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  • Nickolas Vaccaro

Winter of My Days, a Poetical Essay

​What is that? Above me, what is that? Inside me, what is that? What is that I see and touch, what is it I have known and found and remembered but cannot tell in words, preserve in words, make eternal in words. What is that I cannot save, from itself and from disease and from time, in words? What is that which I know and lost and see in dreams, as revelations, blind prophecies?

What is that intelligence divine, as Boethius had it, and the mortal reason which stumbles and falters and falls about it? Why, us! — This, only this, I know. I lie seeing it. I lie next to it. I’ve faltered and fallen about it. I see it and know it but cannot take it, save it, preserve it, tell it — for eternity. 

This is the tragedy of language, this our damnation, this the mark of our sin — that we are fleeting, that the world must fall away, that we do not know what we see, that we stumble over our feet, that we make a terrible clatter with words that still must end in silence, nothingness, emptiness — that language and we are mortal — that we can only begin and not be, that we can only begin to exist and not exist, that we are mute — that we stumble and fall in heaps about an empty center, in laughable absurdity, in empty metaphor. — This is the mark of our sin.

Where is our sin? Is it an emptiness or an excess? Can we see our sin or only its mark? We are damned to half-blindness; we only know marks and symbols, metaphors and vessels of our truth, allegories and abstractions of ourselves; we only know language and not the thing inside it, not the thing it holds.

For what the war? What is there? What do they want? What do they have, what have they known that they have not (that is not there), what have they lost, what is that which they cannot lose, that for which the earth is washed in blood. 

I see them and where they go. I know the stolid stillness of defense. I know they are virtuous. 

For what the war? For them and for their wings I stand. For the sacred mind, for the mind’s freedom I lay down utterly my neck. 

For the mind is to be worshipped, for God is of the mind, for the mind made the world and then a God to make it. For a person is mind and not body. For the mind is the soul. I worship the mind and collect its tears. And its tears are words, its tears are language — and we are minds but do not know them, and that separation and that distance is the distance of man from God, of body from mind — we are minds but do not know them, we do not know ourselves — damned to only look ahead, damned to half-blindness — we do not know our minds, we do not know ourselves — and words (language) are our tears — ours is a language of weeping. Silence. For what the war?

God and his word are the mind’s, that divinity’s, that humanity’s. The mind thought, and all came to pass. The mind made God. 

Poetry as possession of the poet. As Heidegger has it, poetry comes from beneath the poet, from the earth, through the poet; poetry as the earth’s mire and filth, poetry as disgust at the earth and at nature. — Poeta vates. The poet as prophet.

Chaucer’s mundanity, Chaucer that pierced the folds of history, that rose from medieval tedium and made himself naked to the night storm, to the violence of the future. Geoffrey Chaucer, that remembered the pining Boethius and the self-pricking Augustine and the free-living ancients, that wound history and tradition and poetry into a vortex that unfurled itself two centuries later, and the Renaissance and Shakespeare and Milton and brave England came to be. 

And Geoffrey Hill that poetic digger who died seven years ago, who saw and birthed our human past into the back-blind present and put on us metaphor’s armor that we may stand and hold and live past the night storm. I found that armor and wore it and it has heavied me and made me see the earth beneath me, Heidegger’s earth beneath the world, Heidegger’s poetry, Heidegger’s poetry as the brute earth and sea that possess me and rise through me, through my head as an Athena from her depraved father. — The poet is blind and is nothingness, is absence, and poetry is of itself, conceals itself, looks forward and back, is presence, is everything. — Chaucer that first wound up the mystery. 

Baudelaire’s dreams, Baudelaire’s abyss, abyss of thought and symbol. The abyss of language. Language that is at once overcome by poetry, conquered by poetry, and that births poetry, lays it down, structures it, births it. Baudelaire’s dreams: the sea, the winged poet and the mocking sailors, the morning’s muses and the night storms, phantasms, the night’s fever, the disease of thought. Baudelaire’s dream of a literature after God, a world after God, a people that killed God — as Hegel and Nietzsche dreamed not long or far away. This dream Bach in his blind cave knew, Bach new God had died, and so sought to make God with his cantatas, his passions, his fever and fugue, the Art of the Fugue, Die Kunst Der Fugue. 

But hypocrisy can be smelt. He was frightened, and I forgive him. Baudelaire’s dreams, Baudelaire’s abyss. My disgust at myself, my disgust at death, my life as a turning inwards and disgust at the sight. Death can be smelt. Schumann smelt his death, and they thought him mad. Van Gogh too, Keats too, Shelley and Byron perhaps. Yes, Death can be smelt.--

The mind is the only eternity. The mind is the only God. And I lay it down, mind, eternity, God, in ink onto the page.

How many eternities will I make? Many, many. And I will need none of them between the last breath and death, that silence, that dark metaphor, that abstraction of the flesh, — I’ll need none of them. But see, death is no eternity; it is a cursed and fallen soul. It is all except eternity. It is the maker of eternity. Only my words, only my tears, will be left when it comes and takes me — Death, the taking wind, my winter — And my words will sing in the winter of my days.

These numbers, all this I have been given, I have found by prophecy under the first snow of winter — where the flowers were, where the earth lies dead, where the poet digs. 

The poem as a choice, as the necessity of itself over all else. The poem as the negation of eternity. The poem as a radical, political choice of itself over all else — a choice of the oblivion of language, the temporality of language, the inadequacy and vulgarity of language — a rejection of eternity for withering ecstasy — a rejection of eternity for oblivion, of divinity for damnation, of divinity for sin, of God for man.

“In the day we eat thereof our doom is, we shall die.” So Milton heard, so the Fathers, so the twentieth century mutters and spits, so I remember, so we know and say, so we thank them that made us. 

Winter blows the taking wind. A fever comes. A cold fever. The body rots under new snow. Winter takes away. The wind takes away. Life takes away. Death takes away. And what is left? 

The word that is the mind. The mind that is the word. The mind that is God. God that is the word. The poet that is God. The mind, the word, the poet. Neither life rots me nor the wind blows me off, because my word remains. 

All this I found in winter, heard of the wandering wind. All this in winter, of the wind.

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