Tuesday, July 29, 2008

His Luminous Light, Her Preternatural Calm

Dear All:

I was about to send you a quick explication of "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" by Adam Zagajewski when a computer error wiped everything I had written from the face of the virtual universe. Oh, well. Here's another poem by the same man. Never heard of Zagajewski? Well, small wonder. He made his name in the late 1960s, roughly around the same time that people stopped taking poetry seriously. But he's probably the most famous living Polish poet in the world. Don't laugh. Even under Communism, Poland managed to maintain one of the most vibrant literatures in the world. No small feat when Moscow was cracking down on intellectuals, groups of all kinds, and above all uncensored books.

Shortly before the Berlin Wall fell, a group of Russian SF fans were allowed to visit their Polish counterparts for the first time in fannish history. They recorded that they were in awe of how many books the Polish fan groups had published. In Russia, if they liked a novel, they typed a copy of it (this was called samizdat, "self-publishing") and passed it around hand to hand.

Here's the poem:

Vermeer's Little Girl 
by Adam Zagajewski 
Vermeer's little girl, now famous 
watches me. A pearl watches me. 
The lips of Vermeer's little girl 
are red, moist, and shining.

[The rest of the poem has been removed because it’s almost certainly still in copyright. But I doubt you’ll have any trouble finding it on the Web.]

You got what it's about, right? No? Then you should immediately (especially the artists among you) Google up Vermeer's "Girl With a Pearl Earring." Vermeer is famous for his luminous light, the preternatural calm of his subjects, and for making very few paintings that survived into modern times. There was a novel based on this painting, and I believe it was made into a movie as well. That's one successful work of art.

All best,


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