A Translation of Apollinaire’s “Zone”

I love this poem, “Zone.”  It opens Guillaume Apollinaire’s 1913 book Alcools. It was the last poem he wrote for that book, and in some ways it inaugurated the modern era of poetry, with its use of dislocations, collage, lack of punctuation, and fluid identity.  It is a poem of huge gaiety and vitality, and also of a despair about death—“your Zone with its long crazy line of bullshit about death,” as Allen Ginsberg had it, in his poem “At Apollinaire’s Grave.”  The narrative structure of the 155-line poem is a 24-hour walk in Paris lasting from one sunrise to the next.  Its subjects are the things seen and thought about in that walk, including automobiles, detective stories, billboards, a church, immigrants, Jesus, faith and loss of faith, travel, love, and many other things.  As he said in his great 1917 manifesto “The New Spirit and The Poets,” poetry should include the world:  “In the realm of inspiration, their [the poets] liberty cannot be less than that of a daily newspaper which on a single sheet treats the most diverse matters and ranges over the most distant countries.”  

The poem is written in loose couplets, which I and every other translator tend to ignore, the significant exception I’ve seen being the incredible effort by Samuel Beckett, who uses rhymes and slant-rhymes in parts of his translation to give a sense of Apollinaire’s language.  It is a beautiful, fascinating, and to my ear, a not quite successful effort.  But it stands well with the many other excellent translations of the poem, by Roger Shattuck, Ron Padgett, Donald Revell, and more recently, the highly praised piece by the poet David Lehman.  All of these are terrific, but in each I found some bit of language or usage that seemed inauthentic or that struck my ear as wrong.  Thus, my translation.  I’d be surprised if readers do not react the same way to my effort as I have to the efforts of others, finding flaws in the language translation or bad aesthetic choices made in some of the lines.  That’s okay.  I don’t claim my translation is better than others, only that it is different, and that it solves some of the problems that I had identified in the work of others.  In any case, I encourage every reader to do his or her translation of the poem.  It’s the best way to see first hand its stunning beauty and inventiveness.  

A few words here about Apollinaire’s life:  He was born in Rome in 1880 to a Polish mother and named Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki.  He never knew his father or his father’s name, but throughout his life improvised a series of biographical fathers, making himself variously a bastard of princes, prelates, a pope, and others.  He came to adulthood in Paris, where the culture was then in a moil of reinvention, and became a member of an incredibly creative circle of artists and writers that included Picasso, Jarry, Max Jacob, and many others.  He saw, perhaps before many of them, the significance of the changes taking place, and invented the names, pedigrees, and principles for the revolutions of Surrealism and Cubism.  He opened his own poetry to new techniques of collage, polyphony, the shifting self (reflected in “Zone” in the shifting pronoun changes between “I” and “you”).  In 1911 he was falsely arrested and imprisoned for six days for the theft of the Mona Lisa, an experience reflected in a couplet in the poem:  “You are in Paris before the judge / Arrested like a common criminal,” and also in his poem “In La Sante.”  The false arrest was an incident in which his life seemed to him to take on improvisational qualities of fantasy and improbability. (The actual thief was Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian house painter caught two years later when he tried to sell the painting in Florence.)  In a later biographical change, in 1916 he joined the French army for World War I, and was wounded in the head while reading a literary magazine in a wartime trench.   Discharged, he returned to Paris, and began a round of prolific activity, publishing erotic novels, fiction, and poetry, editing avant-garde literary journals, writing the play The Breasts of Tiresias, delivering the manifesto “The New Spirit and Poets,” writing the poetry collection calligrammes.  In many ways his whirlwind of activity in support of the arts, the invention of new ways of writing poetry, and his constant effort in publicizing the work of his friends is much like that of his contemporary Ezra Pound. By 1918 he had become  the foremost critic of his age, reviewing art, literature, theater, and ballet as a contributor to leading journals and newspapers.  In May, 1918 he married Jacquline Kolb in a love-match that by all accounts made bride and groom extremely happy.  But his health was failing from the war-wound and the subsequent operations.  Only a few months later, in November 1918, two days before the Armistice, he died of the Spanish flu.  He is reported to have said, on his deathbed, “I want to live!  I still have so many things to say!”  

“Zone” is considered by many to be his greatest work.  I agree, though I would add as among his greatest works “The Pretty Redhead” and “Le Point Mirabeau,” the latter also included in Alcools.  These are wonderful poems, and share the same robust vitality and risk-taking as Zone.  

