Minor Keys No. 12
Some lines of poetry guide you through life. Believers may find them in the Koran, the Bible or the Vedas but for me the distillation of meaning that a poet achieves occasionally is inextinguishable, burning like pure sulphur on water. Here is a quote from one of Rilke’s poems about The Unicorn.
O this is the animal that does not exist,
But they didn’t know that, and dared nevertheless
To love it…and because they loved it, it came to
be a…pure creature.
They always left a space for it,
and in that space, clear and set aside,
it lightly raised its head, and hardly needed to be.
Why do I find it so powerful? It is an emblem of the imagination. I wrote in a recent tweet, “Reality is limited only by a lack of imagination” (@profjacksanger). Literature is an outlet for boundless thought as in all the arts, including film – Tarkovsky’s Stalker comes to mind as having similar power in fuelling my own imaginative output. The key for me in the Rilke lines is that the artist creates what was not there and it becomes ethereally extant, a new reality for those who see, touch, read it, affecting their lives forever, in some way small or big.
Creating the other world of Azimuth allowed me to construct a space where I and my readers could play. All the elements of life that are hard to fathom – death, love, war, existence – could be explored, shaped, remodelled, dissected and in such a way that we become one step closer to understanding the nature of our living reality. But lightly, with amusement and tolerance for how patched up and imperfect we all are as human beings.
A minor character that makes just one appearance in Azimuth: the Second Journey, is the assistant librarian. He is introduced thus:
Where were the vibrations from above made by slippered feet or the movement of furniture? Even though it was just daybreak there should have been much servant activity. Then he caught the sound of someone coming down the circular stairs. He was unnerved but fought off the desire to hide and sat facing the bottom of the staircase where three steps were visible. First a pair of red slippers and then the hem of a robe became visible until finally his assistant turned the bend.
His story (beyond the pages of Azimuth) is a familiar one. He was born into a family which for generations had been literate. Not scholars, you understand, but the kind you still see today in countries where education is sparse and who sit at desks with typewriters in village squares preparing documents for their illiterate fellows so that they might navigate the imposing tyranny of a country’s bureaucracy. Apart from an arranged marriage and the rare day when he is allowed to see his wife, the assistant librarian’s whole world is encompassed by the circular walls of the royal library, his vitality sucked from him by the shelves of dry parchment and arid tomes. He has none of the gifts of the royal historian, being, essentially, a trained orderer, tidier, cataloguer, categoriser of the artefacts that are collected for the royal library. He reads enough to place them where they can be found again but little more. There is too much to be done and his existence does not allow for the self-advancement of his mind. Thus he lives and dies – and it would be hard for anyone, no matter how much s/he believes in the value to humanity of every individual’s life, to make a case for the assistant librarian’s as offering anything to the common good.
(Azimuth by Jack Sanger also in Kindle books at Amazon)