Treasure Island

T (no first name) Wignesan


Back Door Side Door Front Door: Which Door Might A Confucian Take?


for René Etiemble (Jan.26,1909 - Jan.2002) *

Barely a few speechless moments before your first words
burned the « Coplas por la muerte de su padre »:

‘Nuestras vidas son los ríos
que van a dar en la mar,
que es el morir;
………………………………
y llegados, son iguales
los que viven por sus manos
y los ricos.'

Is the open back door which emboldens courage
No untarnished name to be remembered by
No selfless mate to lay by your honour
No issue laying about themselves for your prize

Decidedly it was a door of stealth
As if choosing it you let it be known
you were only merely passing by
and stopped to hang your hat here for a while

Yet you let your kin and callers believe
your whims were worth putting up with
your mischievous tantrums and gripes
merely the mental athlete's unwinding antics

The poïetic birth pangs of imminent glory
just the mounting stones in the monumental lighthouse
that ages from hence would pick forth
your works your unfathomable literary resource

You upheld dozens who did leave behind a name
a lasting name not quite torn from solitary pain
Yet who could deny you could have bettered their fame
What undisclosed pain you harboured in your brain

Oh so strangely were you endowed with the intelligence
of the Chun Tzu - that uncanny eagle's scan
To rout out of the mazes of your students' past lives
just that one passqge through their Tierra del Fuego

But then you who completely espoused the rigours
of that step by step mounting of respectful steps
Were unsparing in your demands of adherence
to old Master Kung's hierarchical obedience

An open hand ready to sign any cheque
to succour the caller's needs
was alas! also the whip hand
To keep the renegades in constant check

You were possessed of a rare brand of anger
which shook the land about you
At those who bent justice to their unsavoury will
such thunder boiled from the guts of the earth

Now you're gone and empty lecture halls echo your
uncontainable ire where forged resounding silence
You said at the start of a seminal master-seminar:
« Nul n'est prophète dans son pays! »

With the distaff side hanging on your every word
wondering if your plans were for something yet undone

No stray notes lie about to record your travail
No visible correspondence to make it all credible
Only books and books files magazines and books
and an overcrowdedly conquered mental pad
jumbled words scratched into shaded inchoate sketches
ganglia synapses shot-up neurons

no clues to a ragingly flailing mind
none to record the lives you succoured
nor even the beneficiaries' hurriedly scribbled thanks
nor besides to the beclouding relations with one and all
not even a hint at why you may have refused
to forge a name beyond the beaten path of fame

Would going by the front door
in a fanfare of tv talkshows conference papers prize-giving ceremonies paper- interviews in ample studied poses and thoughts for future auto-memoirs volume one to seven the rest put-together posthumously in an omnibus
expurgated version with prefaces notes introductions critiques eulogies

would it have been less like you
to exit by the side-door
the baywindow leading to reflected glory
in a cool cloister of loosened leaves
stray poems in the tradition of your schooled masters

or did you burn them all
in a fit of (cou) rage
tore them to bits incinerated by your fiery mind
or squashed within yesterday's leftovers

not caring who thought what
the mocking condescension
towards
qu'en-dira-t-on


* The late Professor René Etiemble held the Chair of Comparative Literature at the old, pre-1968 Sorbonne University but retired in 1978 while a professor at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle University. In later life, he even refused nomination to the French Academy of Letters, though he did accept the Academy's Prize. He was a prolific critic, essayist, and memorialist, having published some poetry and three novels. A renowned linguist and grammarian (a graduate of the prestigious and elite Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris) , he remained until his very last days an inveterate Sinophile. He edited the Gallimard-instituted UNESCO oriental literary classics series, a fitting tribute to his encyclopaedic learning.

© T.Wignesan, 6 novembre 1997, Fresnes-94, France (from the collection: Poems Omega Minus, Paris,2002)

Submitted: Saturday, September 29, 2012

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