Easter 1957

Translated by Marilyn Hacker


Begin, begin again, no matter where!
From now on it only
matters that every day you do
some task, a task
performed attentively,
honestly. It only matters
that you add to the unending construction of reality
(never completed) your very small daily share....
Through the telescope or with your one remaining eye
you see slowly, rather badly in detail,
but all in all well enough. Well enough to get your bearings.
Well enough to follow the road that little by little
reveals itself. Well enough to do your part
as best you can. After all, in fact,
does it matter, the task’s particulars,
the outline of the foot’s form in the sand,
or the goal where you finish, late, tired enough,
where you finish perhaps, sometimes, by arriving?
But there is no goal either.
The goal is always receding toward the unreached



Easter is the opposite of Christmas.
The square empties, the living being disappears.
It is the end of visible fleshly life,
of meals, of hours of sleep. It’s the end
of action at once observed and dubious, measurable, measured,
kept secret, discreet.
                 Only two or three women encounter
the Present. They don’t ask themselves questions, they want
to know what is or isn’t. Then a few disciples, in groups,
including Thomas. Who must be approached and shown.
There thus do characters, states of mind differ.
                 At the same time, flowers, trees, life overflowing
the fields, awakened animals, moved to mate,
to feed, to kill. The triumph of the visible begins, the
material, which will not start to melt, to disappear
till the start of winter. Splendor of pelts.
Splendor of eyes, of paws. Total ignorance.
Ignorance of a more durable, longer-lasting world.
Is this the grossest, heaviest stage
of the stupefaction visible to the soul, there where it
cannot even remember, in any case no longer say...



No more sleeping pills. No more appearances.
No more symbols, in truth, neither stones nor plants.
Nor houses. Nor trees.
Come forward on my deserted paths, approach
my deserted spaces. I will be henceforth
the voice of silence, the shadow at your left on days
of brilliant light, the sound of steps on pebbles,
time that passes and passes so slowly, so fast;
I am your silence and what surrounds it; I am
your silence and what’s deepest, if seldom, in it.
Say goodnight to me, say good morning, good morning especially,
a long good morning as a work day starts
say good morning to me to call me, me here and now
me in my turn, you in your turn, us in our turn
to call us
to the creation.


4                                                        Easter Monday

Listen. Follow me. The man in the chapel,
excuse me, the church, Anglican, official and all that
explaining, commenting on, while looking at no one,
some very brief word in the Epistle to the Hebrews,
insists on that essential teaching of Christ,
preaching to us like the greatest pioneer.
Follow me. Come along after me. Walk behind me.
Is it a predilection for discipline? For modesty?
Is it authentic intelligence and heart?

I don’t know. I don’t even know
what is due to me, what I take undeserving?
I don’t know when I ought to stop.
And telephoning my confidante would in truth
be useless. She would vaguely reassure me, one might say at most,
for a few moments, at most. Those birds flying off,
are they carrying a ray, a crumb, a paltry
piece of my heart? Or nothing? Their shadow?
The shadow of their fear and of their lightness?
I would have so many questions for you.



Yellow beak, curved beak, rabbit’s nose,
swan’s bill. Bring me nothing. Teach me nothing.
I must wait. In the silence and the dark.
In the tormented night’s unsavory shadows.
In disorder. Must wait without even
a specific hope. Must wait until
the waited-for result has been achieved.
Wait, that is to say, for moments, opportunities,
the rarely fruitful I don’t-quite-know-whats.
Farewell, Floriane! I no longer know who you are,
what or whom you resemble. It’s too far.
It’s too shrill, too childish, too unimportant,
too free of everything, only a whim of the heart,
or was it the eye? Right now the others
are traveling, will soon try to sleep. Still others
are in bed and sleeping deeply. And others,
insomniac, finish reading one last
chapter. In other longitudes, others
celebrate the last hour of the day or the first
hour of the morning. The mistral solves nothing.
It takes time to make a single
observation, simple and true.


6                                       Easter Monday, 1:20 a.m.

Would I still know how to fill a day?
Or simply how to wait?
Fill nothing? Not even think of it,
not think of how to tell the difference
between filled urns and empty urns, but only
between the sleeper and the one who truly keeps watch.


7                                                                         2:30

Which one is it, which part, which, not the body
but some comparatively minimal part of the body, which one is it
that doesn’t want to sleep?


