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a great refusal

December 9, 2009

I should like to bring together, almost to identify, poetry and hope; but to do so indirectly, since there are two sorts of poetry, one of them chimerical and untrue and fatal, just as there are two sorts of hope.

I am thinking first of all about a great refusal. When we have to “take on a burden,” as is said of someone smitten with misfortune, when we have to face up to a person’s absence, to the deceitfulness of time, to the gulf that yawns in the very heart of presence or maybe of understanding, it is to speech that we turn as to a protected place. A word seems to be the soul of what it names, its ever-intact soul. And if it frees its object from time and space, those categories of our dispossession, it does so without impairing its precious essence and restores it to our desire. […] One kind of poetry will always seek to detach itself from the world, to better grasp what it loves. And that is why it so readily becomes, or seems to become, a form of knowledge, since the anxious mind, separating what is from natural causality, immobilizing it in absolute form, can no longer conceive of any relation between things except by means of analogy and prefers to stress their “correspondences” and their remotely envisaged harmony rather than their obscure mutual antagonsim. Knowledge is the last resort of nostalgia. It emerges in poetry after defeat and might confirm our misfortune, but its ambiguity–its fallacious promise–lies in maintaining our awareness of the situation in which we were defeated, and even of its future, from which we expected so much and which has vanished.

Yves Bonnefoy
The Act and the Place of Poetry, pg. 101

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