Про Стусову свічечку (уривки, англійською)

В попередньому пості згадувала про свою першу спробу писати про (і під впливом) пізнього Гайдеґера – герменевтика Стусового вірша про свічечку (якого я наслухалася в театрі Курбаса). Воно багато в чому наївне, але сама герменевтика, як на мене, – цілком непогана.

Lord, forgive! Went I to passions,                  HOspody, prostY! PishOw ya na strAsti,

bought a candle for a penny, smelled,           kupYw svIchechku za kopIyechku, ponIUkhaw,

and she smells of  honey.                                a vonA mEdom pAkhne.

I took her, and ate.                                          Ya vzIAw yiYI, ta z’YIw.

[…] The poem seems to be very simple, even primitive (especially when compared with the usually sophisticated style of this poet), yet this is precisely what caught me in it: a simple and straight “story” with a stunning ending. There are several ways in which the poem can be interpreted right away based on the fact that the poet is asking Lord forgiveness for the “sin” described in the poem.


            Lord, forgive! Went I to passions,      HOspody, prostY! PishOw ya na strAsti,

            The whole line is very divine-oriented, sacred if you wish – “Lord,” “forgive,” “passions,” – all these words are taken in their “church” versions, which are not used in the every-day (profane) language. The “o” which is dominating the line up till strasti (the passions) also suggests caution, seriousness, importance, solemnity; hollow sibilants – whispering “s” and “sh” express either mysteriousness, sacredness or just hiding (like a murmur of the confession). The first verse appears to be concealing something, that is definitely related to the divine (because concealing is the way to protect the sacred).

 “Lord, forgive!” is clearly a call – calling the Lord to come, a desperate call, we might even say, taking into account the content of the call – asking Lord forgiveness, magnified by the exclamation sign. The call for a Lord and his forgiveness places the poet in the presence of divinity, or, at least, orients, intends the poet towards the advent of the called divinity. The poet is awaiting the called divinity to come, and in that the poet as a mortal gives due to the divinities of the fourfold. The poet is dwelling towards, in the face of the divinities. For Heidegger, the proper dwelling of mortals is manifested through mortals waiting for divinities to come: “Mortals dwell in that they await the divinities as divinities.” (BDT, 148) What does that “divinities as divinities” mean? It refers to their essence/presencing (Wesen), which, as Heidegger tells us is being the messengers (of the Gottheit), bringing the message of the Gottheit to mortals.

The hurriedness, muttering (mumbling) of the “Lord, forgive”, which is manifested in the rhythm of the phrase can be interpreted in two seemingly contradictory ways: 1) as the mere habit (sinful – because of the commandment not to utter the name of the Lord in vain), and thus the lost significance of the appeals to divinities; or, on the contrary, 2) as an in-vocation, which is being unclear in order to conceal, hide/protect the sacred, and thus the still present, though concealed, power of the divine. The first interpretation, though seems flat, still can give us an insight about the “current” state of “spirituality” (meaning relationship with divinities), which is “lost”, “rudimentary”, “habitual”. This also can be seen in at least two ways: in a negative way, because something essentially important is being lost, forgotten, not taken seriously: indeed, this is our age of expelled divinities. On the other hand, if the “spirituality” is being lost, it speaks of the “spirituality” itself, it means that “current” kind of spirituality is outdated, it is stuck in the past, it has died, and is not meaningful any more. From this point of view, the departure of “old” divinities can be celebrated as a possible advent of “new” divinities – strong, potent, compelling. Now, – to make a synthesis on the base of these two seemingly antithetical positions, – in the end, divinities remain the same, the only thing that changes are their names, clothes, and faces (and the message they are bringing?). Thus, although these particular divinities might be outdated, the poet still has no illusions about the need of the divine advent, and thus he calls the divine to come. Whom is the call addressed to?

Lord, forgive!” Hospod’ who is called by the poet is the Lord – the divine Lord, yet never used as a “feudal” lord – the “ruler” who is ruling the subjects without doing anything, without working. Rather, this Lord is related to “hospodar” – the host, the owner (related to appropriation), and “hospodynia” – the hostess. They are usually peasant (yet not necessarily),  the ones, who are hard workers, and proper dwellers: they take care of their home[2] (“hospoda”), yard and garden (hospodarka/hospodarstvo), field, plants, animals, family; they know how to welcome the guest (the traveler, the stranger). What does it say about the Lord who is called? That this Lord is (should be) the one who takes care of things/world/people, the one who also “knows” how to welcome, feed, comfort the traveler.  The call is for the divine, yet not just any divine, but the one, that takes care, that grants, and also somehow is related to (is almost conditioning, directing) mortal dwelling (this will be clarified soon).[…]

“Lord, forgive!” In the initial interpretations I was puzzled by the poet asking forgiveness and had a hard time to find a “real” sin. So, I go to the origin of the word, hoping to find there a clue that is missing, and indeed, here it is. Prosty (forgive) is related to (possibly even derived from) the adjective prostyj, which means “straight, open, free, unconstrained, simple”[4]. Following the etymology, to forgive means to make free, straight, open, simple, unconstrained. By forgiving, Lord sets us free, that is helps to be what we are, to come to presence in our Wesen, which is to dwell. On the other hand, setting free, which is seen as sparing and preserving (Schonen)[5], ‘leaving something beforehand in its own nature’, is also the ‘fundamental character of dwelling’ (BDT, 147), that is of dwelling of the mortals. As the Lord sets us free and preserves us in our Wesen by letting us dwell, we also through our dwelling are called to preserve and set free things and the world. ‘In saving the earth, in receiving the sky, in awaiting the divinities, in initiating mortals, dwelling occurs [ereignet sich] as the fourfold preservation [Schonen] of the fourfold.’ (BDT, 149) By calling the Lord to forgive, the poet is asking the Lord to set us free into our dwelling.

