Orphic Liminality in the Poetry of Zsuzsa Beney:

 ”Myth of Mythlessness”?

Anita Klujber

“Mythology, like the severed head of Orpheus, goes on singing even in death.”

(Károly Kerényi)

This article focuses on lyric presentations of limiP/nal situations in the poetry of Zsuzsa Beney (a Hungarian woman poet, 1930–2006), and discusses their far-reaching implications concerning the relation of literary modernism and postmodernism to mythic thinking, within the framework of the archetypal concepts of center and periphery. The poetry of Zsuzsa Beney takes us closer to recognising the complexity of mythic thinking, its ability to assimilate some of the key features of postmodernist aesthetics. This issue emerged from a question that has been occupying my mind for many years: How is it possible that a poet, who was concerned uncompromisingly with only the deepest questions of being and non-being, produced poetry that often seems to be alien from the life-affirming and holistic nature of the mythological view of existence? It is a common assumption, founded on the findings of psychoanalysis, that everything that originates from the depth of the psyche has crucial affinities with myth. However, Zsuzsa Beney’s poetry, which does originate from the depth of the psyche, appears to deny some of the common traits of mythic perception; through this, it leads us from the periphery of the mythic mandala into its paradoxical centre, promoting a more profound understanding of the controversial nature of mythic thinking. It allows us to recognise that the only mythic certainty is the certainty of uncertainty at the heart of the holistic mind-world continuum. This poetry affirms life by emphasising that it is rooted in, and nurtured by, death. It also affirms the power of the creative word, by emphasising that it is rooted in, and nurtured by, the silence of the inexpressibl

The core idea presented in this work has grown out naturally from Edit Técsy’s article in the third volume of ”From Periphery – To Centre” (TÉCSY P/C 3; 294–303), in which the author explores Apollonian and Dionysian aspects of orphism in the works of two Hungarian poets. I am greatly indebted to Edit Técsy for her thought-inspiring work, as it has dispelled many uncertainties and answered many questions which I had been struggling with for over twenty years. My article was also informed by, and gained support from, other works within the collaborative project of ”From Center-To Periphery”, which are referenced in my original Hungarian article. Here I only have space for expressing my gratitude to their authors: Géza Rácz (RÁCZ P/C 3; 220–227), Ferenc Zsélyi (ZSÉLYI P/C 3; 199–211), Edit V. Gilbert (GILBERT P/C 3; 8–19), Gabriella Vöő (VÖŐ P/C 3; 192–198), Orsolya Gállos (GÁLLOS P/C 1; 53–65, GÁLLOS P/C 3; 58–67), Krisztián Benyovszky, Attila Veres (VERES P/C 3; 212–219), Ágnes Klára Papp, Janka Kungl and Csongor Andrássy (KUNGL, ANDRÁSSY P/C 3; 228–233).

 

The paradoxical term ”myth of mythlessness” appearing in the title of this paper was introduced by Laurence Coupe.[1]
I have borrowed this term as it pertains to the simultaneous processes of remythologisation and demythologisation, a typical feature of Zsuzsa Beney’s poetry, epitomising the liminal stage of the history of literature in the years before and after the second millennium. Zsuzsa Beney’s poetry displays a conspicuously ambiguous relation to mythic thinking. Some of her poems confirm the continuity and relevance of archetypal, mythic patterns, such as the principle of cyclicality, and the organic unity of the human psyche and the cosmos, while others show a sceptical attitude towards the optimistic mythic belief in the periodical restorability of order, meaning, and harmony. Most of her poems, however, integrate these opposite tencencies within their dynamic semantic context, leaving the reader in uncertainty and promoting them to explore the concept of mythic totality in depth

At first sight, the following haiku from the collection Winter appears to deny the common mythic principle of eternal return:

“A winter’s evening. Our ice-frozen world.
The year’s circle  has closed
itself.” (from Zsuzsa Beney: Winter. Transl. Lyra Klujber)

