Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The writer and his work

Three beautiful passages in Nabokov's "The Gift," and I wonder about the truth behind them. The book is about a young poet, Fyodor, who has just published his first book. Here he is engaged in a battle between wakefulness and sleep...or perhaps the battle is between the poem and the self.

"On the table he saw the glistening keys and the white book. That's already all over, he thought. Such a short time ago he had been giving copies to friends with pretentious or platitudinous inscriptions and now he was ashamed to recall those dedications and how all these last few days he had been nurtured by the joy of his book. But after all, nothing much had happened: today's deceptions did not exclude a reward tomorrow or after tomorrow; somehow, however the dream had begun to cloy and now the book lay on the table, completely enclosed within itself, delimited and concluded, and no longer did it radiate those former powerful, glad rays."

(On his new work)
"Fyodor ventured imprudently to repeat to himself the unfinished poem---simply to enjoy it once more before the separation by sleep; but he was weak, and it was strong, twitching with avid life, so that in a moment it had conquered him..."

(Much later...)
"For a long time he could not fall asleep: discarded word-shells obstructed and chafed his brain and prickled his temples and there was no way he could get rid of them...."

Is this true of a writing life? Is there a point where the work takes over the creator? becomes the creator? Does a poem have a life apart from its creator? Can the creator survive without the poem?

Suppose there is a vast universe out there awash with words. The words exist as stars, whether we discover them or no.