The Blue Guitar
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.
They said "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."
The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."
And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,
A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."
A young poet asked the giant, not only of Argentine literature, the universally lauded writer Jorge Luis Borges if he could pay him a visit. The great man was by then advanced in years, blind, decrepit and close to death. The answer was, yes. The meeting took place and the young man told his host some details of his troubled youth. Reading Borges, he said, had helped him to face life and survive. What Borges tells his young visitor is very moving for there is no hint of arrogance or condescension whatever.
- The task of art is to transform what is continuously happening to us, to transform all these things into symbols, into music, into something that can last in man’s memory. That is our duty. If we don’t fulfil it we feel unhappy. A writer or any artist has the sometimes joyful duty to transform all that into symbols. These symbols could be colours, forms or sounds. For a poet, the symbols are sounds and also words, fables, stories, poetry.
The work of a poet never ends. It has nothing to do with working hours. You are continually receiving things from the external world. These must be transformed and eventually will be transformed. The revelation can appear any time. A poet never rests. He is always working even when he dreams.
Besides, the life of a writer is a lonely one. You think you are alone and as the years go by if the stars are on your side you may discover that you are at the centre of a vast circle of invisible friends whom you will never get to know but who love you and that is an immense reward.
This is the title in Songhai language of a piece composed by the brilliant Malian folk singer Ali Farka Toure on the CD Talking Timbuktu performing with Ry Cooder. His vocals in this number (in one of the 11 languages he knows) are characterised as follows:
- Trust and faith in your fellow man has no equal.
If you have experienced trust you will know its strength.
You must know yourself before you know others.
The music itself is redolent of this and, I might venture to claim, creative of the aspiration (what I wish to reflect upon in this section), namely... to be ourselves.
To begin with there are some telling words of Mark Oakley's consideration of a poem by W.H. Auden (The Splash of Words: Believing in Poetry) talks about what Jung identified as a part of our unconscious mind, our Shadow... the pressure to fit in and keep people happy which becomes like a mask and leads to an automatic repression of emotions, character traits, feelings, even talents, original thoughts, being alone, enjoying sexuality, being gay or bisexual, not knowing... the list is endless. What is being built up is a forbidden area to avoid being shamed or seen to be guilty of being or having been in the wrong. The depth of the Shadow grows as we push down vital parts of ourselves.
It is the loss of our potential selves that Ali Farka Toure sings about so movingly in Ai Du, while Oakley writes of this block, 'It's playground is our dream life... That's why dreams have been thought to be sacred'.
Auden's poem Song VIII begins: 'At last the secret is out, as it always must come in the end.' Elsewhere in his poem St Cecilia's Day he writes fatefully:
I have no shadow
To run away from
I only play.