The closing of the year’s circle evokes contradictory associations: Has the year shut out the world, disabling the common mythic method whereby the cycle of the year is correlated with other manifestations of cyclicality on small and large scales, in the cosmos and in relation to psychological processes? Does the closing of the year indicate the end of the mythic principle of the renewability of creation? Or: Is the closing of the year the accomplishment of the annual cycle, which anticipates the beginning of a new cycle? For an open circle is not a circle. Had the year not closed itself, it would deform the archetypal image of mythic wholeness. The image of the closed circle (a shape whose boundary is endless, denoting completeness, totality, infinity as well as enclosure and isolation) allows one to come to the conclusion that in this poem, the world seems to freeze into motionlessness at that very moment when the law of recurrence sets in. The cycle of the year completes itself as the two ends of a curving line join into the shape of infinity. Once the image of the circle is used, it is inevitable that the completion of the cycle coincides with the beginning of a new one. At the very moment when the circle of the year closes itself, it yields towards various possible interpretations. It takes on the shape of completeness, whereby it can be correlated with other phenomena of cyclicality. Such correlations, typical of mythic thinking, would not be possible if the year had not closed itself. After all, through its closure the circle of the year opens up. It appears that the world freezes in that very phase when the cycle completes itself by joining end and beginning. Is it, then, the principle of eternal recurrence which is frozen in the sense that it cannot be dissolved: it is set forever. Does the poem, then, deny or reaffirm mythic cyclicality, or does it do both? When motion is frozen into stillness, it is both abolished and eternalised. The mythic law of eternal return is thus re-confirmed, perhaps unconsciously, in a poem which appears to deny this very principle. Thus, one of the basic principles of the universe, enantiodromia, is encrypted in the semantic dynamics of the poem. As soon as one opinion crystallises, it starts to melt to give way to its opposite. It appears that mythic thinking itself is being rebuilt while it is being demolished. Two possible interpretations exist together in a fine equilibrium, which is both a harmonious balance and a dissonant clash of opposite opinions. The resulting experience is a dymanic wholeness, an interplay of different perspectives incorporating all possibilities, thus requiring the human mind to be activated to its full capacity. This is achieved by practising what John Keats calls “negative capability”, “when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching for fact and reason”.[2]
The ability to accept the interaction of different meanings is comparable to the mytho-ritual experience of the center of creation, which encompasses mythic totality. Due to its ambivalent associations, the image of the closed circle comes to function as a mirror, reflecting the dynamic semantic wholeness of the poem itself. In such poems, the poetic word acts in the manner of the mythic creative word, which divides and connects the elements of the cosmos at the same time. This culminates in the use of metaphor, a pre-eminent manifestation of mythic creation, encapsulating the experience of the moment of creation itself, when the one is becoming two, so the entity is one and two at the same time:

“The word created the world: let there be.
And being created words.
Both came before time.
The one is inseparably two.”[3]
(from On Two Banks of a River)

The mythic belief that existence is undestroyable and that all moments of time exist together (as in the timeless centre of the mandala) is confirmed in the following lines:

“Everything can be heard that was once breathing in this world.
Everything that was: is.” (from Haiku, transl. Lyra Klujber)

In contrast, the following poem seems to be an example of demythologisation, as it denies the law of eternal rebirth:

“From this second nothing there is no creation.
Thick ash covers the surface of the earth.
This is a different silence, not that of the sealed urn.
The flame of existence has blown itself out.” (from On Two Banks of a River)

These contradictory opinions, the eternity and the destroyability of existence, come together when the poet finds a mythic figure, Eurydice, to be a pertinent (dis)embodiment of  the anti-mythological concept of “second nothing”:

“The first death: surcease of being.
Vision of  vanished light in pitch darkness.
Glowing embers on the inner velvet of eyelids.

But in the second death,  non-being
Vanishes into the substance  beyond non-being.” (from Orpheus and Eurydice, transl. in collaboratin with Leon Burnett.)

It is already strange enough that an apparently anti-mythic idea is expressed within the context of a myth, but it is even more surprising when the mythic principle of cyclicality and its denial merge, as in the haiku beginning “Awinter’s evening”. Another example of such paradoxical synthesis is the poem Eurydice as Kore, which is discussed in detail in the original article. The dynamics of creation presented in the poem can be illustrated in an imaginary act of Persephone looking into a mirror after her return to the earth, only to find the empty image of twice-died Eurydice looking back at her. This is the act of consciousness becoming aware that it originates in, but cannot reach, the totality beyond consciousness, and the recognition that language is rooted in, but cannot reach, the inexpressible. An epigrammatic summary of this experience is the following extract from one of Zsuzsa Beney’s cycle of poems:

