Izabela Duda on Olga Tokarczuk | Issue 16 | 2019
How unattainable life is, it only reveals
its features in memory,
in nonexistence. How unattainable
afternoons, ripe, tumultuous, leaves
bursting with sap; swollen fruit, the rustling
silks of women who pass on the other
side of the street, and the shouts of boys
leaving school. Unattainable. The simplest
apple inscrutable, round.
The crowns of trees shake in warm
currents of air. Unattainably distant mountains.
Intangible rainbows. Huge cliffs of clouds
flowing slowly through the sky. The sumptuous,
unattainable afternoons. My life,
swirling, unattainable, free.
Translated by Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivy and CK Williams
“My life, / swirling, unattainable, free.”
If it were possible to download a lifetime onto a memory stick, 'Fruit' contains many of the warm memories I would include. Images of summer holidays, impossible to re-experience yet clearly recalled even now, are illuminated and brought front of mind by this poem.
The yearning evoked by these moments of recollection, shared by us all, is beautifully expressed by the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski. He finds exactly the right, evocative, words, and then so do the poem’s translators, succinctly expressing near universal thoughts and emotions. Take the word 'rustling' (or szelest in the original Polish). It’s a vivid, onomatopoeic description even on its own, but in this context we are transported to a bright, sunny, roadside, watching and listening to bustling ladies as they walk past.
While all the glimpses and the sounds in the poem help us bring back to life our own individual memories, we are also reminded that these images are gone, no longer attainable, impossible to grasp.
One day, I shall lie down outside on the grass again, on a summer’s afternoon, free of life's cares, and I shall stare up at the sky and at the cliffs of clouds flowing slowly by and I shall listen to the 'currents of air' blowing through the tree-tops.
Included in the 2011 Bloodaxe anthology Being Human and reproduced courtesy of Faber & Faber, London (Selected Poems 2004)
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