Our words this week come from the second and third sections of Octavio Paz’ poem “Although it is night” from his 1988 collection, A Tree Within.
The words are:
While I’m reading in Mexico City,
what time is it now in Moscow?
It’s late, it’s always late,
in history it is always night,
always the wrong time.
the paper is burning, his writing goes on,
cruel dawn on a plain of bones.
I was a coward, I did not face evil,
and now the century confirms the philosopher:
Evil? A pair of eyes with no face,
an abundant void.
a nobody somebody, a nothing something.
Did Stalin have a face?
ate his face and soul and will.
Fear populated his soulless night,
his insomnia decimated Russia.
The party is always right
Stalin had no soul:
he had history.
Uninhabited Marshal without a face,
servant of nothing. Evil unmasked:
the maggot becomes Caesar. A ghost’s
triumph: his memorial marks a pit.
Nothingness is the great harder of nobodies.
And as for the others: evil takes away their faces
in the same unreal game that shuffles us all.
Circular suffering, circular guilt: the spool,
unwound, history relieves their pain
by killing them off. Discourse in a frozen knife:
Dialectic, the bloody solipsism
that invented the enemy from itself.
In a political era in which facts seem every day to be consciously ignored or subverted by superstition, it’s important to remember the lesson of history that blind faith in an authority, even of your flavor, is dangerous for the average person. Paranoia, suspicion, threats. Isolation and insolation. All common attributes for a brutal, detached dictator such as Stalin, the maggot become marshal, but not normal in a nation that prides itself on the ideals of freedom of speech, information, and thought. As partisanship further dominates political discourse, be careful to pledge allegiance to the president or the party rather than the people. Truth is more synthesis than genesis. We must resist the urge to invent reality from within ourselves rather than around ourselves. History and poetry may have some answers on how to do that.