From “This Broken Symmetry”

Simone Weil, 1943-1909

Time as it flows wears down and destroys that which is temporal. Accordingly, there is more eternity in the past than in the present… Thus, the past presents us with something which is at the same time real and better than ourselves, something which can draw us upwards—a thing the future never does.

Hunger: we imagine kinds of food, but the hunger itself is real: we have to fasten onto the hunger…

Simone Weil, Waiting for God

(Bybrook)

She adored sunsets, and her last was a flaming host
Placed gravely on the ocean’s tongue, indistinguishable
From dawn, the vagrant star, the soul’s final morsel.

No longer now the wasted figure, self-starved, the sky
Above the ceiling above the bed the huge refuge,
As though this plot had always been, would always be

Her portion, and all of space nascent in that fold
Flowering emptily: “I am a badly cut off piece of God.”
A wind blowing east across the Channel to Gravelines

Stirs the border of native trees, stirs them classically.
Their limbs broadcast nothing of the ancient news.
Their bodies bend, pliant, with each prevailing sway.

“Let the universe be to my hand a blind man’s stick,
Another body to my soul, my death no importance…
I am the color of dead leaves, an unnoticed insect.”

Now, above her hollow in earth, a few friends circle,
Then kneel, where in time a belated stone will rest,
Where they pray now, where now one throws a bouquet

To crest the plain box, her slenderest thread newly cut
That bound her to her waiting: while the summoned
Priest, un-showing, turns back from his mistaken train

Through crowds, numb, that in time will be new crowds
To settle beyond the trees in queues for Cinema World.
How grandly fleet the light in each commodious cave.

(Roots)

He is waiting at the door of “Miss Simone,” curled there
As though in utero—the boy she tutors, his new words
Copied daily in a notebook, his future’s hampered code.

She likes her room at the top of the cottage, stars at night,
The branches full of birds, having been denied her wish
To be smuggled into France, air dropped, to die a sacrifice,

Not withering away in the Ministry Offices editing tracts,
Composing her Need for Roots, DeGaulle thinking her mad,
And in her notebook her last texts: “As in Christ’s parable,

I am that fig tree, barren.” Or any stone on which seed falls,
Never to be fleshed. But to partake of the Communion,
The sacrament an image, perfect, of the universe entire,

The meal that she denies herself, unlike those few evenings
Here in Notting Hill, before the nightly migraines wake her—
Her landlady’s warm offerings of coffee and buttered bread.

Not long now until the sanitarium in Ashford, her lungs
Wasting, she refusing food to ally her soul with the starving
At home, the world uprooted, herself the frailest cutting

From the Hidden: “God is not in time. We are abandoned.
But only from the past, absolutely beyond our reach, real,
Only from the past alone will renewal come, if we love it.”

Let it be Villanueva, ten years before, at seaside. She lives
In her bathing suit, not dressing for meals, her rags dropped,
Her skin wet. And a fisherman threads a flower in her hair.

(Decreation)

But to enter the uncreated, Nothing’s naked open sea,
Before God abandoned God to these various forms
Of hunger, gravity riveted plumb in every scattered part,

And each flung I like a standing pole to blot the infinite,
As if creation at its root were rooted in cross-purposes:
“My great desire is to lose all will, lose all personal being.”

What at best is God but a beggar in this world emergent
As when an ocean recedes into itself and shores appear,
Never once again but for the first time, a slough, a seething,

But in the self’s self-possessed imagining of a universe
Beyond which, in emptiness, the beggar whispers secretly
Self’s self-renouncing song, for “only God can love God.”

Yet in this broken symmetry our love, she said, should stretch
Across all of space, spread equally in every portion of it:
So how does it manifest, this knowing of beauty, of bridges—

All things metaxu, metaphors, to lead us out, and even evil
A form of mercy: this world at once “the barrier, the closed
Door, and the way through” from one to another and then

To God. And this passing fictive I, born to really die, to be
But a little pile of brute matter, how does it become “the bird
With golden wings that pierces through the egg of the world?”

It must wait like Electra for the dead Orestes to return,
Like Christ in Gethsemane, God waiting in God’s absence
Like a beggar, God waiting for God under the olive trees.

