There is what there is, and there isn’t what there isn’t—so much for what; as for where, consider the things that are there, but not here. They are behind, or around the corner, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, imperceptible, inaccessible, ideal, suggested. How influential they may be! Democritean atoms (constitutive of the world); Platonic forms (casting a world of shadows); things in themselves (responsible for things natural); empty physical fields (space qualitative and quantitative). The past (gone, inescapable) and the future (not come, inevitable): what presses us behind, where we don’t see, or draws us ahead, where we’re not looking.  Whatever is under the surface, pictures for the mind’s eye, matter for intuition,….  “That which is properly thought, image, sentiment is always, in some way, a production of absent things.”

As I was going up the stair
       I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today!
       I wish, I wish he’d stay away!


There means here, on the stair, in the way, subject to jostling—for that he wasn’t available, yet he was there to be met, somehow, and become the object of repeated experience, of anticipation and wish.  Quite other than old Salamano’s dog on the staircase, the one that is annoyingly “always there,” toujours là—until one day he is there no longer, and has become a source of despair.

       Los invisibles átomos del aire
en derredor palpitan y se inflaman.

       The invisible atoms of the air
quiver and take fire all around.


Unlike the physicist’s atoms, these cannot become visible; they are intrinsically invisible.  They vibrate like his; but they also burst into flame, when Amor passes by.  So these atoms, by nature beneath perception, are sensitive to that god, who is known only by his effects—and who is definitively here neither for men nor for gods, according to the wise woman of the Symposium, but intermediate, “between mortal and immortal,” as much a stranger as the Epicurean gods of the inter-worlds.

With philosophic Eros it is the atoms of intellect that take fire.  It seems that what was appearance, looks, for the fleshly eye, become forms for the eye of the soul, so that the visible moves out of reach.  But Homer’s bright surface already involves his depths: his sun rises “from softly-gliding deep-flowing Ocean,”

ἐξ ἀκαλαρρείταο βαθυρρόου Ὠκεανοῖο,

sonorous line in which the unseen responds to the seen.  Ocean itself is never here, always implied, like Ortega’s forest.

El bosque verdadero se compone de los árboles que no veo.  El bosque es una naturaleza invisible. … El bosque está siempre un poco más allá de donde nosotros estamos. …  Los árboles no dejan ver el bosque, y gracias a que así es, en efecto, el bosque existe.  La misión de los árboles patentes es hacer latente el resto de ellos.

The real forest is composed of the trees I do not see.  The forest is an invisible nature. … The forest is always a little beyond where we are. … The trees do not let one see the forest, and in fact it is thanks to this that the forest exists.  The mission of the trees that are patent is to render the rest of them latent.


—Mere ghost stories, be it said, are tedious, unless the ghost is fleeting, like Hamlet’s, which has the tact to leave the stage to the living, or like nighttime presences in the chill dawn.

Comme un visage en pleurs que les brises essuient,
L’air est plein du frisson des choses qui s’enfuient.

Like a face in tears that the breezes are drying,
The air is filled with the shivering of the things that are fleeing.

Quoted (in order):

Valéry, Poésie et pensée abstraite (Poetry and Abstract Thought)
Mearns, “Antigonish”
Camus, L’Étranger (The Stranger)
Bécquer, Rimas (Rhymes/Verse) X
Plato, Symposium 202d
Odyssey 19.434
Ortega y Gasset, Meditaciones del Quijote: Meditación preliminar (Meditations on Quixote: Preliminary Meditation)
Baudelaire, “Le Crépuscule du matin” (“Morning Twilight”)