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Oppressive Light: Selected Poems by Robert Walser

Publication Date: February 2012


“Throughout the poems, early and late, we find the vocation announced, to which Walser would devote his life: the spiritual and later corporeal work of vanishing from the world. This is everywhere available in the lyrics: ‘They abandoned me, so I learned to forget myself/ which allowed me to bathe in my inspired soul.’ And later in the same poem: ‘Because they didn’t want to know me, I became self-aware.’ In another he is ‘enchanted/ by the idea that I’ve been forgotten.’ Of the place in which he has vanished, he writes ‘I only know that it’s quiet here,/ stripped of all needs and doings,/ here it feels good, here I can rest,/ for no time measures my time.’ With untold suffering behind him perhaps, in the interstices of his recorded life, he seems to write his way toward a liminal state of nonattachment and hovering, weightless acceptance: ‘The world is inside an hour,/ unaware, not needing anything,/ and, oh, I don’t always know/ where it rests and sleeps, my world.’ His world is other-where, and he without it, and we emerge from reading his lyric art as a cloud would disperse in raw light, with unexpected clarity, having followed the poet’s footsteps to where he was found on Christmas Day in 1956, lying in the snow, his eyes open, his heart still, with snow on his shoulders and his soul loosed.”
-From the introduction by Carolyn Forché


“These poems show the quality we have now come to call visionary. This is a voice that sees itself as if from another planet, with clarity, and impartiality of view that is remarkable and, often, devastating. One is reminded of Trakl’s voice here, its dark intimacy; this is the lullaby for the self, but also for this self’s moment in time (‘there is so much in the hour’) as we know it: a spare voice points at the two trees in the snow, at a trembling of a lip. And, yet, here, so unlike Trakl’s voice, we hear: ‘The room is full of sky . . . I speak and I laugh:/ my room is the sky./ How I love the sky’ and ‘happiness is the happiness of evening.’ From this transformation, wisdom comes: ‘something you enshrine will always be with you.’ Finally, among many fine poems here, I particularly found myself struck by such pieces as ‘Joy of Life’ and ‘The Comfort of Complaining,’ where one of the most complex minds of the 20th Century gives us lines of utter simplicity,

-Ilya Kaminsky

About the Authors

Robert Walser

Robert Walser (1878-1956) left school at fourteen and led a wandering and precarious existence while producing poems, stories, essays, and three novels: The Tanners(1906), The Assistant (1908), and Jakob Von Gunten (1909). In 1933 he abandoned writing and entered a sanatorium, where he remained for the rest of his life. “I am not here to write,” Walser said, “but to be mad.”

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Daniele Pantano

Daniele Pantano is a Swiss poet, essayist, literary translator, critic, editor, and artist born of Sicilian and German parentage in Langenthal (Canton of Berne). He has published over twenty volumes of poetry, essays, translations, and conceptual literature, and his work has been translated into a dozen languages. Pantano is Associate Professor (Reader) and Programme Leader for the MA Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. For more information, please visit www.pantano.ch.

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