Friday, September 25, 2015

Mayakovsky and his demon

In Mayakovsky's poem "A Man," in the subsection "The Ascension of Mayakovsky" is the following:
    "I myself am a poet.  You teach the children: 'The sun rises over the grass.'  From the love bed out from behind his hairlets rises the head of my beloved.

        She raised the arrow with her eyes.
        Wipe off your smile!
        But the heart rushes toward a bullet,
        and the throat longs for a razor.
        My grief grows
        into incoherent raving about a demon.
        He is coming for me,
         luring me to the water,
        leads me on to the edge of a roof.
        Around me is snow.
        A light snow falls.
        It whirls around and then stops still.
        And there falls.
        It whirls around and then stops still.
        And there falls
        -- again! --
        onto the ice
        a frozen emerald.
        My soul shakes.
        It's between the ice floes,
        and no way it can escape!
        That's how I'll go,
        along the banks of the Neva..
        I step forward --
        and again I'm in that place.
        I tear myself away --
        and again for nothing.

Mayakovsky eventually shot himself.  In his suicide poem found after his death the only reference to his motivation is to say "I have no other way out."  "The Man" was written in 1916-1917 and he committed suicide in 1930.  Perhaps the above section of poetry is a metaphor for the destructiveness of his relationship with Lilli.  In any case these were thoughts familiar to him.  He may well have considered suicide often before he actually did it. 

But why?  For the purpose of discussion take two poets, Geary and Helm.  Geary seemed in a triumphalist mood when he wrote "Without me perceiving  nothing would exist, not as far as I'm concerned anyway..  What is has no meaning except what I give to it. I am the meaning giver.  Just like you.  Res  Rei  Rei REM Re." 

In my case I was in a different mood.  Perhaps my grief grew into incoherent raving -- at least my mind before I wrote "Morning" was incoherent to start with.  My heart has never rushed toward a bullet.  In fact I am used to the incoherence of random ideas flitting through my mind.  I wouldn't call them raving though.  And when I sought something, I didn't give structure to all the ideas as perhaps Geary does his.  I selected something that seemed pressing and when I focused on that the rest subsided and vanished.  Am I the only one who writes this way?  I have often wondered about poets who were considered mad, or like Maykovsky commit suicide.  Perhaps they aren't on good terms with the ideas that flood their minds.  Perhaps for them writing is no solution.  Perhaps, they think, the only way to make the raving stop is to rush toward a bullet. 

I wouldn't say that I am on "good" terms with the ideas that sometimes flood my mind, but I'm a long way from finding them demonic.  Perhaps if a poet's ideas have become demonic there is indeed no other way out.

Since Maykovsky was the most beloved poet of the early Soviets they were quick to declare his suicide to be the result of his relationships with three women, especially Lilli.  Later non-soviet critics believed Mayakovsky was being hounded by the soviet police and that was the real reason he committed suicide, but neither the soviets nor the later critics were poets.  I am inclined to think Maykovski committed suicide to escape his demon.

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