Sacred Fear and a Poem by Adam Zagajewski


From Assymetry: Poems, by Adam Zagajewski Trans. Clare Cavanagh (FSG 2018)

This lyric proceeds according to the logic of lyric: from the literal to the more subjective to the dialectical (as if seeking a new literal —- as if rust was hatred). That movement proves unsustainable in its metaphoricity. Only in the last line does the true subject emerge. Somehow yielding to the impulse to discover some wonder by the highway (now ironic ambiguities ramify) leads the youthful poet to a personal discovery, a discovery of the self’s lack of self-certainty.

Thus a small innocent looking poem exposes us to intolerable perplexities AND a new discovery. Rather than meekly accept our aesthetic paycheck for reading yet another fine poem, let’s see the implications.

First: The creative mind is indeterminate. It involves a space of nothingness. The form that emerges from a mindful reading is a different kind of knowledge than was assumed in the setting provided in the first lines. Second: Interpretations will depend on the intention of the mind of the reader. Desmond’s distinction between erotic and agapeic gets to the nub of the matter. In erotic mind, the search is for a determinate object. As we’ve seen, this kind is frustrated by the poem. For the agapeic mind, the search discovers an ‘other’ that is not determinate but involves a plenitude of being in excess of the erotic self.

Zagajewski’s ultimate concern is a state of soul that did not appear before now, a concern for a ‘self-transcending self’ that is part of the agapeic ethos. The search for historical mementos concludes by discovering an agapeic consciousness that we call metaxu: between the things of ‘history’ and the experience of sacred fear.

Lyric and Agapeics, and a poem by Yeats


Does such a trivial moment — don’t say it didn’t happen —- deserve even a metrical exercise?
This jaundiced question, so full of resentments and aesthetic prejudice you might think nihilism and bad taste are connected.
The question observes the contingencies of the between—-the asymmetric relativities of actual experience. It is not answered. But it reasserts, in the careful build of meter and rhyme, the enduring and often depressing limits of communication between others. But through lyric’s equivocity— which is not mere relativism —- the ‘intimate universal’ of a porosity between the divine nothing and created creatureliness is itself acknowledged.

To wit: lyric witnesses the between as it has conceptually evolved in Modernity as a response to Nihilism and reductivism. . For the between— and lyric—equivocity means not meaninglessness but saturated understanding beyond system. ’Myth’ in Vico’s sense.

The lyric embodies moments of ontological worth and in that sense, outside further definitions of discipline (Zen, apophatic Christian prayer, and so on), claims its central place in culture.