He is buried there.
Joseph Brodsky is buried in the Isola di San Michele
cemetery in Venice.
He is not alone. Other writers, other artists, also chose to rest there. Diaguilev, Pound, and Stravinsky among others keep him company.
Knowing this while reading his very personal ode to Venice acquires an eerie poignancy and adds a premonitory elegiac tint to his prose. I say it is highly personal because this text does not belong to any particular genre. It is a mixture between a lyrical chant, an analytical and descriptive essay that touches on history and current politics, and a series of loose vignettes of what would have been Brodsky’s memoirs, the memoirs of an exile, of someone who knows that a change of place ruptures one’s life.
The most beautiful parts are the lyrical, because, in waves, they come and go like clear water and mark the pulse of the poet. When the waves retreat they leave drier matter-of-fact passages that shake you and wake you up from the lolling dream. Because Brodsky’s mind is sharp and acute and he shows it in many of his observations -- seen from a side glance.
But the water comes back.
And we learn that his fascination and obsession with Venice was born, in a manner that would have enchanted the Surrealists, out of kitsch objects from his Russian childhood as well as out of a run-of-the-mill book. But then they grew into a fully developed recognition of what beauty is. And love. Since for him love is an affair between reflection and its object. As mirrors, reflection and water are the stuff of our eyes, Brodsky then proposes the most engrossing declaration I have read so far of the power and nature of the eye when searching for beauty. The eye is the most autonomous of our organs because its attention is always addressed to the outside. Except in a mirror, the eye never sees itself. And the eye looks for safety and this it finds it in art, in Venetian art.
And thus he finishes:
Water equals time and provides beauty with its double. Part water, we serve beauty in the same fashion. By rubbing water, this city improves time’s looks, beautifies the future. That’s what the role of the city in the universe is. Because the city is static while we are moving. Because we go and beauty stays. Because we are headed for the future, while beauty is the eternal present.
And the city and its water left in Brodsky their mark and as he thought that love is a one way street that is where he has stayed.
PS. I wish to thank Geoff Wilt for drawing attention on this book to me.