I mentioned above that my translation differs from others.  I should note some of the differences.  The biggest one is in the final line, soleil cou coupé, which is difficult in any case to translate, with its non-duplicatable French language pun:  cou (“neck”) is an abbreviated form of coupé (“cut”), and as at least one translator (Lehman) has pointed out, the relation between the words suggests the beginning of sun rising at dawn when it is looks as if beheaded by the horizon. Other translations ope this line include“Decapitated sun—” (Meredith), “The sun a severed neck” (Shattuck), “Sun corseless head” (Beckett), “Sun     slit throat” (Anne Hyde Greet), “Sun neck cut” (Mandell), “Sun cut throat” (Padgett) and “Let the sun beheaded be” (Lehman).  None of these are satisfactory, nor am I entirely content with my own “The sun now only a half-severed neck,” which, though it includes the word associations, and perhaps maintains some of the shock of the original phrase, loses its necessary compression.  My other major change in here is in the treatment of the “flaming glory of Christ,” which refers to the halo around the Christ.  I reversed that line with the one following in order to make all refer to the halo, and in order to smooth out the English.  There are other minor changes, but these are more in the form of choices among options for translations.  They are easy enough to discern by comparing this to any of the other available versions online or in books.  

I hope readers find this translation useful and fun, and that it takes them back to the original French of the poem. 


You’ve had enough of that old world at last

O Eiffel Tower shepherd this morning the bridges are a bleating flock 

All this Greek and Roman antiquity has exhausted you

Even the automobiles are antiques
Only Religion seems entirely fresh 
Simple like airport hangers

O Christianity in all Europe only you are not antiquated
The most modern European is you Pope Pius X
But what about you whom the windows watch 
Too ashamed to enter a church and confess
You read handouts catalogues posters all crying out 
That here is poetry for this morning here are newspapers for prose
Here are 25-cent detective story thrillers 
Portraits of famous men a thousand other assorted titles

This morning I saw a pretty street whose name I forget
Shining and clean like a sun’s clarion melody
Executives and workers and beautiful secretaries
Pass here four times a day from Monday morning to Saturday night
The siren wails three times each morning
An angry bell barks around noon
Lettering on signs walls and billboards 
Shrieks like parrots
I love the grace of this industrial street
Located in Paris between Aumont-Thieville street and the avenue des Ternes

How young this street is and you only a child
Your mother dresses you in blue and white
You are very pious with your oldest friend René Dalize
You like nothing so much as church ceremonies
It is nine o’clock the gas glows low blue you secretly leave the dormitory
You pray all night in the college chapel
Where the flaming glory of Christ’s halo turns for ever
Like an amethyst eternal adorable and profound 
It is the beautiful lily we all cultivate
It is the red-headed torch the wind cannot extinguish 
It is the pale and ruddy son of the sorrowing mother
It is the tree thick with the foliage of prayers
It is the double gallows of honor and of eternity
It is a six-pointed star
It is God who dies on Friday and rises on Sunday
It is the Christ who soars in the sky higher than any aviator
Who breaks the world altitude record

Christ pupil of my eye
Twentieth century pupil he knows how to do it
And this century changes into a bird and rises in the air like Jesus
The devils in the abyss raise their heads to look at it
They say he imitates Simon Magus of Judea
They shout that he knows how to steal call him thief 
Angels hover around him the lovely flyer 
Icarus Enoch Elijah Apollonius of Tyana
They float around the first airplane
They let pass those who carry the Holy Eucharist
The priests who rise eternally in raising the host
The airplane lands at last without folding its wings
The sky fills with millions of swallows
Hawks come crows hawks owls
Ibis flamingoes and storks from Africa
The Roc celebrated by story tellers and poets
Holding in its claws Adam’s skull the first head
And the eagle from the horizon with a great cry
From America the tiny humming-bird
From China the long supple pihis
Which have only one wing and fly in pairs
The dove immaculate spirit
Escorted by the lyre bird and the ringed peacock
The phoenix re-engendering itself from its flames
Veiling everything for a moment with its fiery ashes 
Sirens leaving their perilous straits
Arrive singing beautifully all three of them
And everything including eagle phoenix and Chinese pihis
Making friends with our flying machine

Now you walk through Paris alone in the crowd
Herds of bellowing buses roll by near you
The anguish of love tightens your throat
As if you could never be loved 
In the old days you would enter a monastery
You are ashamed when you catch yourself saying a prayer
You mock yourself your laughter bursting out like hell fire
Sparks gilding the bottom depths of your life
It’s a picture hung in a dark museum
Sometimes you have to look at it closely

