Monday, October 26, 2009

The adventurers

W. H. Prescott's book ' The history of the conquest of Peru' is much maligned because Prescott was a blind scholar who never visited Peru. I found his book because the last time I was in Peru it was the only history *in english* that was available. He does a good job of bring together all the sources he has. To me, this is history writing, before modern academics made it objective - and boring. The passage represents the spirit of adventure:

"On crossing these woody eminences, the forlorn adventurers would plunge into ravines of frightful depth, where the exhalations of a humid soil steamed up amidst the incense of sweet-scented flowers, which shone through the deep gloom in every conceivable variety of colour. Birds, especially of the parrot tribe, mocked this fantastic variety of nature with tints as beautiful as those of the vegetable world. Monkeys chattered in crowds above their heads, and made grimaces like the fiendish spirits of these solitudes; while hideous reptiles, engendered in the slimy depths of the pools, gathered around the footsteps of the wanderers. Here was seen the gigantic boa, coiling his unweildly folds about the trees, so as hardly to be distinguished from their trunks, till he was ready to dart upon his prey; and alligators lay basking on the borders of the streams, or gliding under the waters, seized their incautious victim before he was aware of their approach. Many of the spaniards perished miserably in this way, and others were waylaid by the natives, who kept a jealous eye on their movements and availed themselves of every opportunity to take them at advantage. Fourteen of Pizarro's men were cut off at once in a canoe which had stranded on the bank of a stream."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Episode in a Library

A blonde girl is bent over a poem. With a pencil sharp as a lancet she transfers the words to a blank page and changes them into strokes, accents, caesuras. The lament of a fallen poet now looks like a salamander eaten away by ants.
When we carried him away under machine-gun fire, I believed that his still warm body would be resurrected in the word. Now as I watch the death of the words, I know there is no limit to decay. All that will be left after us in the black earth will be scattered syllables. Accents over nothingness and dust.

Zbigniew Herbert

[pronounced 'ezbegnief']