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"Sein und Zeit" by Judith Bishop (Introduced by Thomas Moody)

You don’t need to be familiar with Heidegger’s opus “Being and Time” to appreciate Judith Bishop’s namesake poem “Sein und Zeit.” There is an opacity to the poem which is unsettling; opening with the line “We can walk into a room not knowing”, we are never told exactly what it is we do not know, only that our not knowing extends to “whether” (a choice or an inquiry into something), “or when,” (a period of time), “or even that” (something we know we can determine or identify). The totality of this ignorance, of this absence of knowledge, gives it a kind of presence—a phantom that haunts the whole of the poem.

Bishop further obscures things by telling us that whatever it is we don’t know, “Only you will know.” One of Bishop’s achievements in "Sein und Zeit" is that she is able to create a near impenetrable obscurity from clear, precise language. The contrast seems to reinforce the significance and deepness of the unknowing—the overwhelming vagueness of existence which eclipses our lives even at their most particular.

 

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“Sein und Zeit” is taken from Circadia (UQP, 2024), Bishop’s third collection of poetry. She is the winner of the Peter Porter Poetry Prize, an Academy of American Poets University prize and a Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship. Her translations from French (Philippe Jaccottet, Gérard Macé) have been published in Australian and international journals. She holds a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Melbourne, an MFA in Writing from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MPhil in European Literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives with her family in Melbourne.



Sein und Zeit

 


We can walk into a room not knowing.

It doesn’t happen every time.

 

A white room can be painted to be pure.

I mean, just to show us that it’s clean.

 

But it doesn’t have to be.

We can walk into a room

 

not knowing whether,

or when, or even that.

 

That

can be the hardest room.

 

Only you will know.

First there is the walking.

 

The floor, a chair or two.

The posters

 

of visions

of someone else’s visit

 

to a room. Take a chair.

 

Only then the talk begins,

like a reckoning of beads,

 

like the body measures sweat,

words wrong

 

as a rainbow that has paled

to a shadow of itself.

 

There is always an end.

We can stand and walk again.

 

We can leave the room in silence,

carrying its moment

 

in and out of days

 

 


June 26, 2024

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Radio

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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