Now let me proceed further together with the poet. “Went I to passions (strasti)” is the beginning of the story, the narration. The hurried rhythm of the previous phrase is slowed down, the story begins – ready to flow, ready to evolve; and then, at the end of the line after strasti it is suddenly paused for a while in some king of indecisiveness, doubt, gap… It almost seems like the “…” should have been put at the end of this line. But now I have gone to far, let me come back a bit.

“Went I to passions” is still connected to the first phrase (“Lord, forgive!”) – as it flows from it – starts explaining why (what for?) was the divinity called in the first place, shows us where did the story come from, how was it initiated, what was the beginning of the experience, which needs to be brought into the presence of divinity by saying “Lord, forgive!” Yet at the same time the second phrase of the first line (“Went I to passions”) is clearly different from the first one (“Lord, forgive!”). It takes us back into the past (“went I”) – from the present where the story is told, and the divinity is called (which means this present is future-oriented, awaiting the response from the Lord). Thus the first verse of the poem is connecting two/three temporal locations: the present of calling the Lord and the future response of this Lord to the past event – are we going to get a glimpse of the It in the meeting of the three? Again, I’m running ahead of myself, let me come back.

“Went I to passions” is the beginning of the story. Though told in an unobtrusive way – almost like describing some profane happening (if happening can be profane) like “went I to the store/forest/game,” yet in fact it is never a “mere” happening: the teller does not refer to something that happens all the time, or every time you do something, but, on the contrary, to something special about this time (otherwise it would not be worth telling, it would be something everybody knows and experiences all the time). This event is not a “mere” event, neither is it profane, in this event we are brought before what Heidegger calls Ereignis – appropriation of that which is coming to presence into what it is. How do we, mortals, come into appropriation? We shall hopefully grip some understanding of that following the poet in this essay. Yet, there is one peculiarity that immediately comes to mind. The kind of the story that we are told involves the “decision” (in the original sense of the word as “cutting/clearing the way”) of the teller to do something unusual, to go out into a special situation, and there to receive something (a lesson), to get something, to appropriate something. Though not brought to our attention, though concealed, this “decision” conditions the story, and comes out in an abrupt, almost impulsive beginning of the story: “went I” – Past Perfect tense (in Ukrainian) of the stressed verb with which the story begins. What is even more deeply concealed in this story is the primary call of It which called the teller to take something from It, to take what “It gives”. Went I to passions – is manifesting (through concealing) the primary call that comes from the divine[…] . The “decision” of the teller is not “autonomous” or “independently-active”, rather the opposite – it is dependent on the primary call. Without the call, the teller would not end up in the right place at the right time. It also does not have to be (and probably is not) a cognitive, or even conscious decision, it rather becomes recognized as a “decision” post factum, while the story is being told – after it is clear, that something extraordinary has indeed happened when the teller came into the situation. Yet, nevertheless, it still is a “decision”, though not necessarily “active,” “conscious,” and definitely not “independent”, because it requires from the teller first of all to feel the call, and then to obey it as well. The teller could have refused to hear and respond, so the openness and readiness of the teller seems to be that which is required from the mortal, and no divinity can force mortals to respond to the call if they “choose” to ignore it. It becomes apparent now that what I have been trying to explain here as “decision” conditioned by the “primary call” is in tune with Heidegger’s notion of freedom in “Question of Technology”:

‘Always the destining of revealing holds complete sway over man. But that destining is never a fate that compels. For man becomes truly free only insofar as he belongs to the realm of destining and so becomes the one who listens and hears, and not the one who is simply constrained to obey.’ (QT, 25)

Heidegger too, seems to say that it is a responsibility of us, humans, to listen and respond, and thus become in tune with It, and through the connection with It become free. Although Heidegger does not call that which destines “It,” yet we can recognize the It in what he says: ‘But that which frees – the mystery – is concealed and always concealing itself.’ (QT, 25) The issue of freedom comes up for the second time in this verse: in “Lord, forgive!” it was related to how the freedom is granted, now it is appearing as respons-ibility of us mortals, that is our ability and obligation to listen and respond. The verse is bringing us into the poem, as well as before the concealed presence of the It, and thus tunes our ears – prepares us to listen.

The passions, strasti, is definitely the most powerful, most shining, central, bright-red, attracting, demanding word in this phrase – not only is it stressed, it also stands out with the wide-open stressed “a” – pronouncing, manifesting, calling, clear, loud, red, which is made even more radical by the generally low, closed, cautious tone of the line (with it’s o’s and y’s, whispering and mumbling). Also the tearing “r” of the strasti is adding vibration, strain. The strain, tearing, tension of strasti[6] reminds us of the pain that is the ‘separating that gathers’ of the dif-ference (Unter-schied). (L, 202) Heidegger’s notion of the dif-ference as intimacy will be extensively addressed later (when discussing the third verse), for now I would like to concentrate on its rending aspect, which is so apparent in the sound of the word “strasti”.

Strast’” is the Church-Slavic equivalent of “pathos”, that is passion. Here it refers to the passions of Christ – his struggling and being killed, thus becoming the sacrifice, which, like other sacrifices to other divinities is exchanged for the haleness of humanity[7]. In this sense strasti as sacrifice is supposed to attract divinities, to call them to come into the world and help mortals in their hardships. In the passions, the offering is being tortured, thus being pulled out of life, stretched, and strained, yet it is vigorously holding on to itself, to life, to world, until it is finally murdered, cut off, sent out into death, into absence, ex-propriated from oneself. Thus strasti become the bridge between here and there, life and death, unconcealed and mystery, world and It. As such strasti are both uniting the two sides (and thus enable the passing in between), yet also separating, pushing away, closing off the possibility of return. In the passions we are witnessing the mystery in a very troubling way: we are brought before the death of one of the mortals, and so also before our own death. We realize that our life can be taken back away any moment, and with that realization we become truly mortal. Strasti measure out (er-messen) our living by putting it aside death. Paradoxically, in the moments when we are in most pain, when we are struggling, when we are stretched and strained (not necessarily in physical sense[8]), and thus when we are closest to loosing ourselves, to being ex-propriated, that is to death, we are the most alive, the most ourselves, the most appropriated into our own.

