hardest may be the most natural, the most simple: it is easy to be complex, one just is. But complexity releases an arrow toward unity: the sacrificial victims of our day, scattered, dismembered, psychotic, live in our blood, crying for some target. Our inventions are angels dancing on a pin. I like those angels, but wish they were larger and the pin a mountain. It is all so subcutaneous, so hypodermic. Where has the air gone. Into my bladder where it hurts. I mean the big air. In my lungs where it hurts. What does not hurt. I do not know or care, I hurt. How to get rid of the hurt. Love me. What if I cannot love you. That is not possible because if you understood you would see I am really loveable. What if I neither see nor understand. Then you are not being honest. What if I see and understand and do not love you. Then you must be feeling threatened, by something inside you. What if the threat I feel is you. That is not possible, I think of myself as a child, I can do no harm but am harmed by others. But the threat I feel comes from you. I don't want to talk about it any more please. We have lost our natural images. How can we make lyric of the world we do not know. Because I need light to write by, a whole landscape must die to serve a coal mine. I could have waited till daylight.
I stopped the car and got out. I looked out across the paddy where the wind had begun to blow: miles of solid green stretching east to blue hills of post-monsoon autumn. The snake had gone there. Its absence was the single point of pressure in the landscape: a long horizontal line running, curling or resting, in no direction, in all directions where my eyes spread, like a fact you can’t point to, a knowledge you can’t accept. The men went back chattering and exclaiming. A radio started up with a wailing love song. Women with water jars on their heads, men with work to do, and the snake listening.
Snake vibrations were with me all day in the car, on the long winding road up through the hills. I was going nowhere in particular, just going, on a day free of teaching, wherever the hills took me, with no one but myself to think about, and the snake. I saw other snakes but not that snake. They would cross the road like distorted shadows, writhings of road pattern, and disappear into the trees. All kinds of snakes, none close enough to identify, with my poor knowledge. But the day which had started free of any thought was now crisscrossed with snake-thoughts: it lay under the snake sign, a sign I had not chosen but couldn’t escape. They were right to think a snake can be a god.
You can’t beat a snake with a stick and hope to win. That is bad politics. The snake will take the shape opposite to the stick and evade the beater’s will which is straight and thoughtless and hard. To catch or kill a snake you must dance with its shape until dance and the snake’s dance entwine, and suddenly you have him, or he has you: it must come to that. There is always that risk, and those who avoid it get fooled.
Nights I slept with snake and ate snake three meals a day. Snake became my intestine and my mate. When I came to myself again, I had acquired a habit I have not lost.
You must learn my dance and not expect to win.
*Selections from Figure of Eight (Shearsman, 1988)
*Child Eating Snow (Exile Editions Ltd., 1994)
Copyright © 2011 David Wevill
Canadian poet and translator, Wevill first made a name for himself as a poet when he was included in A. Alvarez's anthology THE NEW POETRY (Penguin, 1962). In 1963 Wevill was showcased in A GROUP ANTHOLOGY (Oxford University Press). Wevill's published works include, but not limited to: PENGUIN MODERN POETS (Penguin, 1963);BIRTH OF A SHARK (Macmillan, 1964); A CHRIST OF THE ICE-FLOES (Macmillan, 1966); FIREBREAK (Macmillan, 1971); WHERE THE ARROW FALLS (St. Martin's, 1974); CASUAL TIES (Curbstone, 1983); OTHER NAMES FOR THE HEART (Exile Editions Ltd., 1985); FIGURE OF 8 (Shearsman, 1988); CHILD EATING SNOW (Exile Editions Ltd., 1994);SOLO WITH GRAZING DEER (Exile Editions Ltd., 2001); DEPARTURES (Shearsman, 2003); ASTERISKS (Exile Editions Ltd., 2007); and TO BUILD MY SHADOW A FIRE (Truman State University Press, 2010).
Wevill is also the former editor of Delos, a literary journal centered on poetry in translation and the poetics of translation. He is a professor emeritus in the Department of English at The University of Texas at Austin where he taught for 37 years. He has four children and six grandchildren.