“Distance is the soul of beauty.” Finally. He explains.

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His thought…

Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz‘s personal secretary Agnieszka Kosińska wrote the concluding essay, “Last Poems and Ars Moriendi,”  for my book, An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz.

Here’s the final paragraph, translated by Artur Rosman: “For me, working with Milosz, being with him all day long, was like being locked in a submarine: it was a total submersion in Milosz’s world, coupled with incredible pressure from within and without. Now, six years after his death, I continually test myself against the saying of Simone Weil that Miłosz liked to cite, ‘Distance is the soul of beauty,’ and I try to understand what I saw and heard while working with him.”

I’ve puzzled over Weil’s thought for some time. Then, a few days ago, I found Jonas Mekas‘s There Is No Ithaka: Idylls of Semeniskiai and Reminiscences.  The Lithuanian poet’s collection has a foreword by the Lithuanian-born Miłosz – I don’t think it’s been collected in any of his volumes of essays.  So years after Agnieszka’s comment, the maestro finally offers this elucidation:

…building on hers.

“‘Distance is the soul of beauty.’ This sentence of Simone Weil expresses an old truth: only through a distance, in space or in time, does reality undergo purification. Our immediate concerns which were blinding us to the grace of ordinary things disappear and a look backward reveals them in their every minutest detail. Distance engendered by the passing of time is at the core of the oeuvre of Marcel Proust. Distance in space and awareness that borders with their barbed wire separated him from his country allowed a young Lithuanian to write his Idylls.”

Mekas turns 90 in December, and is better known as an avant-garde filmmaker than as a poet.  ”You have the possibility to give light a dimension in time,” he said. Poetry does the same, of course.


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3 Responses to ““Distance is the soul of beauty.” Finally. He explains.”

  1. Andrew Shields Says:

    Paul Celan’s poem “Die Winzer” wonderfully captures the distance that creates beauty. John Felstiner’s translation of it is very good, but I couldn’t find a copy of it online to link to here. Here’s Michael Hamburger’s: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=12314

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thanks, Andrew! John Felstiner is a friend. I’ll ping him and see if we can reprint his translation.

  3. Andrew Shields Says:

    Back in the spring of 1988, several students and I (already graduated but still hanging around) spent several evenings at John Felstiner’s house, reading, translating, and discussing Celan poems. The most memorable discussion was about “The Vintagers,” in which we discovered ourselves, as it were, as readers of the poem. Our experience of the poem (a “beautiful” experience) was connected to our distance from it, which we found characterized in the poem as the distance between those who make tears into wine and those who later drink it. That seemed like a figure of Celan the poet as wine-maker and ourselves as reader/drinkers.

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