The word strasti is so loud, it almost seems there is nothing more to say about it, besides what it says by itself. Death, Christ, sins, redemption, – all these words seem to be too pale to describe its “power” – only blood seems to be akin. Though seemingly the opposite of concealment in their brightness, vibration and shining, strasti are even more concealed from us, as if they are too much for us to take, as if they run us over, make us blind, deaf and mute. Like the peal of silence, or the source of light, they are paradoxically both bursting out and staying concealed. And hence the gap in the end of the line (mentioned before when describing the rhythm of the phrase) – we don’t know what to say, we withdraw from the sharpness of strasti almost like it is attacking us, yet we are stuck watching it and hearing it, petrified, until it recedes itself and let’s us continue. In the gap of the strasti, where time seems to have stopped, receded away giving way to the ever-presencing, we are indeed (as was hoped) brought before the presencing of the concealed […] . When we proceed to the next verse, we will see that there has been a shift. In fact, the shift, the change of atmosphere is happening more and more noticeably after the end of each verse. Are we going deeper? Hopefully.

            bought a candle for a penny, smelled,

                                                            kupYw svIchechku za kopIyechku, ponIUkhaw,

The dancing rhythm of the phrase (all the 6 vowels of the language dancing in the line, thus making it motley, colorful; interchanging dominant “i” and “e” are adding minuteness, delicacy, joyful liveliness; k, p and ch – take up the sibilance from the previous line, which means we are still in the temple, yet make it staccato – precise, short, definite, almost flirting; repetition of the rhythm: ku-pyw-svI-chech-ku za-ko-pI-yech-ku – almost Cha-cha) takes us immediately aside from the serious and “confessional” mood of the call, as well as stunning strasti to the little candles dancing under the icons, fulfilling their service to both mortals and divinities – carrying the prayers from the former to the latter.

Both candle (svichka) and penny (kopiyka) are generally diminutive in Ukrainian. The poet, though, adds one more level of diminution to both of them (svichechka, kopiyechka), thus making them double-diminutive, almost like saying: bought the littlest candle for the littlest penny. The stressed diminution of the candle can be interpreted as her fragileness (thus she requires carefulness) and/or cheapness (thus availability), and/or the humbleness and lack of magnificence – not only is she cheap, she is also one of the many candles both in being made as “one-of-the-many,” being sold as “one-of-the-many,” and being burned as “one-of-the-many.” She is not the “individually made” thing. She is not an artwork, she is not craft as hand-made cup, or piece of furniture, not a building like a bridge – for sure. Yet, does that mean she is not a thing? Does that mean she is not the meeting-place of the four-fold? Does that mean she is not able to be the gift of the It? We will see soon that the opposite is true: this littlest and cheapest, most insignificant candle is able to create a place where we encounter the deepest secrets of Being, and can reach out beyond Being […] [9]).

Now, what does the candle do in the temple? You come to church and get the candle. You lit the candle and put it under the icon – this is your prayer, your kyrie eleison – mainly for those who have died, but also for other wishes. As your candle joins others under the icon, you also join the people who have lit them, you join your community in prayer, in call for your divinity. You also bring the candles to the cemetery and lit them on the graves that you are visiting. Any event of mourning, grief and remembrance of the dead is accompanied by the candle. The candle at the Christmas dinner table (and an extra dish set for those who are dead)… The dead even hold the lit candle in their hands while lying in the coffin during the last ceremonies, and are buried with it (is it going to help them find the way in the darkness between the worlds?). The candle is always bringing mortals together in the community: joining those still alive together, as well as connecting the alive with those who have died […]. In this sense the candle is that which brings mortals in the presence of their mortality. But how does it do that?

These observations give more weight to the significance of the candle (we become more and more convinced of it), yet still, they do not lead us to the Wesen of the candle. So far we are roaming around it without getting much closer… In order to get closer to what the candle really does, let me go into the raw descriptions of the candle and its way (ways?) of being.

Candle – from Lat. candere, to glow, to shine.

Now, let me forget for a moment about churches and passions, and try to think for a while about the candle on a more “primitive”, more original level. The candle is a little light, that is what the name means (in Ukrainian), and that is what the candle does – brings (holds) the light, burns (passions – burn too). The candle does not produce the fire – without something to lit her, the candle is completely useless (may be that is why she is so humble?). Yet she takes the fire, and sustains it, feeds it (nourishes it) with her own body. The fire, that is given to the candle makes her alive, while feeding the fire the candle stays alive, yet also is moving (each moment stays moving) towards her death. Thus in the burning of the candle we recognize our own burning, our own moving towards death. The strasti of the first verse have not been abandoned, the poet just shifted from the symbolic passions of the long gone son of god to the real passions of the little thing.

