"Only connect."

Almost empty mind


Recently in Prufrock’s Dilemma (, Susan Scheid quoted A John Ashbery poem, “And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name.” (Do you remember your Latin? Ut pictura poesis, literally, “As is painting so is poetry.”) The first section is about the creative process and is interesting in itself. But the last part, which Susan quoted, caught my attention and has stayed with me all week:

“The extreme austerity of an almost empty mind
Colliding with the lush, Rousseau-like foliage of its desire to communicate
Something between breaths, if only for the sake
Of others and their desire to understand you and desert you
For other centers of communication, so that understanding
May begin, and in doing so be undone.”

Who could overlook the image of lush, Rousseau-like foliage? Of course you cannot! It rushes at you, enmeshes you. And so all those paintings, generous in their jungle greenery, start springing through one’s memory. And yet… the extreme austerity of an almost empty mind is, for me, an even stronger experience, stronger because it is felt within, not seen without. And so, the visual that won out has not been Rousseau’s, but an imagined pond’s edge, waves coming to it and then leaving it. And that image has been bringing me repeated moments of freedom.

Contemplating the peacefulness of the empty, even almost empty, mind, the “desertion for other centers of communication” brings such a sensation of relief, having found that the “others” with their desire to understand were not the right persons with whom to share one’s self, after all. And with their abandonment comes release. The fickle waves approach the shore, sample it, and move on to other shores. A near miss!


3 thoughts on “Almost empty mind

  1. Isn’t that a beautiful, resonant passage? I’m so pleased to share this with you, and I really enjoyed your reading of/associations with it. If all goes as planned, I will hear Ashbery read “live” next week. I’m so looking forward to that.

    • Susan, yours was the first blog where I wrote a comment, and you are the first person to comment here – how interesting, and very nice! Thank you. It would be a pleasure to sit with Ashbery and listen to him read. I always enjoy the chance to hear a writer speak about his work and read aloud. Even recorded readings are lovely, hearing the author’s inflections and pauses. I read once that Gertrude Stein used to stop after a public reading of one of her challenging poems, take off her reading glasses, and say to the audience, “Now, what I mean by that is this…” I hope you will share your Ashbery experience, and tell us if you raised your hand, when he asked, “Are there any questions?!”

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