Today as you walk the women of Paris are bloodsoaked
It was and I do not like to remember this it was the decline of beauty

Surrounded by fervent flames Notre Dame looked at me in Chartres
The blood of your Sacred Heart flooded me in Montmartre
I am sick of hearing the blessed words
The love I suffer is a shameful disease
And my image of you survives in insomnia and anguish
Always near you this image which is passing

Now you are on the shore of the Mediterranean
Under lemon trees that flower all year
You go sailing with your friends 
One from Nice one from Menton and two Turbiasques
We watch in fear the octopus from the depths 
And the fish swimming in algae are images of our Saviour

You are in the garden of an inn near Prague
You feel very happy a rose is on the table
And instead of writing your story in prose you watch
The bug sleeping in the heart of the rose

Horror to see yourself drawn in the agates of St. Vitus
You were sad enough to die that day 
You looked like Lazarus crazed by the sudden light
The hands of the clock go backwards in the Jewish quarter 
And you go back slowly in your life
Climbing to Hradchin and listening at night
To Czech songs in taverns

Here you are in Marseilles amid the watermelons

Here you are in Koblenz at the Hotel of the Giant

Here you are in Rome sitting under a Japanese medlar tree

Here you are in Amsterdam with a girl you find beautiful but who is ugly
She is to marry a student from Leyden
We rent rooms in Latin Cubicula locanda
I remember I stayed there three days and then as many more in Gouda

You are in Paris before the judge 
Arrested like a common criminal

You journeyed in sorrow and joy 
Before you learned that the world lies and grows old
You suffered from love at twenty and thirty
I lived crazily and wasted my time
You do not dare look at your hands and at every moment I want to sob 
Over you the one I love for everything that has terrified you

Eyes filled with tears you look at those poor emigrants
They believe in God they pray the women nurse their children
Their smell fills the waiting room of the station Saint-Lazare
They have faith in their star like the Magi
They hope to make money in Argentina
And come back to their countries after making their fortune
One family carries a red comforter as you carry your heart 
This quilt and our dreams are both unreal
Some of these emigrants stay here and find lodging
In hovels in the rue des Rosiers or the rue des Ecouffes
I have seen them strolling at night 
Like chess pieces rarely moving 
They are mostly Jews their wives wear wigs
They remain seated bloodless in their shops

You are standing at the zinc counter of a crappy bar
You drink cheap coffee with the rest of the losers

At night you are in a big restaurant

These women aren’t cruel they have problems
Even the ugliest of them has made her lover suffer

She is the daughter of a Jersey City Police Sergeant

Her hands which I have not seen are hard and chapped

I have great pity for the scars on her belly

I humble my mouth offering it to a poor girl who has a horrible laugh

You’re alone as the morning comes
The milkmen rattle their cans in the street

The night departs like a half-caste beauty
False Ferdine or Leah watching

And you drink this burning liquor like your life
You drink it like brandy

You walk toward Auteuil you want to walk home on foot
To sleep among your fetishes from Oceania and Guinea
That are a Christ of another form and another faith
Inferior Christs of dark hopes

Goodbye goodbye 

The sun now only a half-severed neck


A Translation & Notes on Pervigilium Veneris

Pervigilium Veneris


These two wonderful lines in an 85-line odd poem of unknown authorship written between the 1st and 4th centuries have drawn translators from Thomas Parnell to Ezra Pound to Allen Tate to any number of university professors:

Cras amet qui nunquam amati
Quique amavit tras ame.  

They seemed plain enough when I first read them:  and so “Let whoever has not loved, love tomorrow / Whoever has loved, love tomorrow,” was my translation.  Others came up with versions that seem, well, quirky:  Allen Tate’s Tomorrow may loveless, may lover tomorrow make love seems quirkiest, being so nearly incomprehensible, but close in the running is also Now learn ye to love who loved never—­now ye who have loved, love anew! by Arthur Quiller-Couch or Let the loveless love tomorrow, let the lover love again, by J. F. Pobson, M.A., a professor of Greek in the University of Bristol Cambridge.  Tate’s oddness seemed confusing for such an otherwise terrific poet.  Here is his explanation, which I read as him trying to stuff a little too much baggage into his version:  

In the fall of 1942 the refrain of the Pervigilium came back to me and for several days kept running through my head; then I suddenly knew that I ‘had’ it. I had it, that is to say, in language that somewhat resembled English and in a metre that the English language can be written in: plain iambic pentametre, with anapaestic substitutions for the frequent falling rhythms of the original. The Latin is in trochaic septenarii, seven-footed lines with, at the end, an extra syllable which is usually accented, making eight accents; the metre, in fact, of Tennyson’s Locksley Hall, which was actually used by some of the early translators of the Pervigilium. Except for certain special purposes it is an impossible metre in English, for unless the extra accented syllable at the end is managed with great skill the line will break down into units of four and three and sound like a Wesleyan hymn—a high price to pay for metrical fidelity to a foreign original.