Now, when does the candle come about? The candle is lit, becomes alive, in the darkness, that is when the sky is dark. Usually in the winter, when days are short and most of the time inside – in the buildings, in the dwelling places (be it homes, temples, or work-places) – the candle is lit, and thus it brings light, brings clearing into the darkness of the night. The light of the candle is never mere light, and clearing is never a mere lightened area. Rather it is that, which allows us to see the world as the world, and things as things, that is to dwell. In order to dwell, we need to see; in the darkness (be it “physical” darkness, or the darkness of the unknown, the darkness of the alien, or the darkness of lack of touch, lack of nearness) we become frightened, lost and helpless. “The terrifying is un-settling; it places everything outside its own nature,” (T, 164) – says Heidegger, and indeed in order for us to be in the world, this world has to be brought to light[10], has to appear to us, to come to presence (in a fourfold way), only then can we dwell in it. When we are in the darkness, we lit the candle, our little light, and she brings us the clearing, and brings us into the clearing. How does it happen? Feeding the fire with its own body (wax and wick), the candle trades (in the original sense as passing) her body, her earth for the sky’s law (which is inclemency at this point), to allow us mortals to stay human, that is to dwell. The candle is sacrificing herself for us. The sky might not accept candle’s deal and kill the fire (unless we, smart mortals, learn to protect the fire of the candle with other dwelling-products of ours – roofs and walls – the gifts from the mother-earth?). Yet the sky’s air is also feeding the fire – close the candle from the air, and the fire dies; the candle needs to be in the open, in the sky/air in order to burn, in order to candle (candling=burning). The fire/life of the candle is sustained, preserved (schonen) and is let shine (scheinen) by the marriage of earth and sky. The candle, being of earth and from earth, is in and into the sky. In the burning candle the earth and sky are betrothed to each other (comp. T, 170).

The candle is made alive with the fire, and the light, the clearing which she brings is very alive – dancing, moody, swaying[11]. The candle is proper in its relation to the sky: the light that she provides is nothing like a day-light (and even further it is from artificial light), it is not bright, sharp, bold, wide and outreaching, but soft, uncertain, shy and very limited. Thus, the candle is not trying to turn the night into the day (BDT, 148 – mortals dwell receiving the sky when they do not turn night into day), on the contrary, the light of the candle makes the shadows deeper, and the night beyond the clearing darker, so it even magnifies the darkness giving it a contrast. The things that are in the candle’s clearing are also changed by her light. They all become polarized, they face the candle with their lightened sides, and hide their shadowed sides behind their own backs. They come out of their own shadows, and elongate, draw themselves, intent themselves, reach out towards the candle, which is in the center [of her clearing]. They are all united by the same striving towards the candle, towards the light. The candle is like a blossoming flower – open out and giving herself, to which everybody is drawn.

The candle does not cancel, kill, eliminate the darkness, the concealment by its fragile light, but on the contrary, candle’s soft and uneven light lets the concealed stay concealed not only beyond the clearing but also in the shadows within the clearing. The things in the candle’s light, that come out of the night and darkness in the wider sense, as well as out of their own shadows in a more particular sense, retain both: their lightened, visible and their shadowed, invisible sides, they are both unconcealed and concealed at the same time – coming out more one moment when the fire is brighter, and hiding back the next moment, when the light shrinks. The whole space retains this soft (yet not even) transition from concealment/darkness to unconcealment/light, and back.[12] Thus the burning candle achieves a seemingly impossible: the reconciliation of darkness and light, of concealment and openness.[13] May be that is why the candle so often accompanies the dead – brings them into presence out of concealment, “non-existence,” indefiniteness and infinity, – the kingdom of the It, – without stripping them of their concealment… The candle (even the smallest and the cheapest) allows the concealed to become present as concealed. She does not demand […] the darkness, to be called anything concrete, particular, that would be recognizable in the day-light, but lets It stay concealed, full and thick (in its rich depth). She lets It stay around, and shows It’s dynamics of coming out as some-thing and receding back into It-the-indefinite. She shows Its abundant character when so many different things and other beings are born from It, Its power to hide and swallow back everything it bore, as well as Its “cowardice” when it flees from light, leaving behind all Its things – only slightly giving in to the light of the candle, but capitulating under the sun…

Similarly to the things, mortals group around the candle – they desire to come into clearing, to be visible (that is to be), except those who are hiding in the corners – have something to hide, are not (have no courage to be) open and honest. The circle of candle’s clearing gathers mortals, as well as other things together, it is the meeting place, the place of community…

Now we are coming to another shift. Let me introduce it. Out of the passion-centered temple, which is left aside, the poet picked out the thing – far from central – a little candle – one like many other little candles already burning (dancing) under the icons – carrying the prayers, worries, sorrows, pains of mortals forth before the divine face. He paid a little penny for her – could not have gotten her cheaper, and now she is his. He could lit her right away next to dozens of other candles – to add her to the chaotic dance of her tiny sisters, and let her burn – thus he would join in prayer other mortals, share their burdens and problems, he would blend into his community. Yet, he is not actively participating in the mystery of the community (like a child, dragged by parents to church, where it spends time playing with the burning candles), he is out, he is not joined with them neither in the passions of their god, nor in their own passions-prayers. Instead of sending his (own) little candle on her course as his humble messenger to the god, he responds to her in the bodily way – bringing her near and smelling – surprising us, formerly-proper-Christians, who know, that candles in church are not supposed to be smelled.

Now a set of questions, (mostly rhetorical), arises from the poet smelling the candle: does that mean that she called the poet to smell her, she called the poet to respond to her in this way? Indeed, she is the messenger from mortals to god, she is bringing us in touch with the concealed when she is lit, she is alive when she is burning, but isn’t she much-much more than that? We have seen what she does, when we use her following the idea after which she was made, that is burning her. Yet, what is she when she is not lit? Where is the fourfold in the candle if she is not being burned? She does not stop being a thing just because we do not make her alive putting her on fire, and thus destining her to burn and to die… We shall hopefully find some answers in the next verse, let us first follow to the end this one.

