On Monday July 6, 2020 28 participants, including a handful of newcomers, came together from all across the USA, as well as Canada, New Zealand, UK, and India.
The text we read together was “Bring Me the Sunflower So I Can Transplant It” by Eugenio Montale. After listening to two different voices read the poem aloud in English, we experienced the original text in Italian, listening for differences in sounds, word choices, and musicality. We were moved to examine the translation and the complexity of the process. For example, what changes for a reader when a sunflower is said to “show all day to the blue reflection of the sky the anxiety of its golden face” and what happens when the flower is seen to “lift the craving of its golden face to the mirroring blue”?
In our close reading, we paid attention to “plant” and “transplant”, which we observed are both nouns and verbs. In doing so, we looked at the “special language of place”, as highlighted by one of our participants: the art of planting and transplanting involves a dialogue among the plant in question, its roots, the new and the old soil, and the hands that are placing a living thing in the earth. One person read the text as implying: people, as well as flowers, put down roots.
Discussions open up when participants share their different reader-responses. It is always incredibly humbling for us to remember that there are as many interpretations as there are participants in the room. In particular, we focused on the “I” and “you” in the poem, and the varied shades the word “bring” can have. This evening, one participant heard the poem’s “I” as making a “demand of the you” and explained that seeing, in the Italian version, the familiar form “tu” caused her to sense a power imbalance between the one “who commands to bring a sunflower” and the one “who will do the work of planting”. Another participant focused on contrasts in the poem—beauty and darkness appearing in proximity – and the interpretation of “bring me” more as a “gentle plea” than a command. Another person shared that the poem made her think of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers (which we readily projected alongside paintings by Klimt and Van Gogh). The poem’s mention of “anxiety”, she said, brought her back to Van Gogh’s struggles with anxiety, and the parallels between his love of light and Montale’s “sunflower sent mad with light.”
After the group was prompted to write for 4 minutes, beginning with the words “Bring me…” three readers read their work. Listeners reflected back the beauty, generosity, grace, and gratitude expressed in the writing. The first piece of writing expressed a man’s deep yearning for his children living thousands of miles away. “Bring me” was repeated three times in ways that resonated with many in the group as we continue to find ourselves—due to the coronavirus—isolated and separated from those we love. The second text was an invitation for an open exchange between a giver and a receiver: an exchange of lies, secrets, wrongdoings “that have not been told before”. In this piece there was not only an offering to listen but also a confession of one’s own failings. The ending suggested that an outcome of such an exchange might be that both could feel “lighter”. A fellow participant highlighted how the writing described “what we love in a good conversation”: openness, desire for dialogue, a determination to openly share what we tend to hide. The third reader asked to be brought the light and color of a sunflower in order to share with the universe.
In these times, when current events and fear of contagion lead us to reconsider terms of sharing, touching, passing on, we thoroughly enjoyed sharing this time with our participants, and – in the words of one of our participants – “sharing the contagion of what transpires in our community”. We left each other with the image of “a smiling sunflower”, “grace and reminders of what is important” and “rich metaphors of transformation and optimism”. We hope this new week brings you all a similar richness of colors, experiences, and community sharing.
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Please join us for our next session Wednesday, July 8th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.
We look forward to seeing you again soon!
Bring me the sunflower so I can transplant it – Eugenio Montale Bring me the sunflower so I can transplant it here in my own field burned by salt-spray, so it can show all day to the blue reflection of the sky the anxiety of its golden face. Darker things yearn for a clarity, bodies fade and exhaust themselves in a flood of colors, as colors do in music. To vanish, therefore, is the best of all good luck. Bring me the plant that leads us where blond transparencies rise up and life evaporates like an essence; bring me the sunflower sent mad with light.