Julian Przybos's Poem "Notre Dame III"

Olga Nedeljkovic, University of Illinois at Chicago

The poem "Notre Dame III" was written in June of 1966 when Przybos was again in Paris, and it was included in the volume "An Unknown Flower" ("Kwiat nieznany"). The poem "Notre Dame III" reveals Przybos's affinity for the idea of vertical thought, of vertically stretching objects and their attributes, or objects simply situated high in the firmament. This is a characteristic feature of Przybos's imagery and symbol by and large. One also should bear in mind that Przybos's inner world hinges upon a projection of the subjective mind. His "reality" is wholly mental. The mind creates mere associations of ideas with the implication that the contradiction between them is transcended. Furthermore, every mental state, every idea, includes its thesis and its antithesis, its affirmation and its negation. In the poem Przybos speaks of the high towers of Notre Dame, its arches, roofs, pillars and walls; the Arc de Triomphe, rainbows; purple and rosy-colored reflections of clouds, Sun, dawn, darkness, and many other things. He puts the imagery of the empirical world in the frame of metaphysical reality. Actually, he is talking about being and non-being, the created and uncreated, temporality and eternity-infinity, the inner and outer world.

Thus, the first verse of the poem indicates that Przybos knows that all empirical reality is dissipated, like "destroyed under an extermination bomb" as compared to Infinity. In my analysis I stress that the vision of Sunlight, of Sunshine, is an ancient Greek image of metaphysical thought, which does not indicate an object, but rather the condition under which the entire object finds itself. The presence of the Sun has been perceived as rising, developing, and blossoming with life and spiritual principle (Greek: arxeos). In the history of metaphysics the concept takes on multiple forms. In the two first lines of the poem Przybos tries to depict the moment between the death of an idea ("I saw it--as if it had been destroyed by an extermination bomb") and the birth of another: "I saw it...under the sunshine falling upon the roof, upon the arch; it erected out from the darkness." The Notre Dame was reborn under the sunbeams ("it erected out from the darkness"). Being plunged into the sunrays, it becomes the solar star of the poet's vision, releasing him from his fear. The poet sublimates the empirical reality, and in that capacity it is endowed with the power of affecting the poet's psyche and empowering his imagination in such a way that objects of empirical reality become his mental objects.

In the second verse Przybos confesses that the bygone, mystical experience of total otherness occurred to him only once in his life. Przybos speaks about the same experience in his essay-manifest "How Lyricism is Possible." In order to highlight and better grasp the nature of this mantic, magical inspiration in the poem "Notre Dame III" I will compare this verse with the corresponding passage from the essay in which Przybos also speaks about his opening to the modes of the divine and infinite. This kind of mystical ecstasy and delirium could not be accompanied by words; it was mystical, ineffable contemplation; it was the omnipotent feeling of the newly born, newly discovered infinite universe, a time beyond time, removed from speech, wordless. Through metaphors Przybos creates images and a state of ecstasy, the topos of inspiration "from outside." Furthermore, Przybos stretches the moment of mystical ecstasy out by adding a new spatial vision, expressing his feeling of excessive happiness. Thus, he generates his own myth, his own universe outside time, in which he creates his new world transformed into words: "give a sign, start speaking!" The concept of reincarnation of the word plays a pivotal role in Przybos's poetics.

This totally imaginary world, underlain by myth, allows the poet to overcome contradictions between "inner" and "outer" worlds, by declaring that all its details are somehow provisional and illusory. In other words, in the last verses of the poem "Notre Dame III" Przybos tells us, his readers, that he has dreamt the entire mystical experience. My analysis shows that Przybos creates mental objects, which are convoked and dissolved in a moment, according to poetic needs. Thus, Przybos tries to make dream "reality" denote something other than what it would ordinarily denote. In other words, the poet strives to force the dreamt image into his own supposedly tangible form of existence in order to concretize the sequential chain of mental events (dream "reality").

This use of the image of dream seems to confirm the impression that Przybos employs the image only to allude to a subjective experience. Clearly, he superimposes on reality his dream vision of the universe. No doubt that Przybos must have been acquainted with Freud's psychoanalysis and his impact on early-twentieth-century poets. It seems to me that Przybos did not accept Freud's theories and subject matter, though in his poetry he uses the same mechanisms such as dreams and symbols. By highlighting the oneiric character of poetry and of reality, Przybos goes much further than Freud's and Jung's psychology in questioning the existence of the external reality and using the philosophy of Schopenhauer and other German philosophers, he seems to be very close to the solipsist idealism. Przybos conceptualizes the phantasmatic agency in his process of writing as mysterious sources of power and inspiration. It stands at the very center of his self-conception as a poet. In the footsteps of his great predecessors, German Romantics, Przybos totally internalizes all the constraints and forces involved in the process of writing. Przybos's attempt to link his poetic practice to the mysteries of the dream process makes him a postmodern, secularized Orpheus. Przybos's lyricism provides one of the most exalted idealizations of the act of creativity, of the act of writing and composing poetry, in modern times, and as such deserves the full attention of literary critics. To be able to fully understand the presence of Orpheus and the Orphic ontology in Polish modern poetry, it is important to grasp the nature of mantic, magical inspiration in Przybos's poem "Notre Dame III."