Poniukhaw – “I smelled” is all about poet and his candle now. Po-niu-khaw – is a transition: starting with “po” – slight opening of the lips, “o” – still with the question, cautiously; then soft n’– tender and slow inhaling of candle’s odor, prolonged stressed “u” – it opens up in “a” at the end of the word, becomes full and round, starts exhaling in “kh”, yet the exhaling does not push back out candle’s odor, on the contrary, what has been inhaled is kept safe inside us/poet, the exhaling, rather opens us up and relaxes, we/poet melt and flow out of ourselves – where to? To the candle and to what she brings. The inhaling has completely taken us away from the dance of little candles as well as from the strasti; together with the poet and his candle we are swaying away from the dark and stuffy temple, the priest mumbling passions, old people coughing… The poet is inhaling her, receiving her, taking her inside, getting intoxicated by the sweet smell. The slowness and swelling of this word in the end of the dancing and flirting line is so contrasting, it almost seems, the time has stopped, hung over (still) in that saturation. Indeed, this word takes us into the next line, which is beyond particular time and/or space, it even seems at first that “poniukhaw” belongs to the next line, not the one it’s in.

            and she smells of  honey.                                a vonA mEdom pAkhne.

This line, it seems, should have been started with “poniukhav”. “I smelled her, and she smells with honey” seems like a correct phrase. Yet the poet intentionally puts “I smelled” in the previous line, thus making the pause, the distance between inhaling and “she smells” bigger, as if saying that “I smelled” still belongs to the previous line more than to the next. As surprising as the smelling of the candle was (because the candle in church is not supposed to be smelled), it is nothing compared to the surprise that this line is bringing. The surprise becomes apparent at the very beginning of the line with a conjunction “a[14], which is not merely uniting but also juxtaposing, keeping apart, pushing apart “I smelled” and “she smells”. The usage of “a” can be interpreted as something unexpected, something out-going, something that does not follow, something that appears differently (than expected), cries out about difference. When something (in our case the smell of the candle) catches us with surprise, when something appears differently than expected, the difference is not merely a distinction between the two “objects” – the expected one (carried in the memory) and the actual one[15]. Rather, the way, in which the candle is presencing, that is surprising us, reveals us something about that same candle (about its essence/presencing, that is Wesen), which has been concealed before. Getting a glimpse of that which was hidden, invisible to us before, we are not merely collecting some more information about the accidental characteristics of this candle, rather, we are getting a deeper understanding of the candle (her essence), that is in our eyes the candle acquires another dimension –  depth: which is the original relation between the candle and honey.

Thinking about difference in terms of depth (and thus remembering Merleau-Ponty) seems to be helpful to understand better what Heidegger means when he says: ‘The dif-ference [Unter-Schied] is the dimension, insofar as it measures out [er-miβt] world and thing, each to its own [in ihr Eigenes].’ (L, 200; S, 25) The depth is not merely ‘breadth seen form the side’ (PhP, 255), – says Merleau-Ponty. Like dif-ference of Heidgger, depth or flesh of Merleau-Ponty is understood as in-between-ness, which makes it possible to think about the depth in Heidegger’s words. Understood as the dimension, depth is a measure of concealment/un-concealment of the thing. The depth as dimension seems to have the double[16] direction: the depth measuring the un-concealment, as well as the depth of the concealed. Let me explain: the depth allows us to see to what extent something has come out of concealment, that is, has been unconcealed, revealed (in our case the honey in the candle). At the same time the depth allows us to feel (vs. see) that the thing is still hidden, concealed, “inside”. In our case, though we already have gotten into some depth with the smell of honey, the candle is no more a flat object, yet we feel that there is still so much hidden in it, and indeed, if we stay more with the thing or the verse of the poem, it takes us further, through the honey to bees and flower fields, sun and wind, gods drinking nectar and humans getting drunk with mead, and much, much more… The dynamics of concealing-revealing is what is “measured” by depth. The dif-ference is the between[17] of the open and the closed, world (with things) and mystery, thus aletheia; in the dif-ference things (and world) come to presence in truth, that is appear as what they truly are, ‘each in its own’ as Heidegger would say. The “profane” difference (the distinction between things) is also manifested (becomes obvious) in things that are presencing as what they are (in their Wesen), and thus are different from each other, are unique each in their own Wesen. Yet, this difference which we are used to seeing, by which we are able to distinguish things from each other as different, would not be possible without the “primary”, “original” dif-ference – that of un-concealment, coming to presence, being born into the world, and also concealment, receding into absence, dying, hiding. Thus the dif-ference of Heidegger is the condition of possibility of our every-day prosaic differentiating, that is distinguishing things.

Similarly to the dif-ference that is stretched in-between world and thing, in this verse we are witnessing the difference of the intimacy between poet and his candle: she is inviting him, calling him, – he responds, smells her, – and then she responds to his smelling sharing with him her fragrance, – and then he responds, taking her inside, eating her… But now I am running ahead of myself. In-between the poet and the candle something special and holy is created, we might call it the nearness, intimacy, passion (strast’), making love: fusing together and separating again. Yet the intimacy is not created by the mere presence of the thing and the mortal in the same place at the same time. The candle and the poet do not just stand side by side, the intimacy in not merely the consequence of their positioning, but is given, granted to them. Now the question arises: this tension of the difference, this strange yet very familiar dynamics of intimacy, this passion (that is strast’) that is stretched between the poet and the candle (as well as world and thing (L, 199ff), earth and sky (PMD, 218-219), poetry and philosophy (PMD, 216)), where is it coming from? This blessing of a passionate, not in-different (sic!) world, from where was it sent upon us? This question is yet another formulation of the ultimate question of Heidegger, and so the answer is both easy and impossible. We could call that, which blesses us (and world) with difference, the It, or Mystery, or the Concealed, the Far[…] . Yet giving it any name at all seems to be inappropriate, so I leave the question aside.

