“A poet always knows that what in the vernacular is called the voice of the Muse is, in reality, the dictate of language; that it’s not the language that happens to be his instrument, but that he is language’s mean toward the continuation of its existence. Language, however, even if one imagines it as a certain animate creature (which would only be just), is not capable of ethical choice.
A person sets out to write a poem for a variety of reasons: to win the heart of his beloved; to express his attitude toward the reality surrounding him, be it a landscape or a state; to capture his state of mind at a given instant; to leave – as he thinks at that moment – a trace on the earth. (…) Regardless of the reasons for which he takes up the pen, and regardless of the effect produced by what emerges from under that pen on his audience – however great or small it may be – the immediate consequence of this enterprise is the sensation of coming into direct contact with language, or more precisely, the sensation of immediately falling into dependence on it, on everything that has already been uttered, written, and accomplished in it.
The poet, I wish to repeat, is language’s means of existence – or, as my beloved Auden said, he is the one by whom it lives. I who write this lines will cease to be; so will you who read them. But the language in which they are written and in which you read them will remain, not merely because language is a more lasting thing than man, but because it is more capable of mutation.”
JOSEPH BRODSKY (1940-1996)
Russian poet and essayist
In: “On Grief and Reason”
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Here’s one of my favorite Brodsky’s poems:
Song of Welcome
Here’s your Mom, here’s your Dad.
Welcome to being their flesh and blood.
Why do you look so sad?
Here’s your food, here’s your drink.
Also some thoughts, if you care to think.
Welcome to everything.
Here’s your practically clean slate.
Welcome to it, though it’s kind of late.
Welcome at any rate.
Here’s your paycheck, here’s your rent.
Money is nature’s fifth element.
Welcome to every cent.
Here’s your swarm and your huge beehive.
Welcome to that there’s roughly five
billion like you alive.
Welcome to the phone book that stars your name
Digits are democracy’s secret aim.
Welcome to your claim to fame.
Here’s your marriage, and here’s divorce.
Now that’s the order you can’t reverse.
Welcome to it; up yours.
Here’s your blade, here’s your wrist.
Welcome to playing your own terrorist;
call this your Middle East.
Here’s your mirror, your dental gleam.
Here’s an octopus in your dream.
Why do you try to scream?
Here’s your corn-cob, your TV set.
Your candidate suffering an upset.
Welcome to what he said.
Here’s your porch, see the cars pass by.
Here’s your shitting dog’s guilty eye.
Welcome to its alibi.
Here are your cicadas, then a chickadee,
the bulb’s dry tear in your lemon tea.
Welcome to infinity.
Here are your pills on the plastic tray,
Your disappointing, crisp X-ray.
You are welcome to pray.
Here’s your cemetery, a well kept glen.
Welcome to a voice that says, “Amen.”
The end of the rope, old man.
Here’s your will, and here’s a few
takers. Here’s an empty pew.
Here’s life after you.
And here are your stars which appear still keen
on shining as though you had never been.
They might have a point, old bean.
Here’s your afterlife, with no trace
of you, especially of your face.
Welcome, and call it space.
Welcome to where one cannot breathe.
This way, space resembles what’s underneath
and Saturn holds the wreath.
© 1994, Joseph Brodsky