from To Duration
Scott Abbott, trans.
Yes, this task from which, over the years, duration springs,
it is fundamentally inconspicuous,
not worth talking about
but worth holding on to through writing:
for it must be my main task.
It must be my true love.
And I must,
if the moments of duration are to spring from me
and give my stiff face a form
and insert a heart into my empty breast,
practice, year in and year out,
Staying at the task,
the one dear to me, the chief one,
impeding, thus, its obsolescence,
I feel then, perhaps,
the shudder of duration,
incidentally each time,
while cautiously shutting a door,
while carefully peeling an apple,
while crossing a threshold attentively,
while bending down for a thread.
The poem to duration is a love poem.
It is about love at first sight
followed by many such first sights.
And this love,
its duration not in any deed,
much more in a before and after—
through love’s altered sense of time
the before was also after
and the after also before. . . .
Peter Handke, better known for his novels, plays, and essays than for his poetry, published his long poem To Duration in 1986, the same year his novel Die Wiederholung (Repetition) appeared. The poem is a response to Henri Berson’s thinking about time, as in the Bergson quote that acts as the book’s epigraph: “No image will replace the intuition of duration, but many different images, taken from the ranks of very different things, might, working together in their movements, guide consciousness to the very place where a certain intuition is conceivable.”
In his nomination of the translation To Duration as the Best Book of 2015 in the Times Literary Supplement, novelist and critic Gabriel Josipovici wrote the following: “That the same person could write Offending the Audience, Essay on Tiredness, Repetition and this poem is quite remarkable. Handke is one of the shining literary lights of our time and it says a great deal about the insularity of culture that this profound and beautiful poem has had to wait almost thirty years to appear in English.”