Fierce, unfallow, always bleak,
my mind, when it starts looking back
at what is older than one week,
is unprepared for the attack
presented by the past. Fun-shy,
I find but little solace in
my poetry, in which I try
to sublimate my thoughts of sin.
Verses cannot make up for
the absence of what I most lack,
the penetration to their core
of thoughts I’ve chosen to hold back,
and those emotions that, suppressed,
make my imagination bleak,
unfallow as a milkless breast,
and fiercer than an unturned cheek.
Writing about the third-persona narrator in J.M. Coetzee’s new novel, “Summertime,” Katha Pollitt writes in the NYT, December 31, 2009 (“Any Relation to Biography Is Pure Fiction (in a Way)”):
So what kind of a man was the secretive young writer? To his former lover Julia, he was “not fully human,” “like a glass ball,” sexually “autistic” — creepily, he insists that they make love by acting out the instrumental lines of Schubert’s string quintet. His earth-motherly cousin Margot, with whom he shared an intense childhood bond, describes him as cold, possessing a “Mister Know-All smile” and uses an Afrikaner vulgarism meaning lacking in determination. Adriana, a fiery Brazilian dancer, is still irritated to have been pursued by this “soft,” unmanly man. Sophie, his colleague and lover at the university, is similarly underwhelmed: “I never had the feeling I was with an exceptional person, a truly exceptional human being.” Another colleague, Martin, says of him that as a teacher, as a friend, “Something was always being held back.” Readers of Mr. Coetzee’s books know what that something was: the fierce, bleak, imaginative life running in his head. The notebook fragments with which the book begins and ends give us the man the interviewees didn’t know, the one who writes in the third-person voice, at once flat and intense and remorseful, of “Boyhood” and “Youth.” There, he portrays South Africa pitilessly: the staggering violence, the aridity and complacency of Afrikaner culture, the moral corruption of apartheid.