Let us go on, back to the dif-ference I was describing. The candle and the poet are drawn to each other, they are in-the-passion, in-the-dif-ference, in-the-in-timacy, yet they do not create it. The difference/intimacy is not the consequence of the two coming together, on the contrary, it is the condition of the possibility of the meeting of the two. Neither is the difference/intimacy some kind of an “external” “field”, or “magic area” (“love potion”), which makes the trick happen between the two (any two things) whenever they enter its “area of influence.” The difference/intimacy is not something external, that is thrown upon the two from the outside (like the fishing net that by virtue of its gathering essence creates the “intimacy” between the two fishes consequently boiling passionately in the same pot.) Rather, it is something they both belong to, something in their Wesen, that comes through each of them, that is given to them, something they are grounded in and grow from. That something is what allows them to come together, to belong together in the same intimacy, to be in the same. Basically, the same in the essence is the condition of the possibility (the ground) of any meeting, any belonging together, any com-munication. If there were nothing same between (rather under) the poet and the candle, if they were not grounded in the same ground, if they were not com-patible (passion again) there would be no way (no base) for them to relate. If they did not have the same in their essence, the poet not only would be unable to eat the candle, but even to smell it, to touch it, to see it.

At the same time, the sameness that both are coming from and belong to does not cancel the difference, as this is not the “equality” we talk about. Sameness provides the ground for difference, and, forgive me the metaphor, sameness is interested in difference, as without the difference the sameness would be bored to death. Any inter-est (which is being between), any feeling, any movement is pro-voked (that is called forth) by difference. Without the difference sameness would become alone, static and thus empty.

‘The same, by contrast [with equal], is the belonging together of what differs, through a gathering by way of the difference. We can only say “the same” if we think difference. It is in the carrying out [Austrag] of differences [des Unterschiedenen] that the gathering nature [Wesen] of sameness [des selben] comes to light.’ (PMD, 216; DWM, 67)

The intimacy, the belonging together of the two is twofold: it is created by them being drawn to each other, striving towards and into each other, as well as being pushed apart, not allowed to collapse into each other, each staying oneself, each staying faithful to its own coming to presence (Anwesen). Thus by this twofold staying (weilen) the sameness and the difference spare and preserve (schonen) each other.

Now, let us listen again to what (and how) the poem says: ‘I smelled her, and she smells of honey’ sounds: ‘ponIUkhaw, a vonA mEdom pAkhne’. While the poet’s smelling “niukh” is still closed, curious yet cautious, slightly open only into one direction (to the candle), ‘she smells with honey’ is wide-open, coming out completely with the slow and open “a” and “e”, the ‘pakh’, that is smelling, of the candle is giving out, enveloping and capturing.[18] The rhythm of the poem, which has been so lively in the dancing of the candles in the previous verse, is now slowed down, almost lost. Not that there is no movement in this line, indeed, there is still breathing and swaying of the nature, growing of the day and maturing of the honey, yet it is very slow, almost un-noticable, soothing, lazy. The smell of the honey (honey is the stressed word of this line), which is the unexpected, the surprise, takes us slowly but surely to the wide and warm summer fields, where the honey has been harvested, to the sun from which it took its shine and sweetness, to the warm humid air, that gave it thickness, to the flowers that gave it their taste[19] and insects who collected, and made it, and to us, who were lying there on the grass in the field, listening to the insects hum, and the trees rustle and the grass whisper in response to the breath of the sky, and the honey mature into the tasty delicatesse or ferment into the intoxicating drink. The honey, that is the food and joy of mortals, is also the libation, the sacrifice to divinities[20]. The smell of honey in the candle is bringing all four together, and lets them melt, and fuse, feed each other, and be satiated with each other.

This idyllic, siesta-like, laid-back, accepting, letting-be attitude towards earth, sky, and everything that is presencing in-between them, in their difference, is the very opposite of our Western attitude to world and things – that of production, changing, influencing, effecting. In the lazy and satisfied resting of the noon and letting nature take its course, which is presencing in the verse through the smell of honey we can hardly recognize the divinities of the West. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Archangel Michael with his fiery sword lying in the grass and smelling flowers. […]

The openness, wideness, clarity, and thus freedom of this line are manifested not only in the spatiality of the field[21] where we have been taken by the smell of the honey (as opposed to the constraints of the dark church), but also by the changed temporality. In the whole poem, that speaks in the past, “she smells of honey” (besides “Lord, forgive!”) is the only verse that speaks in the present, yet it is not some particular present – like this moment, or that moment, which “stays for a while” and then dies, like that of the little candle, or the Ukrainian poet in the church, or me writing this paper. Rather, it is the ever-present, ever-presencing (and hence the slow, hardly moving, almost eternal rhythm of the verse). Here, the prolonged pace of the poem is actually capturing the rhythm of phusis. The line tells us about the way in which the candle is given to the poet (after he was called and responded in a certain, bodily, way), the way in which the candle is coming to presence from somewhere, brings its essence from somewhere, and thus, being given to us takes us to where it comes from. Freed from the past, from what has-been, by the ever-presencing, the candle takes us to her source, to that which gives, the It. Being taken into the open, we together with the candle are brought in front of our future, we are awaiting the future to come and to bring us our new divinities.

            I took her, and ate.                                          Ya vzIAv yiYI, ta z’YIv.

