Poeta, Caballero / Fernando Rodríguez

Poet, Gentleman

We can already hear the echoes within the country and surely beyond its borders of the unexpected death of one of the major poetic voices of our literary history – among those we can count on a single hand, Eugenio Montejo. But also, an oeuvre that expands with unusual celerity, considering that poetry is a slow animal that moves from soul to soul – in new fields and other languages. He dies, then, just as all the roads were opening for him and, this is the important thing, at an hour when we could expect maturity and the extreme purification that would crown his long march through the paths of poetry.

Of course, this sad hour is no time for analyzing his work, now is a time for lamentation, perhaps a prayer – a secular one in my case. But I would like to say something very generic that has to do a great deal with professional deformation, something that might seem scandalous for some. Much of the great Venezuelan philosophy in recent years has been made by poets: [Rafael] Cadenas, [Armando] Rojas Guardia, to cite just two examples. Philosophy in the Socratic sense, which doesn’t use academic and technical rigors, but instead serves for living, for loving and suffering, as well as for dying. Maybe because poetry is an ideal manner, perhaps the most ideal, for expressing the inexpressible, for approaching the great questions that have no answer. Wittgenstein, that jealous custodian of the expressible – so little – affirms in the Tractatus to the surprise of many, that what really matters is music, that sublime form of expressing the inexpressible, unavoidable and decisive human necessity, perennial metaphysics.

I think Eugenio was a poet-philosopher. I think his work contains a fascinating vision of the world. Not just because there’s an immense gravity in everything he sings but also because, conscious of our cognitive limits, he approached the ineffable with a mixture of vehement fascination and critical limitation. I believe he never encountered God – at least in his books – but he pursued his hiding places, fantasized about that citation, imagined his substitution by the gods of the word and beauty, he lived and wrote to make us worthy of his respect and himself worthy of ours. Without ever letting himself be turned into a myth, he peered into the beyond, cosmonaut, suffering soul, reincarnated bird. Poetry always at the limits, in suggestion, in the desire that one must work to make of the cosmos and our ephemeral presence the measure of a call to be a part of divinity. But, along with that conceptual sagacity, his passion for life and that elevated form of it that is language, helped his poetry avoid austerity and sententiousness and become pure music, a dance of words, incessant metaphor, still and magical song. Language had to be set in steel in order to reach such confines. And perhaps that musicality – modest, full of happiness, amazed by how much exists, love and the bird that trills – is one of the reasons for his capacity to reach so many and such diverse sensibilities. A doctoral student told me recently that a concept by Merleau-Ponty, the manner in which the exterior world calls us and which has the structure of dialogue, could be found magnificently in one of the poems of Algunas palabras, “The Trees”: hearing the shriek of a thrush “I realized that in his voice a tree was speaking, / one of so many, / but I don’t know what to do with this sharp, deep sound, / I don’t know in what type of script / I could set it down.” A beautiful and measured pantheism that respects the limits of the best skepticism.

But Eugenio was above all Eugenio. The gentleman who cultivated restraint and friendship, elegance and affective devotion. Perhaps the most beloved of our contemporary artists. And at the same time a man of firm convictions, for whom this country degraded by military boots was a daily torment, the antithesis of that harmonious and transcendent kingdom that was his spiritual dwelling place. For those of us who had the unspeakable fortune of being his friends, we have lost someone, as Montaigne would say, who made us better than what we will be, an excellence that makes demands.

{ Fernando Rodríguez, Tal Cual, 9 June 2008 }

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