Jeepers.  On the bright side, the explanation shows that there is room in the world of translating for many versions, born of many different considerations.  Some translators strive for word-perfect and even scansion or rhyme-perfect versions; these can be admirable, but to my ear too many are like Samuel Johnson’s description of a dog walking on his hind legs: “It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”  Here are others, more than a few at least as quirky as Tate:  

Let whoever never loved, love tomorrow,
Let whoever has loved, love tomorrow.
— Ezra Pound

Let those love now, who never loved before,
Let those who always loved, now love the more.
— Thomas Parnell

Tomorrow may loveless, may lover tomorrow make love.
— Allen Tate

He that never loved before,
Let him love to-morrow!
He that hath loved o’er and o’er,
Let him love to-morrow!
— Unknown, Blackwood magazine, June, 1843.,Vol. LIII

Now learn ye to love who loved never—­now ye who have loved, love anew!
— Arthur Quiller-Couch

Let the loveless love tomorrow, let the lover love again,
— J. F. Pobson, M.A.,

Professor of Greek in the University of Bristol Cambridge

Everyone tries because the originals are so wonderful, and thus tempting, and not just for poets.  Those two lines sent Walter Pater into a sugary overload of many pages in his Marius the Epicurean.  Here is a sample:  

…It was one of the first hot days of March—”the sacred day”—on which, from Pisa, as from [105] many another harbour on the Mediterranean, the Ship of Isis went to sea, and every one walked down to the shore-side to witness the freighting of the vessel, its launching and final abandonment among the waves, as an object really devoted to the Great Goddess, that new rival, or “double,” of ancient Venus, and like her a favourite patroness of sailors. On the evening next before, all the world had been abroad to view the illumination of the river; the stately lines of building being wreathed with hundreds of many-coloured lamps. The young men had poured forth their chorus—

Cras amet qui nunquam amavit,
Quique amavit cras amet—

as they bore their torches through the yielding crowd, or rowed their lanterned boats up and down the stream, till far into the night, when heavy rain-drops had driven the last lingerers home. Morning broke, however, smiling and serene; and the long procession started betimes. The river, curving slightly, with the smoothly paved streets on either side, between its low marble parapet and the fair dwelling-houses, formed the main highway of the city; and the pageant, accompanied throughout by innumerable lanterns and wax tapers, took its course up one of these streets, crossing the water by a bridge up-stream, and down the other, to the haven, every possible standing-place, out of doors and within, being crowded with sight-seers, of whom Marius was one of the most eager, deeply interested in finding the spectacle much as Apuleius had described it in his famous book…. 

In the expression of all this Flavian seemed, while making it his chief aim to retain the opulent, many-syllabled vocabulary of the Latin genius, at some points even to have advanced beyond it, in anticipation of wholly new laws of [114] taste as regards sound, a new range of sound itself. The peculiar resultant note, associating itself with certain other experiences of his, was to Marius like the foretaste of an entirely novel world of poetic beauty to come. Flavian had caught, indeed, something of the rhyming cadence, the sonorous organ-music of the medieval Latin, and therewithal something of its unction and mysticity of spirit. There was in his work, along with the last splendour of the classical language, a touch, almost prophetic, of that transformed life it was to have in the rhyming middle age, just about to dawn. The impression thus forced upon Marius connected itself with a feeling, the exact inverse of that, known to every one, which seems to say, You have been just here, just thus, before!—a feeling, in his case, not reminiscent but prescient of the future, which passed over him afterwards many times, as he came across certain places and people. It was as if he detected there the process of actual change to a wholly undreamed-of and renewed condition of human body and soul: as if he saw the heavy yet decrepit old Roman architecture about him, rebuilding on an intrinsically better pattern. Could it have been actually on a new musical instrument that Flavian had first heard the novel accents of his verse? And still Marius noticed there, amid all its richness of expression and imagery, that firmness of outline he had always relished so much in the composition of [115] Flavian. Yes! a firmness like that of some master of noble metal-work, manipulating tenacious bronze or gold. Even now that haunting refrain, with its impromptu variations, from the throats of those strong young men, came floating through the window.