“And until we live, we always live in words.
It is true that love defeats death
and it is also true that destruction defeats love.
But from the two existences only one can be expressed.” (from On Two Banks of a River)

These are just a few examples of the challenges which the reader encounters in interpreting Zsuzsa Beney’s works, where apparent demythologisation is often integrated within mythic contexts. In the Hungarian article, I discuss more poems which confirm the conclusion that the ostensibly anti-mythic surface of a poem may yield to mythic depth, urging us to re-examine and refine some of the common beliefs as regard to the nature of mythic perception. Zsuzsa Beney’s poetry alerts us that the concept of myth is controversial. That which seems to be alien to the conventional concept of mythic order is shown to be an integral part of a more complex mythic totality. The poet tends to perceive existence as predominantly tragical in its very core and orientation, but she struggles with this experience of mythlessness, hoping that unconsciously she may nurture at least the hope for a different perception:

“This is the wasteland of nonbelief.
Yet, for the invisible ray
of hope, I am tempted to
descend into the depth of myself.” (from Neither Fire, Nor Night)

It appears that the poet deeply believed in the positive aspects of myth, but she struggled with believing it. She was reluctant to articulate in verse the dynamic, self-renewing structure of mythic order and its organic nature, as if it were taboo. Was it through this silence that the poet preserved the relevance of the life-affirning nature of myth? After all, she emphasised throughout her poetry that words always mislead us in some ways. The controversial nature of her poetry points to the complexity of mythic thought. Through this poetry one can explore the possibility that “the myth lied” (“Die Mythe log”, from Gottfried Benn’s Verlorenes Ich), but this opinion is presented at such profound depth that it leads one to the opposite end of the spectrum, where “everything is myth” (Marina Tsvetaeva). In reading Zsuzsa Beney’s poems, we are reminded that myth is clear order as well as dark mystery. The shift in the perception of myth form the harmonious and balanced centered mythic structure and stable meanings to a different kind, or a different aspect, of mythic totality, manifests itself in a dynamic system of semantic interrelations that can only be grasped in the ambivalence of threshold situations, involving the imaginative act of reading itself. The question remains: Why does the poet use the framework of myth as the most adequate semantic context to communicate experiences that seem to challenge conventional mythic concepts?

Zsuzsa Beney defines the essence of poetry as such: „The great mystery of writing poetry is the battle of the expressible and the inexpressible. An image emerges and comes near to the inexpressible, but it is nevertheless not the same”.[4]
The experience of inexpressibility itself finds poetic expression in Zsuzsa Beney’s works, often within the framework of lyric rewritings of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. A dialogic poem entitled Orpheus and Eurydice offers various interpersonal, psychological, ontological, and epistemological explanations of the myth, unfolding one question from the other rather than arriving at definite answers. All the different semantic possibilities conglomerate into a meta-poetic reading of the myth. Orpheus’s journey into the underworld is described as a liminal situation, which encapsulates the essential paradox of poetry, the realisation that there are certain experiences which language can never bring into the light of consciousness – like Eurydice, they remain in the underworld of the mind, in that region, which is analogous with the under-word aspect of language, i.e. all that is under the surface of articulated language. The myth of Orpheus is revealed to be a relevant context for communicating the opinion that the great mystery of poetry is the process whereby the expressible image comes near to, but is unable to reach or touch the inexpressible. Zsuzsa Beney is, of course, not the only poet who explored the meta-poetic implications of the myth of Orpheus. In investigating the resurfacing of this myth in art and science, Elizabeth Sewell came to a conclusion which is precisely applicable to Zsuzsa Beney’s treatment of the myth: ”Orpheus is poetry thinking about itself, and every significant mention of Orpheus by a poet or scientist may bring the working methods a little nearer to the surface”.[5]
Zsuzsa Beney’s poem Orpheus and Eurydice reveals that in experiencing Eurydice’s ”second death” in the underworld, Orpheus gained a ”second knowledge”, which enriched the wisdom of his Apollonian word magic with a Dionysian, sceptical view of language:

”I was following your way from the opposite direction.
After life, I reached another life.
The sea engulfed me, then disgorged me.

What shall I do here with this second knowledge?
The silence of the underwor(l)d has washed my voice away.”

