Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ask every soul

“My self-confidence comes from the fact that I have discovered my own dimensions. It does not behoove me to make myself smaller than I am.”

- Edith Södergran

There are times, long stretches even, in your so-called literary career where you hardly exist. You will contemplate and maybe even fantasize giving it up, living as a civilian. You do this many times through your career, but there will be one time when you are entirely serious. You feel like surrendering in the same way a person who has hypothermia wants to go to sleep in the deepening snow. 

You will remember a time when you knew your own dimensions, when there was self-confidence. But for now, the snow, the surrender, the smallness.

I don't know if this is the way out, or if surrender is the way out. But all I can think of doing is asking every soul, what is beauty? I'm asking my own soul, what is beauty what is beauty what is beauty?


by Edith Södergran

What is beauty? Ask every soul -
beauty is every overflow, every glow, every overfilling and every great poverty;
beauty is to be faithful to the summer and to go naked until the autumn;
beauty is the plumage of the parrot or the sunset that bodes storms;
beauty is a sharp feature and an accent of one’s own: it is I,
beauty is a great loss and a silent funeral procession,
beauty is the fan’s light beat that wakes the breeze of destiny:
beauty is to be as voluptuous as the rose
or to forgive everything because the sun is shining;
beauty is the cross the monk chose or the necklace the lady has from her lover,
beauty is not the thin sauce in which poets serve themselves,
beauty is to wage war and seek happiness,
beauty is to serve higher powers.


  1. Beauty is the the final surrender of the smallness of the personality to the immensity of the true artist-soul within...looking out.

  2. I Love your blog Shawna. You seem to find the words and images for the space 'between'. So soft, so quiet, so comforting and yes, so 'beautiful'. Thank You. ~Marianna

  3. Love this, Shawna. Yes: "asking every soul, what is beauty?" This blog is beauty. These words, and your photos, and the questions and silence inside of them, are beauty. And I have felt this too, and I know so many others have too--this fantasy of "giving it up, living as a civilian." That word "civilian" gets exactly at the feeling, the heaviness of it sometimes, doesn't it. Thank you.

  4. thank you all, speaking of beauty, there you are.

  5. Your post strikes a chord, Shawna, as I navigate the "finishing" of a manuscript, and the next thing, whatever that might be. Yes, it's the feeling of hypothermia setting in, and the idea of surrendering to it. I think this might be a fantasy, too, just like the fantasy of "living as a civilian," as you put it so well.

    Do you know Janna Malamud Smith's new book? "An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make their Way to Mastery." I have been reading it these past few days, sheltering myself from the snow. Reminding myself as I read the book, and check in with your blog, that I have company.

    1. Shaun - thanks for your note. I guess there's also this feeling - it's too late to turn back. But, oh the creative life has its ups and downs. :) Congrats on your manuscript - that's a good feeling, nearing the end.

      And thanks for the book title - I"m looking into it, and appreciate you mentioning it. You're good company.


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