Cras amet qui nunquam amavit,

Quique amavit cras amet!

—repeated Flavian, tremulously, dictating yet one stanza more.  


Here is some background on the poem:  The authorship is anonymous, and the dating uncertain, meaning that no one is sure who wrote it, or exactly when.  Some scholars believe it to have been written in the reign of Hadrian (A.D. 117–138) by Publius Annius Florus, who was better known as an historian and rhetorician than as a poet. This dating is somewhat wishful, as it relies on when the poem should have been written, because under Hadrian the spring ritual of the Greek cult of Venus Genetrix, whom the poem celebrates as the principle of sexual reproduction in nature, was officially encouraged and given the dignity of a state religion. (The feast survives today as May Day.)  Others see some stylistic features of the poem as similar to poems written later, such as the Eclogues of Nemesianus of Carthage (circa A.D. 285), or fragments of Tiberianus, whose “Amnis Ibat” (around A.D. 350) has a similar but not identical meter and whose subjects are the natural world and the “Pleasant Place.”  The scansion of his poem and Pervigilium is unusual, a trochaic tetrameter, much like Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall” (Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet ‘t is early morn: // Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn), rather than the quantitative arrangement of long and short syllables favored by most Latin poetry at the time.  This point was also made by Alan Tate in his introduction to his translation. Others have noted that this change in metric is historic, signaling a change in sensibility so great as to be the pivot point at which Latin poetry began its change to medieval.  

The poem has survived in two MSS., both corrupt, both perhaps the work of (as one critic says) “two illiterate copyists who—­strange to say—­were both smatterers enough to betray their little knowledge by converting Pervigilium into Per Virgilium (scilicet, by Virgil’):  thus helping us to follow the process of thought by which the Middle Ages turned Virgil into a wizard.” The result of the differences in the poem’s ordering has been a lot of guesswork as to the right arrangement.  

The poem consists of ninety-three verses in trochaic tetrameter, divided into stanzas of unequal length by the refrain Cras amet qui nunquam amavit, / Quique amavit cras amet.   The time of the poem is early spring on the eve of a three-night festival of Venus (April 1–3) in what seems to be Sicily, and it describes the annual awakening of the vegetable and animal world through the intercession of Venus.  This awakening contrasts with the isolation and loneliness of the speaker.   This focus on the natural world in opposition to the corrupt world of the city is also marks a new note in Roman poetry, and is seen by some critics as more evidence of the beginning of the transition from Roman to medieval poetry.  

I have taken some liberties with the structure and arrangement of the work, dropping the goddess superstructure of the work and retaining the spring and the joy.  I have shortened the stanzas, keeping as much as it seems to me moves the poem forward, and focused the result on the refrain.  I take as my aesthetic here a notion that maybe our duty as translators is to deliver not so much a word-perfect result as a poem-perfect one, that sounds similar bells and evokes similar responses in the new culture and new language.  That may make the result less a translation than an imitation.  A great translation can be a great new poem—think of Pound’s Cathay, or Rosetti’s translations of Villon (“But where are the snows of yesteryear?”), or Robert Bly’s versions of Neruda.  I don’t claim such greatness for this translation, only greater readability compared to some of the other translations.  

Pervigilium Veneris 

Spring, & the goddess, a clear sound from the waves; 
& in the groves & hollows, the mating rains,
& in the small houses of the leaves:

Let whoever who has not loved, love tomorrow,
Whoever has loved, love tomorrow

& the blood rising & the ocean foam,
Horses & sand, violence of horses
When the goddess arrives, wave-born in the mating rain:

Let all who have not loved, love tomorrow,
& all who have loved, love tomorrow

For the year’s been like death; & now there are flowers.  
For the year’s been still & gray; & now there is wind.  
How the dew is scattered & the night wind calls,
How the tears about to fall 
Are held, & the blush begins.
Now the stars rain down on cloudless nights, 
& the stiff gestures of married women grow soft.
The rose is wed to the dew, & the pale dresses 
Of flowers open softly at morning, to ocean gems 
& flames, & to the purple of first light, 
Past responsibilities, past care, all 
But Love’s kisses & the rising blood:

Let any who have not loved, love tomorrow,
& any who have loved, love tomorrow.

Now the young girl approaches her father 
That his strictness might waver, 
& the young man at the front door does not hesitate,
& in the grove, the chorus sings, 
& in the field there is constant song.