Thus ”the literature of silence” is born. I am using Ihab Hassan’s well-known metaphor[6] here, to indicate that a meta-poetic reading of Orpheus’s experience, the rediscovery of the mythic belief that language is inadequate to express certain kinds of experience, marks the threshold between literary modernism and postmodernism. ”The modern Orpheus sings on a lyre without strings”, writes Hassan in The Dismemberment of Orpheus, applying a mythic framework to illustrate the turning point when ”the modern age discovers the postmodern at its center”.[7]

This process is captured in W. B. Yeats’s poem, The Second Coming. I devote a few lines here to this poem as it is concerned with that historical period whose literature this collaborative project is exploring. The poem is based on Yeats’s version of a mythic system of change, the cyclical (therefore predictable) movement of psycho-cosmic energy in the shape of two interlocked spiralling gyres. The world is described to be in the state of crisis, when ”Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. According to the law of nature, when the world has reached this state in the 2000 years’ cycle (approaching the second millennium after the birth of Christ), ”Surely, some revelation is at hand; / Surely the Second Coming is at hand.” It is time for the cycle to return to the stage which it occupied 2000 years BC. Thus, the archetypal image of the sphinx is in the process of resurrection: it gradually re-emerges from the spirit of the world, to visit us for the second time (instead of Christ or the Antichrist?). True to its enigmatic nature, the sphinx is in the process of taking shape, and it is not named, only circumscribed. It approaches Bethlehem, so that 2000 years after Jesus, it can accomplish another birth there, whereby two traditional representations of the mythic centre, the enigma (sphinx) and light, or logos (Jesus) merge. In predicting that a liminal creature, an archetypal guardian of the entrance of the underworld, the unnamed sphinx, is going to occupy and enigmatise the mythic centre, the poem captures the revelation when ”the modern age discovers the postmodern at its center.” The enigmatic sphinx replaces, or merges with, Jesus, the certainty of love, the creative word, and creative light.

In accordance with the process described in Yeats’s poem, Zsuzsa Beney’s works alert us that the apparent mythlessness characterising many aspects of postmodernist experience is embraced by the mythic circle of unity, at its very centre. Orpheus’s backward glance is presented as a liminal act, equivalent with encountering the mythic-mandalic centre of emptiness (representing the nonrepresentable preconscious and precreational totality), where all meanings, all boundaries, and all organising categories dissolve. In leaving Eurydice in the underworld, which is spatial metaphor of the unknowable, Orpheus fulfills the artistic impulse (typical of the postmodern position) whereby ”That which is hidden is not found – it is constantly being created”.[8]
Eurydice is not rescued. The enigma is. The hermeneutic process thus becomes unfinalisable: ”Following was what drew me, so I could not reach you” (transl. in collaboration with Leon Burnett), declares Eurydice in Zsuzsa Beney’s poetic version of the myth, reminding us of the poet’s definition of the mystery of poetry, the process whereby images come near to, but never reach the inexpressible. Thus, layer-upon-layer of metaphors emerge in the mind during an endless process of signification, inexhaustibly producing different forms  into which the repressed, the hidden, or the nonrepresentable are sublimated. Zsuzsa Beney offers a poetic explanation of the orphic paradox of poetry, the synthesis of Apollonian word magic and the Dionysian experience of the limitations of languge:

”Did I believe the words or in the words?
I believed in that which remains inexpressible forever,
yet its mask, its exoskeleton is language.” (from Farewell, transl. Lyra Klujber)

Another way in which the postmodern experience of unfinalisability is presented in Zsuzsa Beney’s poetry is the use paradoxical logic, which results in an oscillation of different, even contradictory, meanigns, highlighting the liminal nature of language itself. Consider the following poem:

”This is already the season of bare trees,
The season without poems, without leaves.
At the roots of words there is a rattling of lies.
The sight begins to dance in front of the open eyes.” (from On Two Banks of a River)

