Saudade, Hiraeth

from THE FATAL IMPACT by Alan Moorehead

(with thanks to Jim Pennington)

Melville quotes an old Tahitian song:

The palm-tree shall grow,
The coral shall spread,
But man shall cease.

In Gauguin's Tahitian paintings no man or woman ever smiles; supine, defeated, despairing and beautiful, his people gaze in a reverie into the lost past. They have no hope at all. They see nothing but the broken stones of their marae, their fallen idols, the great legendary war-canoes with their tatooed warriors in their elaborate robes, the forgotten dances and rituals of the arioi. They ask, 'D'ou venons-nous? Qui sommes-nous? Ou allons-nous?' and the answer is silence. The overwhelming physical beauty of the girl remains, but she does not dance. Instead she lies inert and naked on her bed, and Gauguin painted her waiting for nothing, hoping for nothing, the petals of the tiare tahiti scattered about her, a dark, conspiratorial couple in the background and all around them the mystical shapes and symbols of the tropics. On this canvas the painter has written in English the one word 'Nevermore'.


Gonzalo Rojas, translated by Will Rowe

They prostitute eveything,
by wasting energy in circumlocution.
They explain it all, they monologue
like well-oiled machines,
and slobber over everything with their metaphysical drivel.

I'd like to see them in the southern ocean
on a night of real wind, with their heads
cold cast, smelling
the vast solitude of the world
without moon,
without possible explanation

smoking in the terror of abandonment.