Kocbek Edvard:
My Three Poetic Phases

    Since I am on this side and have been for a long, long time, I remember my poetic beginnings quite clearly. It was a dark and shivery fall, that time of year when women begin to wear kerchiefs on their heads and the rustling of pines sounds like the constant breaking of sea waves. I was all of seventeen, and I suddenly became so drunk with love for the earth that I tore her hymen and, like Pythias, began to hunt on paper for information from her captivating atmosphere. My poetry began and, through it, I have recapitulated cosmogeny in three phases.


My first poetic truth was the truth of the earth. The demon poetry resided at that time in the forces of nature, and thus began to torment me with its Pan-like moods. Despite the fact that existence was, at that point, tame and impiously false, amidst the old laws of life I gasped at the recognition of its abundance and indestructibility. I became one with nature. It seemed to me that nature existed and spoke prior to man’s existence, that poetry was at home in it, and that it had merely not been able to express itself before our appearance.

    Poetry uncovered the most ancient elements of the earth for me, elements that had become domesticated with use, but which were nevertheless frightening. My ability to express myself hid bashfully behind these things. My first collection, Earth, was the expression of the security of existence and human contact. Inspiration and imagination formed a type of Genesis; through them I discovered cosmic symbols and the redemptiveness of verbal expression. For the young poets of Ljubljana, who were still slaves to history, I was a suspect outsider, for I began at the beginning and discovered the cipher of a codex that had never been written down. The world was finally alive, each thing now had a name, and since they had been named, they could answer my call solemnly and forever. With all my senses I paid tribute to the earth and glorified her elements, exposed to the wind, silence, and spells. I experienced whatever I could narrate. I provoked nature and embraced her, while she sadly defended her overly sharp contours and forms. I practically lost myself in her boundlessness. Chaos became order and order again turned into chaos. That is why I broke up verse lines and rhymes, and angered Zupancic* with my rhythmic play. The generosity celebrating nature could not appease her. And when she waited for someone to come along to name and so deliver her (for she does not know herself), I was on the spot and suddenly discovered her confusion and heard her cry for help. A hidden evil approached her, she was seized with alarm: sunt lacrimae rerum. At first I tried to paper this over with encomiums, then I began to comprehend her unhappiness and I experienced human unhappiness.


    I experienced this as a historical cataclysm, as a battle between two antagonistic forces. A world of perfection precludes the perfection of the world. History caught it in a vise, and mankind did not know any escape. We realized that we belong to one of two parts of a whole which had ceased to exist. Furthermore, each of the parts denied the other and asserted that it was the whole. As a result, the whole was simultaneously divided and broken into two. There was no escape for me either. Together with my entire land, I was thrust amongst the defenders of Massada or Mussa Dag. Now began the second phase of my wholeness, what we call poeticism. Poeticism is in no sense a category of development, perception, or judgment, but first and foremost it is risk. Now it has spoken a special truth: whatever is most secure in this world is at the same time in the greatest danger. And whatever is lost is privileged. At that point we had ripened monstrously. At the decisive moment we had agreed on ground rules for a game none of us had ever played.


All we knew about ourselves and each other was that we had to be beautiful and young, pure and in agreement with because what was appearing before us would demand a horrible struggle. My second collection, Horror, speaks of a struggle in every area. I was afraid of everything and nothing. And behold, when I was reduced to my own unknown fate, I drank in salvation from all the capillaries of matter and the rays of spirit. I experienced my existence as an indestructible bounty. With a lucid self-sufficiency which nevertheless did not separate me from friends and society, I vanquished the danger of vegetative betrayal with a new poeticism. With an ability I wish I still had, my powerful lyric voice achieved an integrity of expression that was at once complex, harmonic, and dramatic, but most of all pure and simply declarative. My poetry had become blissfully humanized. My cosmogeny had expanded to include man. On the one hand, history had allowed me to love nature once again through the objective expression of language and words. On the other, I was able to experience my kinship with man and utopia in a clear and tumultuous fashion. Man had taken up residence within me, set all his dimensions in motion, forced me to strip down to my elemental nakedness and to become one with him. Without any assistance, I recognized his fateful degradation. That is how I prepared for a new encounter with him.


    Now, for the first time, human history has unfolded in such a way that in a single day the poetic occupation has changed into a Sisyphean labor. Yesterday we knew what was poetic, today we no longer do. Nature is no longer nature, man is no longer man, and mystery can no longer be perceived from their points of view. In order to discover man’s new identity we must pass through the alienation of his present-day pseudo-identity. Rivers rise from seas, said Hölderlin. Rivers undoubtedly come into the light of the world from the dark and heavy earth, and people live on their banks. Nevertheless, the proper source for human beings is in the clouds. Poeticism hints at new currents, while nature and mankind together cry out for help. We are seeing new dimensions of existence and language. New freedoms appear. Freedom is no longer to be found in the cognition of necessity, however much the tyranny of discourse has imprisoned us, but rather in the sensation of unfettered creative potentiality. The more civilization tries to enclose us, the more we try to escape it. The third phase of my poeticism has begun. Previously existing poetry has not only entered into battle with science, which wants directly or indirectly to reduce everything to it, and with technology, which wants to reproduce everything, but also with its own history which has for too long remained in the realms of feeling and signification, glorification and faith. All existence becomes preexistence again, and it demands a new naming. Euclidian conventions have lost their validity. The world has again begun to split apart, and man is getting stronger, as we can tell from the chaos of his crises. New forms of unconditionality are appearing, and unconditionality expresses itself with disquieting playfulness. This is what my third and final collection, Report, expresses. Here I arrive at a poetics of unboundedness, and through them I can participate in new cognitions, relations, and events. My accounts are no longer subject to any laws, but are rather the expression of unexpectedness. As Vergil Brochov puts it: "I was impatient to recognize…and therefore I wanted to write everything down…as long as it was poetic." I am discovering the sudden, necessary, frightening, and irrepressible. A great mutation is about to occur, one that has not been forseen by scientists, futurologists, or oracles, but rather by poets. No matter how far physical truth spreads, the thunderbolts of poetic inspiration will always soar above it.

Translated by Andrew Wachtel