The poem begins with a simple, conventional analogy between the seasonal cycle, the cylce of life, and the life of poetic inspiration. However, something does not seem to click into the pattern of allegorical correspondences. How can one write a poem in ”the season without poems” about ”the season without poems”?  The poem in front of our eyes cancels out its own statement that ”this is already the season without poems”. The interplay of opposite meanings (the impossibility and possibility of writing poetry) enhances the logical paradox inherent in the statement that lies rattle at the bottom of words. If this statement, confessing that words lie, refers to the words that declare that this is the season without poems, then the statement that words lie appears to be true for a moment, because the words about the season without poems are not valid. However, the statement that words lie cannot be true in general, because then the statement itself is false, since this statement is also made of words. Uncertainty is built into the poem so profoundly that nothing can dispel it. In front of our open eyes, the poem begins to dance: its meanings dissolve as soon as they crystallise. This inner movement generates semantic activity in a wider context, beyond the boundary of the poem itself. The kinetic energy of the poem, as a centrifugal force, spreads out, activating other poems that are part of our literary memory. At the same time, a centripetal semantic energy is also activated, according to the mythic principle captured in Yeats’s gyres. As the result, the poem draws echoes and associations form the activated poems into its own context. P. B. Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind is one of these, as this poem, like that of Zsuzsa Beney, also utilises the analogy between the seasonal cycle and the inspiration, using the image of falling leaves (and other autumnal scenes). Furthermore, Shelley’s poem also involves the paradox that the lament about the decline of inspiration is communicated in a poem of rich imagination. Another poem that may surface in the mind is Osip Mandelstam’s Word (Swallow) (beginning ”I have forgotten the word that I wanted to say”),  in which the paradoxical image of an empty boat swimming in in a dried-up riverbed appears. Zsuzsa Beney described the phenomenon of reader-established intertextual semantic convergence in a simple poetic sentence: ”Poems find each other through us, and they take each other by the hand”. Through the motif of stillness turning into dance, Zsuzsa Beney’s poem takes the hand of T. S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton, the first of the Four Quartets. When this poem is swept into the intertextual convergence generated by Zsuzsa Beney’s poem, we realise that the dance of poems enacts the movement of the turning world:[9]

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance
.”

”Only music, only dance, and only motionless
Movement: a wall. Only an objectless
Spell.” (from Tattered Fragments)

Here I have joined T. S. Eliot’s lines with those of Zsuzsa Beney, as they blend so seamlessly that it is hardly noticeable that they were written by two different poets. One of the key features and themes of Eliot’s poem is the natural intertextual process, whereby several poetic voices resonate within the words of a poet. This theme is enriched when the poem assimilates the voice of a future poet. Eliot’s lines, rich in intertextual allusions (involving the motif of dance itself, echoes from Sir John Davies’s Orchestra), describe the experience of encountering the mythic still centre, as in profound imaginative experiences like writing and reading poetry. Intertextual resonance is both a method of composition and a theme in Eliot’s Burnt Norton; Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind is one of the many intertextual allusions in the poem. The intertextual echoes of Burnt Norton reverberating within Zsuzsa Beney’s work remind us that the latter poem functions as a monad:[10]
In reading the poem, “we have a feeling of converging significance, the feeling that we are close to seeing what our whole literary experience has been about, the feeling that we have moved into the still center of the order of words.[11] This experience involves the interplay of opposite meanings within a text-centered reading, and the simultaneously centrifugal and centripetal mandalic energy of the poem, whereby it provides “a resonance for literary experience, a third dimension, so to speak, in which the work we are experiencing draws strength and power from everything else we have read or may still read.”[12] Although the experience that we have arrived at the all-embracing centre of the literary universe is consubstantial with the mytho-ritual awareness of the centre, we must not forget that what took us there, the relativity of meanings, the deconstructive nature of language, the dissolution of the boundaries of the focused text, is typical of the postmodernist approach, which appears to contradict some of the key principles of mythic thinking.

Zsuzsa Beney’s poetry, offering us a semantic version of the mytho-ritual centre, reminds us that mythic totality is a controversial concept. It involves a belief in the centred, balanced, ordered psycho-cosmic unity, an organic whole, which is dynamic but predictable as it is based on the principles of cyclicality and enantiodromia. However, the still centre that holds together this unified psycho-cosmic model is stable only in a paradoxical sense: it represents the certainty of uncertainties, the stable place of instability at the core of creation, the dissolution of all boundaries, all organising categories, even those of space, time, and causality. The mythic centre is an incredible chronotope: it marks the space and time that is beyond the categories of space and time: the amorphous nature of the preconscious and primordial states, and all that is inexpressible, ineffable, unfathomable, i.e. beyond the reach of perception, of rational congnition, and of language. Is not this hiddennes (as the essence of nature’s spirit and of the spirit’s nature) the main preoccupation of postmodernism?

