Friday, May 11, 2007

The Poetry of Galaktion: An Angel Held an Endless Scroll

[The poem’s meaning] is almost completely obscure. In such a case, the only freedom left to the reader is the certainty that his reading is wrong, his task unfinished. The connotations in this poem are much more important than denotations.

—Irakli Kenchoshvili

Here is a poem that, upon initial reading, seems entirely confusing. Images appear that seem to have no relation to the rest of the text. The main speaker, an angel, discusses trees, and the Holy Grail, and Asian skies, without making any obvious connections to them. Curtains suddenly appear, and then disappear “in a whirlpool of fire.”

Are these metaphors? Are they symbols? Are we supposed to understand what the Angel represents, much less the curtains, or the dying roses? These are the kinds of poems that make schoolchildren’s heads ache.

And yet, there is a logic at work. When the reader removes her focus from trying to assemble a story, and instead focuses on the connotations of the words, as Kenchoshvili suggests, we see strong religious/mythical images suffused throughout the poem — the grail, a tower, a scroll, shrines and an angel. And reading over the adjectives — words such as soft, ashen, wan, trembling, cautious — imparts a sense of both frailty, and loss.

This is clearly not a celebration of religion’s strength.

The poem is full of destruction and chaos — leaves are hurled, fire consumes, love has been useless. And the ending line, a triptych of goodbyes (in Georgian, literally “peace”) completes the sense of loss for a melancholy ending. So, maybe the poem isn’t as incoherent as it first appears.

An Angel Held an Endless Scroll

An angel held an endless scroll,
gazing sorrowfully at the world.
I loved you in vain! And so, farewell
luminous night of diamond jewels,
soft lips praying, shrines and glory.
Someday, you shall speak of me!
The Grail’s tower, the Lydian belfry
broke at your feet and I heard your misery.
And the dream of a heaven’s equality
waned as you planned it, its absence of essence—
an ashen cloud and stately cypress tree
which you moved from Asian firmaments.

An angel held an endless scroll.
Its wan sense was the hurling leaves.
I loved you in vain! We both wholly
desired each other. And so, I must leave.

The curtains fell in a whirlpool of fire.
Evening trembled, cautious, fearful.
The night subsided. The roses expired.
Farewell! …Farewell! …Farewell! originally published in Georgia Today

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