Tree of Diana – Alejandra Pizarnik, Intro. Octavio Paz

Mil gracias to Jared Demick of The Jivin’ Ladybug for publishing the complete Tree of Diana by Alejandra Pizarnik, which I translated with Patricia Rossi last year. This collection, the first significant poetic achievement of that Argentine would-be surrealist prone to neo-romantic decrepitness, is, according to Octavio Paz, “not a body that one may see: it is an (animate) object that allows us to see beyond, a natural instrument of vision.” Here is the rest of Paz’s introduction to the 1962 version of Árbol de Diana.

[– JM]

INTRODUCTION

Tree of Diana by Alejandra Pizarnik. (Chem.): verbal crystallization by amalgamation of passionate insomnia & meridian lucidity in a solution of reality subjected to the highest of temperatures. The compound does not contain any deceitful particle at all. (Bot.): the tree of Diana is transparent & gives off no shade. It has its own light, twinkling & brief. It is born in the arid regions of America. The hostility of the climate, the inclemency of the discourses & shouting matches, the general opacity of the thinking species, its neighbors, due to a phenomenon of well-known compensation, stimulates the luminous properties of this plant. It has no roots; the stalk is a cone of slightly obsessive light; the leaves are small, covered by four or five lines of phosphorescent writing, elegant & aggressive buds, toothed edges; the flowers are diaphanous, the females separated from the males, the first axillary, almost somnambulant & solitary. The latter ones in beards, thistles and, more rarely, thorns. (Myth. & Ethno.): the ancients believed that the arc of the goddess was a branch dangling from the tree of Diana. The scar of the trunk was considered as the (feminine) sex of the cosmos. It may refer to a mythical Fig Tree (the sap from the branches is milky, lunar). The myth may allude to sacrifice by dismemberment: an adolescent (male or female?) was chopped apart each new moon, in order to stimulate the reproduction of the images in the mouth of the prophetesses (archetype of the union of the lower & upper worlds). The tree of Diana is one of the masculine attributes of the feminine deity. Some see in this the supplementary confirmation of the hermaphroditic origin of gray matter and, perhaps, all matter; others deduce that it is a case of expropriation of the masculine solar substance: the rite would only be a ceremony of magical mutilation of the primordial ray. In the current state of our understanding, it is impossible to decide on any of these hypotheses. Let us point out, however, that the participants afterward ate incandescent embers—a custom that persists in the present day. (Blaz.): a talking coat of arms. (Phys.): for a long time the physical reality of the tree of Diana was denied. In effect, due to its extraordinary transparency, few can see it. Solitude, concentration & a general refinement of one’s sensibility are indispensable requisites for the vision. Some people, with a reputation for being intelligent, complain that, despite their preparation, they see nothing. In order to dispel their error, it suffices to recall that the tree of Diana is not a body that one may see: it is an (animate) object that allows us to see beyond, a natural instrument of vision. In any case, a small test of experimental criticism will, effectively & definitively, lay to rest the prejudices of the contemporary illustration: placed facing the sun, the tree of Diana reflects its rays & joins them in a central filament called a poem, which produces a luminous heat capable of burning, smelting & even volatilizing the non-believers. This test is recommended to the literary critics of our language.

Octavio Paz

Paris, April of 1962

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