(from Part X, the Taoist Master to the Great Khan)
Because you could not master whatever
you became its slave —
You learned this bitterly, early.
In order not to become its slave
you had to become its master.
Even as master, of course, you remain its slave.
I was listening to Bidart read his poem this morning and when I came to these lines they felt like a commentary on the argument I was having with myself here yesterday: mastery versus refusal of mastery (or is it the appearance of the refusal of mastery?) or Yeats and Auden versus Beckett and Zbigniew Herbert. I suppose mastery is another word for power, over words, over people. Blanchot in The Book to Come, which I am still reading, has a chapter on Beckett in which he analyzes Beckett's silences, that I think is relevant, too, although I only partly understand it. Bidart's poem is a take on the whole existential problem of why write--and a lot of other things--being itself the performance of this argument in a long narrative poem ostensibly about power, or mastery. I was skeptical when I began to listen to it; by the end I felt Bidart had--had what? Well, he moved me.