When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?"
(Or, rather than "lyricisim" -- lyrical poetry. Let me try a less literal translation:
Lyrical poetry, ah, the tenderness,
angelology and the distant fields.
A little better, but the rhyme is still lost, the music is still lost. As Milosz remarked, "One must be translatable.")
What is her name? She claims all names, equally at ease with Sophia as with its Polish endearment form that was current in my family, the name of a dedicated woman physician, the great-hearted Zula or Zuleńka. But could my angel’s name not be – Raphael? He (since I must choose a pronoun) nods his beautiful head. Not that he’ll tell me where we are going. But at least I go with an angel.
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe in you,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and animals,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magical.
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (and why not?),
girdled with lightning.
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:
do what you can.
(I am indebted to James Hollis for the title of this post.)
SELLING YOUR SOUL TO THE ANGEL
One of the traditional themes in literature is selling one’s soul to the devil. I wonder, though, if we could as well speak of “selling your soul to an angel.” One way or another, there is an imagined contract, and the price you pay. A writer is always told, “Believe in yourself.” But if you do, your angel will dictate how you spend your time, and it won’t be playing with your children. And even away from your desk, you may still be in your mental writing space, so that you resent the intrusion of the so-called loved ones. Is it any wonder that artists in all fields were more often thought to have sold their soul to the devil?
A post-script on “selling your soul to the angel.” Believers might say, “Why not make a covenant with God?” Once I rejected the deity of my childhood as a monster unworthy of worship, there was no going back on that perception. Christ seemed more like Prometheus, leading men to a different god than the one who told Moses that the man caught gathering firewood on the Sabbath had to be stoned to death (while Christ said that Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath). I understand how women saints fall in love with Christ. But Christ is an exalted savior-hero figure. An angel is more homey, an imaginary friend who can impishly pop up among trivia, saying, “See that?” It’s possible to laugh together.