On Fear by Mary Ruefle
The apple set the world in motion.
We fail. And so desire to progress, to become better poets, to eradicate a disease, to become better people, to perfect that which is perpetually imperfect. The biblical “fall” is just such an anti-constraint. The apple was fear. (And remember, fear is knowledge, according to Nietzsche.) The apple set the world in motion by forcing Adam and Eve to migrate out of the Perfect. “Fear is to recognize ourselves,” said the philosopher. One of the fears a young writer has is not being able to write as well as he or she wants to, the fear of not being able to sound like X or Y, a favorite author. But out of fear, hopefully, is born a young writer’s voice: “But now,” says Kierkegaard,
to strive to become what one already is: who would take the pains to waste his time on such a task, involving the greatest imaginable degree of resignation?…But for this very reason alone it is a very difficult task…precisely because every human being has a strong natural bent and passion to become something more and different.
It is very easy to read those words, and very hard to enact them. Elsewhere Kierkegaard says, “What is education? I should suppose that education was the curriculum one had to run through in order to catch up with oneself.”
There are poets who are resigned to not being able to save the world, who barely have enough time to catch up with themselves and the attendant mystery of their fear and being. I suppose Szymborska was one of them. Here is her compatriot Miłosz describing her:
In Szymborska we are divided not into the flesh and a surviving oeuvre…but into “the flesh and a broken whisper”; poetry is no more than a broken whisper, quickly dying laughter…. When it is not the perfection of a work that is important but expression itself, “a broken whisper,” everything becomes, as it has been called, écriture…. To talk about anything, just to talk, becomes an operation in itself, a means of assuaging fear.