Excerpt from the Slovak Academic Monograph Entitled
Metaphorical Models of Figurativeness in the Poetry of Ján Ondruš
Ján Ondruš has got a permanent and unique place in the body of Slovak poetry of the second half of the 20th century. His poems moved the domestic creative atmosphere and led to changes. Nevertheless, the movement of said poetry, in its extreme positions, could not have been accomplished without the immanent essential loss in its poetics. As a legitimate response to the pragmatic specialization of the function of poetry and as a defensive reaction against the leveling of creation, Ondruš’ poetry is associated with the establishment of a “new awareness in Slovak literature in the 1960s.” Ján Ondruš’ poetic results are evident in the field of “complex” departures of Slovak poetry from its forms theretofore that had a lasting effect on the overall character of the subsequent domestic poetic production. Ján Ondruš firmly believed that he must never serve the political purposes or public recommendations of the given age. He had to remain free, regardless of the fact that in his early stages one might note a certain level of “implicit engagement,” when in his poem he includes German soldiers (Prehĺtanie vlasu – Prvý mesiac, Nemecká prehliadka 1944, p. 29) and Auschwitz (Šialený mesiac, Osvienčimský oheň, Osvienčimský popol, pp. 65, 67, / Prvý mesiac, pp. 26, 27). Either way, “in Ján Ondruš’ debut collection – Crazy Moon (Šialený mesiac), searching for a relic of schematism, we find only two poems on Auschwitz, and even there one could barely speak of a certain conformism with the spirit of the age (perhaps only in the verses “and so/ life remained”); but it is primarily a question of meditation on life and death that is not usable for political purposes1F. It is therefore also true since “the author was denied certain rights during the totalitarian regime, and I understood that as a safeguarding protective shield for the sense of his poetry had always been remarkably anti-totalitarian, and in the end – the author expressed it through highly encrypted images2F.”
Certainly, Ondruš’ opus cannot be defined or assessed in a hurry and solely on the grounds of what at first look it has to offer, of what we may hold against him or what we cannot draw out of him. The character of this poetry is complex, above all, contradictory, dynamically conflicted, as poetry rousing disparate constellations can often be. The evocative movement of Ondruš’ poem allows for multiple interpretations whereby surpassing even the boldest prospects of the readers’ expectations. The Ondrušian poetic opus in its multifaceted and unbalanced forms, into which not only the outward semiotic shapes fall, but also the essential gestures and demeanours, the character of his lyrical self, his life in communion with himself, with things and people – allows for contradictory interpretations. Everything in it fluctuates, returns, and determinedly steers toward the other side of its boundary. Ján Ondruš’ output is difficult to understand, in its essence often and immediately quite inaccessible. We take the liberty to state that the predominant feature of his later poetry is the free word flow which incites the feeling of trust within the competence of the spirit. Ondruš’ poetry itself represents a spontaneous fulfilment of his creative manifesto: many associations, new syntagms, impossible metaphors, a clash of emotions, but also a clear creative awareness. Ján Ondruš knows that one of the greatest poetic routes is “to look outside, to find within.” The unity of an Ondrušian poem, however, is not based on the identity or on the proclivity of the poetic and logical principles, but primarily on the merger of the states of tension, on the balance of expression, demeanour, associations, images, sequences, well-founded thoughts and metaphors. It is not a union of the various elements into a homogenous mass of equalities, but a union by disguise, exclusion, simplification, reduction, mutual opposition of expression and demeanour, a union by employing the subtractive process. Hence, we are primarily dealing here with a specific unity of the dramatic process based on authenticity and incongruence, on the polysemy of its components.
The mark that Ján Ondruš left on the Slovak poetry of the second half of the 20th century is deep and quite visible. His insight is great and worth following. Before taking preference to any part of his opus as a model for analysis and interpretation, a global projection of his lyrics is due, whereby one should summarize and sublimate the heretofore positions and views on his inner evolution, his transformations, as well as his differentiations of the personal, specifically marked poetic models. Attention seems to have been shifted from the poet’s world to his poetic technique. That was the general direction, even though there were several exceptions worth noting. Ján Ondruš is a poet for whom a crucial source of poetry is the unique inner experience. His poetry “represents a paradoxically radical showdown with the traditional lyrical sentiment and the culturally high aestheticized dolorism, such as in Modernism at the beginning of the 20th century was continually cultivated by poetic symbolism and post-symbolism3F. Ondruš created a world of his own in which he could move freely, but also allow us to peep into it. That world is difficult to decipher from the outside since it is painted too individually. Hence, what connects the poet to the reader is the intimacy of feeling. The authorial subject – the self is bounded not merely against the reading public, but also against the multiple shapes of this self. The newer authorial self (the edited texts) is in opposition with the previous authorial self, but, at the same time, the resultant form of the newer self cannot exist without the previous self. The authorial self creates a concept of ideal experience, ideal existence. Ideal in this case would be fulfilled, that is, a full, dedicated, free way of life, but in Ján Ondruš it is important that this ideal being is sometimes finished, finite, immersed into its own self. Even though life itself brings to Ján Ondruš’ subject situations in which he “fosters defence instincts,” the experience is insufficient and puts obstacles on the path, frustrating his mission to finally know freedom. The author does not need this being for himself as man, but for himself as poet – it is a being in which choice appears in language. By using “absolutized” freedom, Ondruš chooses what he wants to present and the way he wants to present it in. He selects from the order of elements aimed at his individuality. He must constantly discover such element since he needs to have a prospect of invisible things even in things that are quite visible.
1. MIKULA, V.: K niektorým reziduám schematizmu v postschematickom období slovenskej poézie. In: BraSlav 2. Zborník z medzinárodnej slavistickej konferencie. Bratislava, FF UK 2003, p. 298.
2. KOVALČÍK, V.: Pohľad na Kľak. In: Literika, 1, ch. 3-4, 1996, pp. 127-128.
3. MATEJOV, F.: Askéza textu (Skica k lektúre poézie J. Ondruša). In: Krížu je člověk ľahký. Bratislava, 1997, pp. 29-30.