In all of Ján Ondruš’ work it seems that the tragedy of life, on the one hand, and its beauty, on the other, as opposites are successfully incorporated into his poetry and become the essence of its structure, are in a state of continual impatience. Tragedy, in fact, keeps following the poet. It is his feeling, his spiritus movens and his spiritus agens. One would hence agree with Ján Štrasser’s view that “over Ján Ondruš’ poetry I even painfully realized – how unstable the phrase understanding poetry is. I do not know if we shall succeed in disclosing the rational nucleus in Ondruš’ poetry, but even that is not my greatest concern. I could nevertheless say that I identify with this poetry. It is primarily a voice speaking from me about me. His poetry affects me as a piece of fine art or music. In this identification the contact between me and the poet is established, regardless of the fact that I cannot exactly explain what that contact is based on.”10F
Individual motifs and images in Ondruš’ poetry are repeated and their quite intense frequency, that is, their periodical recurrence may be noted. That is underlined by the maxim that all of Ján Ondruš’ opus is marked by the sign of circling, by the circle. It is not, of course, a matter of its shape, but primarily its characteristics. It is a circle with no beginning and no end, an eternal recurrence; it is a question of what we find within the circle and outside, hence a question of cyclicity. Or as Zoltán Rédey states: “The Ondrušian subject, prone as he is to see threat, fist, danger, or potential violence in everything, is as prone to find in everything a source of enjoyment. As opposed to the often mentioned tragedy of Ondrušian loneliness we are hereby presented with a hedonistic aspect of Ondrušian loneliness as well.”11F Ján Ondruš is a poet of the profound, hence also tragic, life knowledge, as well as of the individual, therefore also universally resounding creative imagination. This is the style in which his lyricism is conceived, in which resignation, sadness and fatigue, preceding misery, predominate. In the end, nevertheless, the tragedy of participation in life increases, the poet proposes an application of the ontological view of human identity and establishes the omnipresence of disease which “he checks if it works both ways: could there be disease without man or man without disease? Is man the inevitable sufferer and bearer of the cross?”12F Disease and tragedy permeate the pores of all human activities, and Ondruš also finds them in the state of vis-à-vis with himself: he encounters them “in my place, in my time” (from V stave žlče). The tragedy of participation in life takes other shapes, but it never the form of self-pitying gloom or pathetic dolorism.
In Ján Ondruš’ poetry the contents of the notions of man and world are emptied. Man is lost, hidden behind the objects which are oftentimes smaller than him so that he becomes barely discernible:
… so many people placed under every cupboard, in every
Apple, in every bread oven,
In the noose of the proposal…
And they can no longer be seen, they hide under
The pot, in both slippers, behind the index finger […]
They all sit behind it, with a wide grin
Merging with light and impossible to see,
To recognize, to find their features
Look, the world is gone.
It is therefore also understandable that the cross as the predominant metaphorical element in that direction does not necessarily represent disease, but might also be seen as an idea beyond time, as a spiritual relation, as a metaphysical being frugal with its sovereignty. Hence with the help of the attributes of metaphorical separation and association of illness and man one arrives at the final allegory. With such a complex metaphor Ondruš also manifests the real ambivalent character of disease. Its intensity may create such a pressure so that illness is seen as an independent being governing another being. Nevertheless, the contrast that the cross triumphs, and the lie loses strengthens man’s strategic position in this mutual matching of strengths. If disease can be defeated, that is, lose, even if it only happens occasionally, it is not as absolute as the continual recurrence of its dominance is intended to assure us.
This poetry wants to remind us that regardless of how human civilization might be developed and improved, it could never disconnect from man since it is part of his being. This is poetry of life as experienced in all its multitude and width; hence the views of it filled with admiration and melancholy. In the foreground of Ondruš’ verses are the existential states of separation and contradiction of being resulting from the workings of annihilating forces. It is, after all, also poetry of the frustration transcending itself and becoming a superior expression, becoming art. Ondruš’ lyrics are in fact an expression of the endeavour to firmly grasp the complex situations of human existence. Thus, loneliness offers purity to Ondruš’ protagonist. He is for that reason the most authentic when he is alone, at home (a category which in all great poets acquires a universal, timelessly referential and more cosmopolitan position: meaning – everywhere and nowhere). Loneliness as a sickening feeling saves the Ondrušian protagonist from the emotional surges inevitably realized in communication with other people. Paradoxically, therefore, his own “homelessness,” his “exile – is his most personally, intimately experienced home.”13F Loneliness becomes a prerequisite, a necessity, and an escape for authorial uniqueness.
10. ŠTRASSER, J.: Zápas o seba. In: Slovenské pohľady, ch. 5, 1966, pp. 28-31.
11. RÉDEY, Z.: Ján Ondruš. Bratislava: Kalligram, 2004, p. 396.
12. GAVURA, J.: Ondrušove hľadania ideálu (V stave žlče 1968 a 1966). In: S dlaňou v ohni (Básnické dielo Jána Ondruša a hodnotové kritériá v literatúre). Bratislava: Studňa 2002, p. 115.
13. RÉDEY, Z.: Ján Ondruš. Bratislava: Kalligram, 2004, p. 401.