We thought, after the stunning previous verse, nothing could strike us any more, yet the poet is being a real poet. Although this verse seems to be not at all poetic in its raw-ness, naturalism and straight-forward-ness – the strange act of the poet, who, it seems, has gotten a bit too extreme, too free, too wild, yet, if we listen to Heidegger, we realize that the opposite is true, in his rapture, which disregards all the norms and expectations, the poet becomes most poetic:

The more poetic the poet is – the freer (that is the more open and ready for the unforeseen) his saying – the greater the purity with which he submits what he says to an even more painstaking listening… (PMD, 214)

Indeed, if we listen to the poet more attentively, we realize, that the suddenness that has been gathering throughout the poem and exploded in this verse, shows the poet’s ability to follow the call through the passages invisible to the careless eyes; the ability to say the unforeseen, sudden, shocking, is the manifestation of his becoming freer and freer with each line, and thus coming closer and closer to the way of his destining[22], finally reaching the destination in the last verse, and so revealing the meaning of his journey. Let me explain. Following the primary call, the poet came to passions, looking for the divine; he shifted from the symbolic passions (sacrifice) of the Son of God, to the real, yet still Christian sacrifice of burning candles; then shifted again into the passion, the intimacy with his little honey-smelling thing; in the in-between-ness, the tension of their intimacy, saturated with honey, the fourfold is made present. Here I believe that the poet has gotten the feeling of the new divinities: as he initially came to the sacrifice, he has to fulfill his destiny, to make a sacrifice to the new divinities, to send his little lover to the divinities into absence, thus telling them to come into presence. Indeed, this is what the candle herself is telling him: “I smell of honey, so – eat me!” When eating the candle, the poet becomes one with her, the tension of the difference is ripped, so he plunges together with the candle which he has devoured into the Same, the It, the mystery. Thus and only thus he can learn how to be the real poet, that is how to be a sacrifice himself, how to be killed, to be ex-propriated by It and become the prophet of It, and the child of It – being the mortal to the fullest: ‘in saving the earth, in receiving the sky, in awaiting the divinities, in initiating mortals.’ (BDT,149)

In other words, the poet in his search/need for divine went to church, and, carried away by the phenomenon, goes to the candle stand. The Thing – candle – more meaningful (?) than the spiritual atmosphere of the church, tells him to do something “different”: to smell, not to lighten the candle. In this shift the poet meets the call of the new divinities (more body-friendly, and less controlling) and answers them by eating the candle. The “Lord, forgive!” is the recognition that at the root of the new divinities lies the same divine (sacred). The poem shows us both the “rejection” of the “old” divinities of the “established” religion and the advent of the “new” ones that are more meaningful to us because grounded in the fourfold as embodied by the honey of the candle.

* * *

            ‘The real dwelling plight lies in this, that mortals ever search anew for the nature of dwelling, that they must ever learn to dwell.’ (BDT, 159) In this paper, while I was trying to re-think, re-feel, re-describe dwelling by attempting to have a better understanding of the sacred and the divine, I was lead to meditate on the notions of depth, difference, the same, and ultimately the It. In a way, I tried to describe the indescribable, to touch the untouchable… Whether I succeeded or not, it is up to you, the reader, to decide. However, I can certainly claim having succeeded to stay for a while (weilen). Quite a few paths have been left un-followed by me, and I am wondering, what I would have encountered had I followed them instead of the path I chose. Well, my path has been exciting and passionate, generous to me and encouraging, so after I appropriate all the gifts I was granted, I can set out on a new journey.

Works cited:

(BWD)   Heidegger, Martin. Bauen Wohnen Denken. Im Vorträge und Aufsätze. Teil II. Tübingen: Neske, 1967, S.19-36;

(BDT)    Heidegger, Martin. Building Dwelling Thinking. In Poetry, Language, Thought. Transl. and Intr. by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper&Row, 2001, p.141-159*;

(DWM)  Heidegger, Martin. “…dichterisch wohnet der Mensch…” Im Vorträge und Aufsätze. Teil II. Tübingen: Neske, 1967, S.61-78;

(D)         Heidegger, Martin. Das Ding. Im Vorträge und Aufsätze. Teil II. Tübingen: Neske, 1967, S.37-59;

(L)          Heidegger, Martin. Language. In Poetry, Language, Thought. Transl. and Intr. by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper&Row, 2001, p.185-208*;

(PMD)   Heidegger, Martin. “…Poetically Man Dwells…” In Poetry, Language, Thought. Transl. and Intr. by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper&Row, 2001, p.209-227*;

(QT)       Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology. In The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Transl. and Intr. by William Lovitt. New York: Harper&Row, 1977, p.3-35;

(S)          Heidegger, Martin. Die Sprache. Im Unterwegs zur Sprache. Tübingen: Neske, 1965, S.9-33;

(T)          Heidegger, Martin. The Thing. In Poetry, Language, Thought. Transl. and Intr. by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper&Row, 2001, p.161-184*;

(TB)       Heidegger, Martin. Time and Being. In On Time and Being. Transl. by Joan Stambaugh. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p.1-24;

(PhP)      Merleau-Ponty, Morice. Phenomenology of Perception. Transl. by Colin Smith. New York: Routledge, 2000;


[2] Similarly, Latin Dominus is related to domus.

[4] It also may be related to the noun prostir, that is “space”. Space as free and open is going to be touched upon when discussing the third verse of the poem.

[5] “Lord, forgive”, if it means “Lord, make free”, then following Heidegger on freeing=sparing (BDT 147), almost immediately draws “Lord, redeem”, and with it the liturgical “redeem (take out of danger), mercy (be-love), and preserve (same as bergen) us, God, with your grace (well-giving)!” This liturgical prayer, frequently repeated at each service (including passions – strasti) yet probably not understood, beautifully captures Heidegger’s notion of saving/preserving/freeing/granting, that is the “deed” of the It, the mystery.

