The condition of secrecy

There’s no sure way to determine whether a poem will be beautiful or banal, good or bad. The best we can do in practice is […] to read them while we’re writing them, and continuously revise them, until at last they reflect some kind of light, some kind of insight, as if they had been written by others, by someone else.

It may not be so hard to recognize a good poem once it’s there. But how can we find our way to it before it’s there? […] How can we get form and content to live and grow with and within each other, as plants, for example, grow in the natural world? […] Writing poems is always about being at square one and starting from scratch; every time, about writing the individual poem as if it were the first poem in the world.

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Writing poems is […] a neutral miracle, so to speak, granted in advance, because in the process of writing we need to use language in its whole, indissoluble connection with reality.

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It’s difficult to find our way into this condition of secrecy. Of course we dream of being able to say that it happens as easily and lightly as a plant sprouts leaves and flowers. So that the poem in the seed’s internal sky is lifted into its whole outer unfolding as exactly that plant, exactly that poem. In this condition of secrecy, the poet stands at the center of a universe that has no center. In order to raise the inner world to the outer we have to start in the outer, start in all that’s visible, everything that throughout our whole lives, in corresponding forms of visibility, has been preserved yet forgotten in our inner world. It’s unclear which has to awaken which, the inner or the outer, but it’s certain that — because we know how things have been connected with each other ever since we were children — our first and best help will come from random chance: maybe in the form of a spring rain or an autumn storm, summer’s bright nights or winter’s rime frost, any phenomenon at all that can set our inner world in motion to such a degree that threads, pathways of thoughts, are created, branching out and trying to find ways to fuse words and phenomena.

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Choosing with care also means more than choosing among all random words. We have to choose exactly the random word that can be made necessary. To make a word necessary means to interweave or fuse it with its phenomenon. Not that the randomness is done away with, because even after we choose it, the word is still as random as ever. But in its randomness the word, along with the phenomenon, will enter into that condition of secrecy where inner and outer worlds exist together, as if they had never been separated.

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When the first stations have been set up in this condition of secrecy, the poem begins to take shape, the landscape broadens out, and images begin, on their own, to keep words and phenomena together. Where before there was nothing, now there is something; and along with it something else that continues the process, because all the widespread outposts in the landscape start to report in, all the little enclaves of coinciding language and meaning that now are functioning as realities, everything that has entered into the condition of secrecy, reports back now.

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And at the happy moment when all decisions become part and parcel of the poem’s writing of itself, it may even be decided that what’s being written about is something we had never remotely considered writing about, something we’d completely forgotten, something we’d never spoken of, something that has kept itself hidden until now.

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There is a schism between those who believe that we human beings, with our language, are set apart from the world, and those who experience human beings’ use of language as part of the world, so it becomes evident that whenever we express ourselves through language, the world too is expressing itself.

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Especially since I’ve learned from meteorologists and other scientists I’ve met that they know about the condition of secrecy. They may not say that words suddenly take over, but they say that the problem suddenly solves itself; they don’t say that a poem writes itself, no, but they do say that things say themselves.

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If we’re separate from the world, it’s because we have separated ourselves. We believe as much. But we mustn’t believe as much. We must know. That we already are in the condition of secrecy we seek.

— Inger Christensen, ‘The Condition of Secrecy’ (tr. Nied)

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