My Life and My Lyric A lecture in Montreal by Abraham Shutskever May 24th, 1959 By Nicholas Heskes A poet is the greatest exploiter. He forces the entire world to work for his lyric. The tears of a new-born child and the death throes of an old man, the stars give light to his words, and both the silence and the storm give him their mysterious rhythm. A firefly is thus as important as the sun and a raindrop on the window like Niagara Falls, which I have seen only once in my life. The poet creates always also in a dream. Said more accurately – his dreams also create for him. Not to explain the mysteries of creation. One can analyze all the elements that make up his lyric, but the protoplasm of the lyric, the mystery that brings to life all the elements and unites them in a harmonious life is inexplicable. Slovatski expressed it himself, that he only writes what the angels whisper to him. And what one calls poetic madness too has a deep purpose. Blind Milton used to lie on a couch, head lowered onto the ground, and at that moment when the blood flowed to his head, when he would become intoxicated by his own blood, he would improvise his “lost Garden of Eden.” Turgenev writes in a letter to his friend: “At the time of an operation, I searched for the words with which I would be able to experience exactly the impression that the knife makes when it cuts into a body.” And I alone, it’s horrible to relate this, only I remember this very well: it was in 1941, during a massacre in the ghetto, when I was lying hidden in an attic, and only a sliver of light came in from above between the shingles. I then saw a dead Jew lying near me. It was hot, his body was naked. Then I forgot that a corpse lay there, and I completely forgot I was alone there, and while prodding a little piece of coal with my finger I took to writing a poem on the dead body as if it were paper. A poet, in truth, does not owe thanks to his word, like no thanks is owed to the grain that later branches out into a tree rife with fruit. He merely returns what was given to him. He receives his reward according to the taste and form of his fruits, which his work brings out. He writes a whole life, the poet, he writes without a limit. But it’s very rare when a poet writes without a poem. But what is a poem, a lyric? That is that which the prophet Isaiah says: בורא ניבֿ שׂפתים – I create the fruit of the mouth. Where all possibilities end, there art begins. One once asked rebbe Israel of Ruzshin when the Messiah will come, he answered: Those who know do not disclose, those who disclose, do not know. It is the same with poetry. That is the answer.
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