In revisiting a too-brief response to a comment from Maria about light (in reaction to Friday’s post on angels), I thought of radiation: a broader and more ambiguous concept than light. It came into my head because I had just been reading the headline story about new discoveries based on studies of cosmic background microwave radiation. After editing my comment, I remembered Sandra McPherson’s second book of poems, Radiation (Echo Press, 1972), and got it off the shelf. It begins with the following epigraph (translated by McPherson, I imagine, since no credit is given in the Acknowledgements). I hadn’t read this in at least five years, and was startled to see an idea I had thought to be my own (“we are what exceeds us,” e.g.) given such complete and eloquent expression. I don’t know the exact provenance of it, but as the online quote sites demonstrate, Paul Valéry was a brilliant epigrammatic thinker.
The color of a thing is that one which, out of all the colors, it repels and cannot assimilate. High heaven refuses blue, returning azure to the retina. All summer long the leaves hold in the red. Charcoal gobbles all.
To our senses things offer only their rejections. We know them by their refuse. Perfume is what the flowers throw away.
Perhaps we only know other people by what they eliminate, by what their substance will not accept. If you are good, it is because you retain your evil. If you blaze, hurling off sparkles and lightnings, your sorrow, gloom and stupidity keep house within you. They are more you, more yours, than your brilliance. Your genius is everything you are not. Your best deeds are foreign to you.
– Paul Valéry