Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Poet as Mystic Prophet

"When I close my eyes, I see more than with my eyes open."
- Orcio
The Undivine Comedy, Act II

It remains an open question to what extent the character of Orcio in The Undivine Comedy is representative of Zygmunt Krasiński himself, relative to his father who (metaphorically speaking) turned his back on his motherland just as Sir Henry turned his back on Orcio's mother, only to see her disappear forever after first casting a spell of sorts on the man's son and condemning him to the life of a poet.

The question of personal symbolism is relevant insofar as Krasiński himself seeks order in his personal and political life. "Organization," the poet oft repeats, "cannot be reorganized." Order cannot come out of disorder - and yet a man must live. In a sense, the apparent insanity of the poetic life is the only kind of order that can be hoped for in a world where fatalism rules supreme.

Sir Henry has realized that he was not so much spared the abyss as sent to wander the Earth and suffer the consequences of his sin. Already sensing a type of foreboding when the demon virgin appears to tempt him in the first act, he repeats towards the end of the second act with grim menace that a fateful destiny is upon him. Orcio's poetic soul, although it carries the appearance of insanity and elicits worry amongst family and doctors, is not in reality as doomed as the soul of Orcio's father whose betrayal of his wife has condemned him to a misery of unspeakable horrors.

In contrast, Orcio's poetic soul is a blessing. He hears his dead mother from beyond the grave, whispering to him all of the secrets of the universe - the songs of the Angels, the echoes of paradise, the living word of God Himself. Krasiński clearly equates the poetic soul with the prophetic soul and boldly testifies to the awesome controversy of the Prophet as a social and political figure.

When Orcio consistently finds himself unable to pray the Hail Mary in its traditional form, praying instead that rainbow set down by angels and whispered to him from heaven by his dead mother, Krasiński is not engaging in Protestant apologetics - He is displaying that most delicate and subtle aspect of the Catholic faith: mysticism.

Catholic mysticism has a rich and dangerous history in the Church. It exists on the boundaries between humble fidelity to authority and total surrender to God. Examples abound. In the context of Krasiński's poetry it may be worthwhile to recall Father Dolindo Ruotolo, the Prophet who saw clearly that a Polish Pope would arise to renew the faith, but who was jailed by the Roman Catholic inquisition for twenty years and suspected of mental illness and heresy for thirty years before being permitted to resume his regular duties as a priest. Like Father Dolindo, whose very name connotes suffering, so Orcio is condemned to suffer - and through him Krasiński expresses the suffering of the poet-prophet who sees clearly the causes of Poland's death and her future resurrection.

The source of suffering is popular doubt as a function of convention. Doubt and the fog of mystery which shrouds the vision of those whose eyes are nominally open but not of the poet whose eyes are closed to this world of darkness and shadows and concentrated on a light so bright that it blinds his contemporaries and becomes visible only in time. Krasiński raises the role of the poet to its rightful place - far above all of the conventional social roles thought proper to young men. It is not a revolutionary role, not a role meant to replace God, but to echo and thereby renew the word of God in time. He sanctifies the romantic poet by recalling the poetic essence of Biblical prophecy and equating Catholic fidelity with mysticism above ritual.

Photograph from the Encylcopedia of Polish Theatre

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