longing, we say, because desire is full of distances

11:49 PM Posted by James Owens

O fotografie de Roxana Ghiţă,
care vorbeşte in pragul dintre doua lumi

Vedi, in questi silenzi in cui le cose
s'abbandonano e sembrano vicine
a tradire il loro ultimo segreto,
talora ci si aspetta
di scoprire uno sbaglio di Natura,
il punto morto del mondo, l'anello che non tiene,
il filo da disbrogliare che finalmente ci metta
nel mezzo di una verità.

"I limoni"
Eugenio Montale

See, in these silences where things
give over and seem on the verge of betraying
their final secret,
sometimes we feel we’re about
to uncover a flaw in Nature,
the still point of the world, the link that won’t hold,
the thread to untangle that will finally lead
to the heart of a truth.

"The Lemons"
Translated by Jonathan Galassi (with one small revision by me)


Just as the silence folded inside words makes it possible for them to call the world out of its long oubli --- though it is a form of heartbreak, knowing that even the endearments whispered in the lover’s ear are grounded in this profound no --- so it is space and time, woven over and under all, the womb of difference, which make all things possible --- but time and space are also the evils, the absences, separation, the distance between, the hours between….

I have always been searching, all life long, for, as Montale says, “uno sbaglio di Natura,” a flaw in Nature, a way --- and I’m sure it’s there, just on the other side of the air, on the other side of the essence of the air --- a way to reach through the distance, the hours, to touch there…. Almost, the moment grows numinous, almost…..

The lemon trees Montale gazes at in this poem stand at a threshold, the place where the dream that would abolish time and distance begins to glow in the air. In fact, the preceding poem in Ossi di seppia is titled “In limine,” “On the threshold,” and surely this poem’s title, “I limoni” re-calls the earlier title with intent --- the pun reaches through the distance between the words and, suddenly, momentarily, the two stand shining as one in the reader’s mind. This is the power of the secret language, is it not?, and the hidden goal of all poetry.


Ist nicht die heimliche List
dieser verschwiegenen Erde, wenn sie die Liebenden drängt,
dass sich in ihrem Gefühl jedes und jedes entzückt?

Ranier Maria Rilke
"Die Neunte Elegie"

Isn’t the secret intent
of this taciturn earth, when it forces lovers together,
that inside their emotion all things may shudder with joy?

"The Ninth Elegy"
Translated by Stephen Mitchell (with one small revision by me)



Roxana said...


(can I make a comment in O? :-)

this threshold idea has been on my mind recently - trying to write about it in a Bachelard essay, as a possible way to approach the "womb of difference". I'm stunned (and not really) to find this here. thank you.

Sorlil said...

I've always loved and been intrigued by your 'An Hour is the Doorway' title. To me, this is partly a longing for transcendence and I think this is what a good poem achieves.

James Owens said...




These coincidences have moved beyond coincidence.... I'm not surprised, either, not now.

James Owens said...


I am very bad with titles. It took forever to think of something that would fit the book, then, of course, the editor didn't like my idea. I've always been interested in what psychologists call "liminal states," that is, transitional moments between different states of being --- waking and sleep, "reality" and dream, life and death, etc.