[6] There are a number of English words with the root “str-”, which also have a meaning of tension, tearing, – what Heidegger calls the pain, for example: strain, stretch, struggle, strangle, strong, stress, as well as strange, which is directly related to difference.

[7] Beside meaning human sacrifice (or just murder), strasti also names any kind of pain, turmoil, torture or suffering, as well as excitement, desire, drive, feeling, agitation – be it “physical,” “emotional,” or “spiritual,” (using old Christian distinction) and can be of a positive character when leading to rebirth and elevation, or negative when leading to destruction and death (like for example sinking in sins, or sensuous pleasures, excitement, sexuality, that is burning in hell – again, from the Christian perspective). A very helpful account of affects, passions and feelings can be found in Martin Heidegger. Nietzsche. Vol.II: The Eternal Recurrence of the Same. Ed. by David Farrell Krell. San Francisco: Harper&Row, 1991, p.44-53. Note, that all three would be included in the notion of strasti.

[8] Heidegger asks us not to imagine pain anthropologically (L, 202)

[9] The “gap” as possibly another name for the It came up already in the dif-ference of “strasti”.

[10] The word “world” (svit) in Ukrainian comes from the root “light” (svit-), that is to say the world, the dwelling-place in a wide sense comes to presence only with light. The epithet for world is always “white, clear”.

[11] Remember, the sway is said to be a characteristic of either divinities or the Gottheit.

[12] Yet the very center/source of light is not visible, concealed in its shining – similarly to the strasti.

[13] The flickering of fire, which is reconciling concealment and light, presences similarly to the artwork (two wooden pieces of “flame” – one red the other black), which we have seen in the Merleau-Ponty course.

[14] There is no corresponding conjunction in English. It is both uniting, that is why I have translated it as “and”, and juxtaposing, so it could have been translated as “but”, although both “and” and “but” have corresponding ones in Ukrainian (“i” and “ale” respectively), which are other that “a”, so both make a pure translation. “But” creates a similarly strong tension between two sides of the sentence, yet “but” has a meaning of limiting, denying, negating, while “a” is nothing like limiting – it makes a turn (a shift), indeed, yet after the turn it does not stop or go back, but proceeds in a different, unusual direction, thus widening, not limiting the horizon of possibilities. It could have been translated as “and yet”, or in this case even better as “and, – wow! -” to convey sudden amazement of this simply-looking conjunction.

[15] For Heidegger, the word dif-ference (Unter-scheid) ‘no longer means a distinction established between objects only by our representation.’ (L, 200)

[16] Though it seems to be double-directed, yet that does not mean there are “two” depths. On the contrary, the depth of un-concealing and concealment is the same, just like the pinecone, the top of which (loose, open, coming out) seems to be the opposite of what the bottom is (fitted, stuffed, closed), is still the very same pinecone, no matter from which side we are looking at it.

[17] The pain of strasti is the same dif-ference, the same in-between that we see here.

[18] The “pakh”, the fragrancing of the candle is different from the “niukh”, the smelling of the poet, yet both belong together – the soft breathing, inhaling and exhaling of “kh” is the same.

[19] sweet, sticky, thick, rich but also dainty taste of honey, not just its smell, comes to presence in labial (that is sounds of the lips) “n”, “m”, “v”.

[20] In Greece, for instance, divinities were not only drinking nectar, but also many of them were receiving honey sacrifices (for example, Apollo and Artemis, Demeter, and Ilithyia). In Ukrainian, the name of the bear (one of the main, if not the main totem animal) literally means “the one who knows honey”, and thus honey is the food of even the first “primitive” divinities, not only the later sophisticated ones.

[21] Heidegger talks about space as “Freigegebenes” (BWD, 29), which means it is both clear, open and free. The same connotations of the field or the steppe (as the clear, wide, open and free space) are preserved in Ukrainian. In another place also: ‘Freedom governs the open in the sense of the cleared and the lighted up, i.e., of the revealed.’ (QT, 25 )

[22] ‘Freedom is the realm of the destining that at any given time starts a revealing upon its way.’ (QT, 25)

5 thoughts on “Про Стусову свічечку (уривки, англійською)

  1. Reblogged this on Блоґ Костянтина Москальця and commented:
    тут є те, про що я давно мріяв – та, мабуть, мріяв би і сам Стус: герменевтика українського вірша, заснована на мисленні пізнього Гайдеґґера; лишилося перевести цей поворот в україномовні води…


    1. Костику, ти, як завжди, надто щедрий 🙂

      Дякую за перепост!

      Там розуміння Гайдеґера було дуже вже наївне, то я його більшість повикидала. Це була проба того, чи можна буде написати дисер про Стуса в стилі “Гайдеґер про Гьольдерліна/Тракля + трошки Мерло-Понті (хоч насправді Сема)”. Я потім ще про один вірш пробувала писати, навіть шось там на одній конференції доповідала, але якось воно зовсім не так вийшло. Ну і замучилася транскрибувати і перекладати – було таке відчуття що воно з одного боку цілком неадекватне, а з іншого, мучити іншомовного читача постійними роз’ясненнями про українську мову було надто виснажливо навіть для мене, не кажучи вже про самого читача 🙂 Ну то я повважала весь цей проект провалом і закинула його.

      А потім десь кілька років пізнеше розмовляла щось про це із Семом в такому ж ключі, а він навпаки згадав цей перший пейпер з похвалою (другого я йому не показувала – соромно було 🙂 ), що герменевтика там нічого була, ну то я його потім перечитувала кілька разів, і дійсно є непогані моменти, хоч найкращі, нмд, йдуть не від самого Гайдегерового методу (в нього набагато стерильніша герменевтика), а від моєї адаптації до поезії Семового методу.


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