8                                                                         4:15

Wait for the morning, why? To be through with waiting?
Will it let me fall asleep comfortably at last?
To fall deeply asleep? As if I were
a healthy being, affirmed in his health at habitual hours.
Wait for the morning, let it come at last and dawn
on the indifferent hills, spread new light,
all fresh, on the indifferent streets
among the sleeping spectators.
When will I be able to return to what I knew?


9                                      Wednesday the 23rd, 1:45

Who needs you? No one.
Of course there are some who wouldn’t mind
having a drink, telling a story, taking a walk,
just talking, and who, in a way, for a moment,
if you were dead, would regret your disappearance.
But the fact that in the end, for you, on this earth,
not for them, you’ve disappeared, wouldn’t affect
their mood, their appetite, their wish to get going,
and why should that change anything at all?
Those, then, are the limits to keep in mind.
Within those limits, there’s a bit of space.
Nothing outlandish, but enough for the really
free man, really reasonable (if that word still
means anything whatsoever). It’s only, after all
preparing the usually ungrateful ground
where you will sow the seed, mediocre,
or, better still, uncertain, of your difficult growth.
And they, they also like to sleep, do nothing special,
believe a little, read a lot, take walks,
and not be forced each day to make useless
and uselessly spectacular choices. One doesn’t want
things to happen; one wants them to be, and to only change
slowly, very slowly, like real tissue
of a real body. That said, of course
I thank the guardian angel and think I recognize him
as well as is possible without yet having seen him.
Without having felt or heard or even
really sensed him. But I believe he exists.
Like the postman whom after all I’ve never seen
after six months in this new apartment.
How quickly time goes with its damages
at least as quickly as with its pleasures.
My little daughter is sleeping at this hour. Deep, even
breaths. Deep? Perhaps, yes, and in any case,
even. A tree, perhaps, believes it feels
insects darting or animals scratching
their rump on its thorns
or flies in search of unlimited flight.
This writing has become hard to read, minuscule,
not terribly clear, and—perhaps—destined
to fall back—perhaps—to a confused
and dubious level. Better to start learning
again, with elementary lessons
concerning the whole length of the body.
No strength to protect the titles and credits
in the developing of your film, or is it
the cover drawing in particular, with so many
drawings sometimes deformed or cut in two
in “artistic” cover designs?
Lord, allow me
to stay patient, to not ask for too much,
to know how to wait for the unpredictable,
the unpredicted, emerged briefly from some
shipwreck or catastrophe, if we escape it.


10                                                         Saturday 0:30

Nothing to say—everything to wait for
nothing to undertake—everything to do
and anyway, what’s poetry,
who knows, really knows?
No one knows it, no one does it
without a doubt, without a doubt in the soup,
in the salad, in the dessert.
Go to bed and try in your sleep
to be.


11                                                          2-5-57, 01:15

And there it is closed once more, the door that led
  to the dark, subterranean waters.
Of course, there is still damage. One closed eye.
  A large scar on the skull.
The insomnia of the first part of the night.
  The wretched teeth. The still-mediocre
memory. But all of that alive.
  What will you do from now on?
Sedentary work, somewhat solitary.
  A house in the country.
What will you do? That which must be done.
  That which presents itself. That which
insists. What will you do? You will live.
  A long time. Patiently. Without protesting.
You will live because you must live, because one must
  do what one was born to do. There is no
escape, no real one, possible. There is only
  the possibility of doing what one was born to do.


12                                                  3.5.57, 0100 o’clock

disorder is stubborn
Disorder, as soon as one has stopped wanting, always
returns by itself and easily.
Is disorder death’s preparation
or life’s goods acquired in passing,
untuned, unpunctuated, unpredictable?

Farewell slumber, farewell energy!
The spirit, unwearied, unsatisfied,
scours the walls of the afflicted brain.
The body, half asleep, is annoyed, tired,
doesn’t manage to oppose it.
It’s irritating, the spirit brings nothing,
finds nothing, only seeks,
perhaps only moves, sluggishly,
a few tiny degrees from left to right,
from right to left, without stopping, not
satisfied, finding no peace.
Will this dismal vigil go on for long?


Copyright © 2019 Marilyn Hacker. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, March/April 2019. Reprinted with permission of the author.