The Poet as a Tacit Presence

As a reader, my imagination is stirred when a poem is written toward the Out There. When a poem is unburdened by the poet’s ego, trauma, diary, and blather, I’m granted possible entry to a peculiar mode of appreciation, of aesthetic impression. If the egoless poem happens to be written by a poet of subtle artistic consciousness, something special occurs: a conjuring of images both equivocal and ecstatic from the half-dreaming world. The world Out There — the stuff of worldly phenomena — takes on an unusual, quivering quality. What had been until the poem merely usual appearance and regular happening is now conjured into a sudden and glowing written thereness.

As a reader, my imagination is further stirred when a poem is written in such a manner that I’m allowed to make deep guesses about the poet. The poet in such poems is almost not there. His or her written presence is much too vague and self-effacing to tell me anything solid, decisive, or clangorous. Instinctively, the artistic poet knows that no one should or would care about the poet himself or herself. This poet knows that ego, trauma, diary, and blather are anathema to artistic excellence. Instead, this deep poet will write in such a way that his or her Out There impressions — the conjurings — give the reader sufficient clues to the poet’s psychological shape and quality of spirit. The reader doesn’t require noise and angst for a contiguous journey toward the poet.

A poem written with implicit persona or tacit presence of the poet causes the reader’s imagination to deepen and wonder.

The artistic poems produced by such a poet are startling. When the poet himself or herself is barely there in the poem, the poem itself becomes charged with eccentric (excentric?) captivating energies. A poem freed from the poet’s self-centered concerns releases an atmosphere of reticence. It wafts around and permeates his or her appropriations of the Out There.

Here’s three wonderments by the Italian poet Cesare Pavese


1908 – 1950


The window, half open, holds a face
over the meadow of the sea. The hair sways
with the gentle rhythm of the sea, moving.

There are no memories on this face.
Only a passing shadow, like the shadow of a cloud.
In the half-light the shadow is moist and sweet
like the sand of a hollow cove, untouched.
There are no memories. Only a murmur
which is the sound of the sea made memory.

In the half-light the soft water of dawn
is saturated with light and illumines the face.
When the sun is high, each day is a miracle.
It has no time. A salt light suffuses it,
and a smell of living things from the salt sea.

No memory lives on this face.
No word could hold it, no word
connect it to vanished things. Yesterday
it vanished from the little window as it will
always vanish, instantly, no sadness,
no human words, over the field of the sea.


Landscape VIII

Memories begin at evening,
with a breath of wind, to lift their head
and listen to the river running. In the darkness
the water flows as it did in the dead years.

In the still darkness a rustling rises,
old voices, old laughter go flowing by,
and with them goes a flurry of empty color,
color of sunlight, and beaches, and bright looks.
A summer of sounds. Each face keeps,
like ripe fruit, a savor of something gone.

Each look, returning, keeps a taste
of grass and things suffused with late light
along a beach. It keeps a breath of the sea.
It’s like the sea at night, this drifting blur
of old longings and tremblings, touched by the sky,
which every evening brings again. The dead
sounds are like that sea, breaking.


Grappa in September

The mornings run their course, clear and deserted
along the river’s banks, which at dawn turn foggy,
darkening their green, while they wait for the sun.
In the last house, still damp, at the field’s edge,
they sell tobacco, which is blackish in color
and tastes of sugar: it gives off a bluish haze.
They also have grappa there, the color of water.

There comes a moment when everything is still
and ripens. The trees in the distance are quiet
and their darkness deepens, concealing fruit so ripe
it would drop at a touch. The occasional clouds
are swollen and ripe. Far away, in city streets,
every house is mellowing in the mild air.

This early, you see only women. The women don’t smoke,
or drink. All they know is standing in the sun,
letting it warm their bodies, as though they were fruit.
The air, raw with fog, has to be swallowed in sips,
like grappa. Everything here distills its own fragrance.
Even the water in the river has absorbed the banks,
steeping them to their depths in the soft air. The streets
are like the women. They ripen by standing still.

This is the time when every man should stand
still in the street and see how everything ripens.
There is even a breeze, which does not move the clouds
but somehow succeeds in maneuvering the bluish haze
without scattering it. The smell drifting by is a new smell.
The tobacco is tinged with grappa. So it seems
the women are not alone in enjoying the morning.


from Hard Labor: Poems by Cesare Pavese
trans. William Arrowsmith, The Ecco Press, New York, 1979


Posted by Tim Buck


3 thoughts on “The Poet as a Tacit Presence

  1. I am in total agreement. “The reader doesn’t require noise and angst for a contiguous journey toward the poet.”I am also happy to see you used the William Arrowsmith translations from “Hard Labor.” For a time it was my favorite collection of poems. Thanks again. I always enjoy your thoughts on poetry. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

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