“In Paris, on a day that stayed morning until dusk,
in a Paris like –
in a Paris which –
(save me, sacred folly of description!)
in a garden by a stone cathedral
(not built, no, rather
played upon a lute)
a clochard, a lay monk, a naysayer
sleeps sprawled like a knight in effigy.
If he ever owned anything, he has lost it,
and having lost it doesn’t want it back.
He’s still owed soldier’s pay for the conquest of Gaul –
but he’s got over that, it doesn’t matter.
And they never paid him in the fifteenth century
for posing as the thief on Christ’s left hand –
he has forgotten all about it, he’s not waiting.
He earns his red wine
by trimming the neighborhood dogs.
He sleeps with the air of an inventor of dreams,
his thick beard swarming towards the sun.
The gray chimeras (to wit, bulldogryphons,
hellephants, hippopotoads, croakodilloes, rhinocerberuses,
behemammoths, and demonopods,
that omnibestial Gothic allegro vivace)
and examine him with a curiosity
they never turn on me or you,
“Clochard” by Wislawa Szymborska, from “Poems New and Collected,” translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh
In the world’s of Jung’s Liber Novus the “I” of the narrator re-members itself by incorporating various “permutations of humanity, fantasy, nature, and the gods,” who all “have a role in the making of the being of ‘I.'” (1) In chapter 3 of Liber Secundus (called “One of the Lowly”) Jung encounters a tramp, a wretchedly poor individual, who had lost an eye in a fight. He strikes Jung with his upbeat, engaging demeanor, though Jung is also embarrassed to be seen in the company of a former convict. The tramp talks about his love of the cinema, which for Jung is one of the lowest forms of entertainment. The chasm between the two characters is glaring – with Jung epitomizing the heights of privilege, while the tramp inhabits the bottom of reality, as Jung puts it.
A poignant scene takes place at night in the inn, where they both took up lodgings for the night:
“I open the door of his room. Moonlight floods it. The man lies still dressed on a sack of straw. A dark stream of blood is flowing from his mouth and forming a puddle on the floor. He moans half choking and coughs out blood. He wants to get up but sinks back again-I hurry to support him but I see that the hand of death lies on him. He is sullied with blood twice over. My hands are covered with it. A rattling sigh escapes from him. Then every stiffness loosens, a gentle shudder passes over his limbs. And then everything is deathly still.”
Jung notices that his bloodstained hands look like those of a murderer. “Is it not the blood of my brother that sticks to my hands?,” he asks himself, experiencing a moment of solidarity with the tramp. He ponders the utter despondency and loneliness of the situation, where “there is no one left to grieve.” Jung admits that he had never experienced destitution in his “easy” life, but his soul needs the tramp because he “leads to the depths.” Only the “botommost” can bring about the renewal of his soul. “In the holy stream of common life,” Jung says, “you are no longer an individual on a high mountain, but a fish among fish, a frog among frogs.” This is the Dionysian zoe – “the endless instinctual life,” which informs “a body-oriented consciousness.” (2)
Jung goes on to distinguish between “being” (the common life of the instincts) and “becoming” (individuation). Being is the antithesis of individuality because “if you live your own life, you do not live the common life, which is always continuing and never-ending.” Being is the indispensable root of becoming, since “how can you become if you never are?” Becoming is “full of torment,” as it puts an individual on a steep path leading upwards.
In this poetic chapter, Jung compares being to flowing “into the sea that covers the earth’s greatest deeps, and is so vast that firm land seems only an island embedded in the womb of the immeasurable sea.” He indirectly speaks of fate, in which we all participate, suffering under the illusion of free will:
“You wander vast distances in blurred currents and wash up on strange shores, not knowing how you got there. You mount the billows of huge storms and are swept
back again into the depths. And you do not know how this happens to you. You had thought that your movement came from you and that it needed your decisions and efforts, so that you could get going and make progress. … From endless blue plains you sink into black depths; luminous fish draw you, marvelous branches twine around you from above. You slip through columns and twisting, wavering, dark-leaved plants, and the sea takes you up again in bright green water to white, sandy coasts, and a wave foams you ashore and swallows you back again…”
But this entanglement in the shared fate of the instinctual life of humanity awakens in some the need to disentangle from the twists of fate, to emerge from the oceanic unconscious into the dryness given by the sun, into the “firm stones,” into “the motionless and firmly held.” The star shining above the waters beckons to “cross over from being to becoming.”
Jung says that the vision of the dying tramp brought him the realization that “we live toward death, how the swaying golden wheat sinks together under the scythe of the
reaper…” But it is becoming which lets us overcome death, says Jung. Gaining awareness of one’s individuality also means becoming aware of the collective life and death. The one who has awakened to the inner life, is like the moon, says Jung:
“Your heights are like the moon that luminously wanders alone and through the night looks eternally clear. Sometimes it covers itself and then you are totally in the darkness of the earth, but time and again it fills itself out with light.”
In this moment reminiscent of satori the “I” of The Red Book simultaneously participates in the stream of life and is detached from it, as if awakened:
“It is the life blood of your brother, yes, it is your own blood, but your gaze remains luminous and embraces the entire horror and the earth’s round.”
(1) Susan Rowland, “The Red Book for Dionysus: A Literary and Transdisciplinary Interpretation” in: Murray Stein, Thomas Arzt, editors, Jung’s Red Book for Our Time, volume 1
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