I originally set out to write a ‘poetical translation’ of Ecclesiastes. “Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” I wanted to capture the unwavering self-possession of one in the grip of a thoroughly abstract disgust with life. A disgust without bitterness or resentment, measured and controlled, a studied disgust, so languorous as to verge almost on supreme pleasure, pleasure unhaunted by thought. I soon abandoned this idea and decided instead to ‘translate’ Wallace Stevens’ “The Auroras of Autumn” into a language—a symbolic landscape—of my own. In that poem’s final section, Stevens tentatively settles on this, that we are “where we were when we began: / An unhappy people in a happy world.” But what does that mean? Whose happiness is this? If we are unhappy, what ‘world’ remains to be happy?

Kant speaks of the sublime as the feeling that the whole of nature is small compared with the human mind. It was with some such notion at hand that I set out to write this poem. I sought in a way to take revenge on nature. I thus try to describe certain familiar scenes and atmospheres—birds trilling at dawn, city sunsets, the placid surface of a pond, the ponderous afternoon light in summer—as precisely as possible in terms deliberately constructed to thwart precision. That is, my aim was to create a kind of linguistic pantomime, as though language were mute, yet the only way—as though to force nature into an alien body and make it speak a language it does not know.

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