A day without a base,
A view without a face,

Outer space on aspen wood,
Light without its rosy childhood,

Colors disconnected from
Daily equilibrium—

Winter wonders just as well
A bland and snowless shell

In another state
Where feelings hibernate:

No reason for a shape
In the scenery that we ape,

A planet without cause
Or authenticating laws;

The eye of memory shut,
The nerve of recognition cut,

Nothing on the land sublime
Enough to make a rhyme,

Crystal melted into mud,
Passion faded into blood:

Even here where sunshine
Falls without design.


We’re dying for something to hang our hat on, for some familiar face in the arid land, the way the narrator looks for an icon, a sign, a landmark, and finally we get it at the end of the poem: of course, naturally, it’s normal that the world should seem abnormal: winter has gone, and a new season hasn’t really started. There’s nothing to be scared of.

But before that recognition, the world is lost in a landscape without correspondences. There are no hints at meaning, and we feel how much we crave the reason even of consoling rhyme, until the suspended world dissolves or resolves into the tonic chord of explanation.

Debussy’s Des Pas sur la Neige is similarly set in a whiteout, with footprints struggling to give direction to its tabula rasa. I’ve recorded it on Volume 2 of The Himalaya Sessions, Drowned Steeples.

I often find myself wandering around a beautiful painting of a countryside without any link to what I’m seeing. Nabokov refers to streets of a new city that whirl above our heads, but even that is too grounded an image. The Russians were adept at describing a world stripped of its images, steeples without similes, and it is called strangification.

Out of that primordial disarray emerges the urge to concoct a connection to the world, to feign a virtue even, or especially, in its absence. The urge itself may be more important than the confections it invents. It is not that we have such majestic relations with the world, but just that we have the longing to have them.