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Poetic Consciousness and the Language of Thought

Plato says that “thought and speech are the same; only the former, which is a silent inner conversation of the soul with itself, has been given the special name of thought” (Sophist 263E). (My hero, C. S. Peirce, agrees.) What flows from this is that there is no thought worth the name apart from language.

However, the form that inner speech takes may vary almost without limit. In those for whom poetry is second nature, verse often serves as a mnemonic. Thus the poems of my father, Constantine Shapiro (1896-1992), are firmly embedded in my memory and can be disinterred therefrom by random occurrences, as was the case with the following lyric this morning:

Она, как ветерок, легка,
И голос нежный,
И черный локон с милого чела
На лик спадает белоснежный.

Откуда прилетела
Ты, дуновение полей?
Мне милы рощи потемнелы
И соловей.

Я им в младенчестве внимал,
То так далёко!
Но этот голос вновь все рассказал
В мгновенье ока.
1937

Here is a rough prose translation of the Russian original:

She is as light as a breath of wind,
And her voice is gentle,
And a black lock of hair from her lovely forehead
Falls onto her snow-white face.

Whence did you fly in,
You, whiff of fields?
I love the darkened groves
And the nightingale.

I beheld them in my youth,
‘Twas so long ago!
But this voice told me all anew
In the twinkling of an eye.

Readers sensitive to the notion of idées fixes will have no difficulty divining the object in my mind associated with this poem.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

[Analytical addendum (“lost in translation”): The poem in the above post is lexically nuanced in a way that enhances its stylistic subtlety but that cannot be rendered into English. The vocabulary of classical Russian poetry includes items that are traditional high-style equivalents, drawn from the language’s Church Slavonic stratum, of ordinary (demotic) words. Here, in the last two lines of the first stanza (И черный локон с милого чела/На лик спадает белоснежный ‘And a black lock of hair from her lovely forehead/Falls onto her snow-white face’) this pertains to chelo ‘forehead’ for lob (also ‘forehead’) and lik ‘visage’ for litso ‘face’. These grandiloquent words serve to elevate the person described. MS]

 

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