The main concern of Zsuzsa Beney’s poetry is the human experience of the enigmatic centre of being, and its relation to the circumference, a relation that is often expressed within the framework of liminal situations, and through poetry’s persevearing attempts to express the inexpressible. The interaction of the centre and the periphery, the formless and the form, the incommunicable and the nature of poetic communication, is carried out in achieving a fine balance between the Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies, as in myth, where the two come together in the figure of Orpheus. The Apollonian artistic impulse to give a unified shape to Dionysian irrational, mystical, and transcendental experiences (involving the limitations of language) results in the endless process of simultaneously building up and dismantling meanings. In reading Zsuzsa Beney’s poetry, we are at the threshold between literary modernism, which attempts to replace the lost order of the world within the realm of art, and postmodernism, which may give us the impression of permanent liminality,[13] the experience of being stuck in the carnivalesque, dionysian phase of the mytho-ritual process just before (re)integration into a new order would take place according to principles of mythic thinking. Zsuzsa Beney’s poetry prompts us to raise the question whether the concept of mythic totality can embrace the dominant features of postmodernism, such as the awareness of the inadequacy of language to express our deepest experiences, the constitutive role of language in determining our perception of reality, the awareness that reality is manifold, plural, changeable, relative and subjective, the impossibility of gaining objective experience, the unfinalisability of the hermeneutic process, the dissolution of the boundaries of ego-consciousness, the enigmatic and concealing nature of existence, of language, and of cognition, and the impossibility to establish absolute truths, a concept which undermines the foundation of postmodernism itself, on its own principles. Arguably, some of the main concerns of postmodernism can find their roots in the archetypal experience of the ambivalent mythic center. While postmodernism appears to deny mythic certainties, it seems to explore the nature of the enigmatic mandalic-mythic center itself. Does it not fit within the position which postmodernism takes towards absolute truths that the demythologising tendencies of postmodernism may be seen to reaffirm crucial aspects of mythic thinking itself? Postmodernist art seems to be trapped in permanent liminality in exploring the enigmatic centre of being, refusing the belief implied by P.B. Shelley’s poetic question ”If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” (Ode to the West Wind) or by Yeats’s lines  ”Surely, / some revelation is at hand” when „the center cannot hold” (The Second Coming. The quoted lines contain intertextual echoes from P. B. Shelley’s The Witch of Atlas). Can partial remythologisation be considered demythologisation? The postmodern approach may be regarded as anti-mythical because of the attitude it takes towards liminal experiences: it either celebrates liminal situations or reacts to them with despair, whereas such experiences are naturally embraced within mythic thinking as inevitable phases of progress. The postmodern position may be regarded an example of demythlogisation because the way in which it validates the ”Abyssinian”[14] nature of the mythic centre and the carnivalesque, dionysian aspects of mythic thinking is different from the way these are integrated within mythic totality. In postmodernist art, these experiences of uncertainty seem to take dominion, or gain exclusive relevance, whereby the dynamic balance of mythic totality seems to be destroyed, perhaps for a nanosecond only, util we take into account that postmodernism scrutinises everything skeptically, so this method has to be applied to its own principles, too: ”The sight in front of our eyes begins to dance”.

To summarise this summary, I include an excerpt from a Hungarian creation saga (collected/compiled by Adorján Magyar),[15] as it contains the motif of the unreachability of the hidden core of being (reminding us of Eurydice being left in the underworld and of Zsuzsa Beney’s definition of poetry), and the seemingly opposite motif of touching and bringing up the seeds of creation to the surface. At this moment, however, the image of the seeds of creation turns out to be yet another metaphor, that of sleeping eyes, which can never be brought up to the surface in their original state, because as soon as they are lifted out from the sea, they wake up. Awakening towards consciousness as the most mysterious of all liminal experiences is captured here, in ways which remind us of the questions explored in this article:

The seeds of the Holy Sea break out of your shell.

The eternal sea’s waves are waving, and rolling.
Their waves are rocking and their foam is hissing.
There is no earth yet anywhere, but in the immeasurable
heights, above in his golden house, sits the great
heavenly father on his golden throne.  […]

In front of them stands their beautiful golden sunbeam haired son,
the sun god Magyar. The boy asks from his father:
‘when shall we create the world of the humans my dear father?’.

The Eternal Sea just waves and rolls.
Its waves are rocking and its foam is hissing.
The old gray haired heavenly father lowers his head .
He ponders the question a while and a little longer,
then he lifts his white haired head and talks to his son. […]

– This is the manner in which we can create it:
In the depths of the waving, blue Sea of Eternity are the
sleeping eyes (seeds), sleeping seeds [szem=eye/small seed]
the sleeping Magyas [ Mag=seed, Magyar=man].