(Anathema)

She only reads what she hungers for only when she has
The appetite for it, so she reveals to her confessor,
Father Perrin, and even then she does not read but eats—

Eats Plato, Pythagoras, eats Aeschylus and Rousseau
At that café in Vichy Marseilles, her books, papers stacked
While her friend in the photo twirls his spoon in cream;

Eats enough to know how from its infancy the Church
Has gorged on power, Anathema sit, and tells the priest so,
And so casts her self off with the others cast off, to remain

“With those that cannot enter, the many things God loves
Because they exist, that could not exist without God’s love;”
Eats, too, therefore, a knowledge of the chicken yard—

How other animals fall upon a wounded hen, each driven
To give pain the way pistons inflict the engine’s demands,
And God’s love most evident in that solitary suffering;

Eats, eats until the need to consume is consumed in prayer,
Her terrible prayer: “Father, Father, in Christ’s name
Grant me this: that my will become famished of any desire

For bodily movement, for all hope of movement. Let me be
Deaf, blind, bereft—incapable wholly of all sensation,
Paralytic, unable to bridge even one thought to another.

Transfigure me now, though my faith is imperfect, as if
It were perfect, in the name of Christ to the body of Christ,
Grant me this, now, to be picked clean, devoured by God.”

(Solesme)

Eggshell, bone, swan’s fleece pearl—lactescent statuary
In the Belle Chapelle, saints’ bodies as though fast frozen
In stone, their eyes intent, hands gestural in their stillness,

Arrayed there where the savior’s being entombed, corpse
Lowering on water, no, a winding sheet unfolded, flowing,
The mirror to his mother lowered at the transept’s end.

April. Easter. Simone with her mother among the throng
Come to hear the monks at prayer, their ancient chanting
The melisma aloft and blissful of time, eternity, each note

Hurting her like a blow. So she fixates, lets the splitting
Ache inside her skull be what it is, flesh, heaps the flesh
Where it belongs: into the corner. Deus interior intimo meo,

God closer to me than I am to myself, Beauty real, Truth real:
“In course of these services the thought of the Passion
Entered my life, once and for all.” And entering there, too,

As on stage, her two Englishmen, “angel boy,” “devil boy,”
One handing her Herbert, radiance beaming from his face,
The other who dreamed he’d be a writer, handing her Lear.

What is the cross but a lever, “going down to rise up,”
While the whole universe weighs on us as on everything,
“And God the only counterweight” who comes over to us

“Through the thickness of time and space”— coming now,
Like light through stained glass where, for a thousand years,
Walls have risen above this river, their likeness in its rush.

(Little Portion)

In the eye between the Anschluss and blood-fires of Guernica,
(Like a brilliant point of light beyond the Duce’s folded arms),
She has entered the chiesetta, Porziuncola, “the little portion”

Where the saint would kneel in prayer, where the raw wounds
Scored themselves into his feet and hands, his palms open,
Arms stretched wide, like one who embraced the firing squad—

Tracer rounds of love shot from God’s body to his own.
Not in the great church, “abominable,” built around this cell,
Not under the high dome’s atmosphere, but hunkered here

She feels for the first time, alone, “something stronger than I”
(Though isn’t God “withdrawn from the universe” powerless
Within it?), that compels her now to go down on her knees.

Outside, Brother Sun pours over Umbrian hills his canticle
Of light, Sister Moon hides patiently behind day’s blue veil,
While Brother Wind and Sister Water flow down and through

The olive trees on the low descending slopes of Sister Earth.
Somewhere, under Brother Fire’s stars, the saint is preaching
To his congregation of birds, and all the wolves of Gubbio,

Benignly murderous, bowing, offer their paws to his hands.
And if it must be sacrificed, this nothing, this created self
Like the saint in his transito, is it only cold matter sifting

Into itself again, swap of energies, the nameless Zero Sum,
Not the sudden combustion of bluebirds from a raven flock
As Little Sister Bodily Death calls all her playmates home?

Daniel Tobin

Daniel Tobin

Daniel Tobin is the author of nine books of poems, most recently From Nothing, winner of the Julia Ward Howe Award, The Stone in the Air, his suite of versions from the German of Paul Celan, and the forthcoming Blood Labors.He is author of the critical studies Awake in America, Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, and On Serious Earth, forthcoming in 2019. Tobin is also editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: Selected Early Poems of Lola Ridge, Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Arts (with Pimone Triplett) and To the Many: Collected Early Poems of Lola Ridge. His poetry has won the "The Discovery/The Nation Award," The Robert Penn Warren Award, the Robert Frost Fellowship, the Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, among other honors.
Daniel Tobin

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Author: Daniel Tobin

Daniel Tobin is the author of nine books of poems, most recently From Nothing, winner of the Julia Ward Howe Award, The Stone in the Air, his suite of versions from the German of Paul Celan, and the forthcoming Blood Labors. He is author of the critical studies Awake in America, Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, and On Serious Earth, forthcoming in 2019. Tobin is also editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: Selected Early Poems of Lola Ridge, Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Arts (with Pimone Triplett) and To the Many: Collected Early Poems of Lola Ridge. His poetry has won the "The Discovery/The Nation Award," The Robert Penn Warren Award, the Robert Frost Fellowship, the Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, among other honors.