Descend therefore to the depths of the Great Sea and
bring up the sleeping seeds and dreaming eyes, so that
we can create a world out of them.

The son follows the direction of his father, he shakes
and turns himself into his image of a golden bird,
into a golden diving duck .
Then he flies down to the expanses of the Endless Sea.

He swims for a while on top of the water, and he is
rocked by the waves of the sea for a while.
He then dives down into the depths of the blue,
searching for the bottom, but was unable to reach it.
Out of breath he was forced to resurface.

He swam on top again, rocked by the waves,
he gathered his strength, for a long time.
After taking deep breaths he submerged again
into the blue depths, diving deeper, into the darkness,
slowly releasing his air, which like vibrating pearls
rose to the top and popped on the surface of the rolling sea.

However now his beak hit the bottom of the sea, into its sand.
He took some of it into his beak and like an arrow,
he shot up to the top of the water with it
From the surface of the sea bed, he brought up the
sleeping eyes/seeds,
silver white “ügyücske” [small eyes?].
The sleeping eyes awoke, the sleepy eyes opened and grew up
and became living beings.”

 


[1] Coupe, L.: Myth. The New Critical Idiom. Routledge, New York, Oxon, 2009.

[2] Keats, John: Letter to George and Thomas Keats, December 21, 27, 1817. In: M. H. Abrams ed.: The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 2. W. W. Norton and Company, New York, London, 1962.

[3] In quotations, emphasis is mine, unless otherwise stated. (A. K.)

[4] Zsuzsa Beney and István Jelenits: Introduction to Literature. Beney, Zs. and Jelenits, In.: Bevezetés az irodalomba. Nemzeti Tankönyvkiadó, Budapest, 1994, 7.

[5] Sewell, E.: The Orphic Voice: Poetry and Natural History. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1960, 47.

[6] Hassan, I.: The Literature of Silence: Henry Miller and Samuel Beckett. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1967.

[7] Hassan, I.: The Dismemberment of Orpheus. Toward a Postmodern Literature. Oxford University Press, New York, 1971, 9–10.

[8] This sentence has been adapted from Bókay A.: Nietzsche és Freud. Replika 1995/12 (19–20), 55–66.

[9] Northrop Frye: ”The order of nature as a whole [is] imitated by a corresponding order of words.” Frye, N.: Anatomy of Criticism. Penguin, Princeton University Press, 1990, 96. “In the youth of the world men dance and sing and imitate natural objects, observing in these actions, as in all others, a certain rhythm or order. And, although all men observe a similar, they observe not the same order, in the motions of the dance, in the melody of the song, in the combinations of language, in the series of their imitations of natural objects. For there is a certain order or rhythm belonging to each of these classes of mimetic representation. […][P]oetry, in a restricted sense, has a common source with all other forms of order and beauty, according to which the materials of human life are susceptible of being arranged, and which is poetry in an universal sense.” (from Shelley, P. B.: A Defence of Poetry).

[10] For the literary application of the term monad, see Frye, N.: Ethical Criticism: Theory of Symbols. In: Anatomy of Criticism. Penguin, Princeton University Press, 1990, 71–128, and Bakhtin, M.: The Problem of the Text in Linguistics, Philology, and the Human Sciences: An Experiment in Philosophical Analysis. In: Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. University of Texas Press, Austin, 1986, 103–131. Transl.: Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Frye explains that the monad is “the microcosm of all literature”, “a centre of the literary universe” (1990, 121). Bakhtin points out that the text is “a unique monad that in itself reflects all texts (within the bounds) of a given sphere” (1986, 105).

[11] Frye, N.: Anatomy of Criticism. Penguin, Princeton University Press, 1990, 117.

[12] Frye, N.: Expanding Eyes. In: Spitirus Mundi. Essays on Literature, Myth, and Society. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, London, 1976, 99–122, 118–119.

[13] For the use of this term in sociology, see Szakolczai, Á.: Reflexive Historical Sociology. Routledge, London, 2000.

[14] This is a deliberate allusion to the ”Abyssinian maid” in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, a poem exploring the mythic abyss in a way which anticipates some of the key features of postmodernism.