Let whoever has not loved, love tomorrow
& whoever has loved, love tomorrow

& the goddess rules & gives commands,
That the flower shall be spent in the forest,
That no wild thing come forth but shall be loved, 
& the women seek their lovers, in her honor;
Listen, for the swans grow hoarse in the streams,
& the animals are gentle, with gentle songs.
The birds break their winter silence, & the rains begin.  

Yet there is one song a young girl sings.
& sings so beautifully,
That love seems the reason, not sorrow…
So the tradesman stops in the forest, & is silent, 
& puts down his tools, & is silent; 
& listens as she sings so beautifully 
To no one & to everyone, 
When shall my own spring come, 
& my silence end?

Let whoever has not loved, love tomorrow
& whoever has loved, love tomorrow.

On Andre Breton’s “Free Union”

Free Union (Andre Breton)

My wife with the wood-burning hair
Whose thoughts are summer lightning
Whose waist is the size of an hourglass
Like an otter in the teeth of a tiger
My wife with a mouth of cockade-ribbons
And a bouquet of brightest stars
Whose teeth are the footprints of a white mouse on snow
Whose tongue is amber and polished glass
My wife whose tongue is a stabbed wafer
The tongue of a doll that opens and closes its eyes
With an incredible stone language
My wife whose eyelashes are stick-figures drawn by children
Whose eyebrows are the nests of swallows
My wife whose temples are the slate color of greenhouse roofs
When the windows are completely fogged-up
My wife with the champagne shoulders
And dolphin head fountains under ice
My wife with match-stick wrists
My wife with fingers of chance and the ace of hearts
With fingers of cut hay
My wife with armpits of marten and beechnut
And St. John’s Eve
Of privet and nests of angelfish
With arms of sea foam and river locks
And a mix of wheat and the mill
My wife with rocket legs
With movements of clockwork and despair
My wife with the marrow of elder calves
My wife whose feet are initials
Whose feet are key-rings and the feet of drunk steeplejacks
My wife whose neck is unpearled barley
Whose throat is a Valley of Gold
Whose bed-time encounters are torrents
Whose breasts are of the night 
My wife whose breasts are molehills under the sea
My wife whose breasts are ​​crucibles of rubies
Are ghost breasts of roses under dew
My wife whose belly is an unfolding fan of days
Whose belly is a giant claw belly
My wife with the back of a bird fleeing vertically
With a back of quicksilver
At the other side of the light
With a neck of worn stone and wet chalk
And of a broken glass from which we have just drunk
My wife with basket hips
Hips of luster and arrowheads
And the stems of white peacock feathers
And of insensitive scales
My wife with a backside of sandstone and asbestos
My wife with a back of swans
My wife with the buttocks of spring
With the sex of brilliant iris
My wife with the Sex of Place and Platypus
My wife with the sex of seaweed and old-time sweets
My wife of the sex of the mirror 
My wife with eyes full of tears
With eyes of a violet panoply and magnetic needles
My wife with savanna eyes
My wife with eyes of water for prisoners
My wife with the eyes of forests falling under the ax
My wife with eyes that are the level equal of earth and of water and fire.

—Bob Herz, trans.

André Breton, “L’Union libre” (“Free Union”)

Andre Breton (1896-1966), a French writer, poet, and anti-fascist, deeply influenced many other French poets, including two whose work is included in this issue of the magazine, Yves Bonnefoy and Louis Aragon.  He is known as the founder of surrealism, which he saw as a successor to the revolution launched by Guillaume Apollinaire.  He wrote one of the first Surrealist Manifestos in 1924, in which he defined surrealism as

Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.[

(The larger story in this is that Breton and his group fought for the rights to the term surrealism with another group founded by Yvon Goll.  The rivalry was so fierce that at one point the two men physically fought each other.  Though the quarrel ended with Breton’s victory, surrealism would always be marked by similar fierce fractures, resignations, and excommunications, with each succeeding surrealist having his or her own view of the issue and goals, though all accepted more or less Breton’s definitions.)

Breton’s poem, “L’Union libre” or “Free Union,” was written in the early 1920’s when Breton was developing his practices of automatic writing and “surrealist automatism.” The catalogue-poem, as it became known, was published anonymously in 1921 and later included in Breton’s limited (240 copies) dream, story, and poetry collection Clair de terre (1923, republished in 1931), a title intended to convey the reverse of a lightning strike. 

The “Free Union” title is intended to apply to not only freedom to love in all its forms of praise but also the freedom to associate words and images.  Breton celebrates his wife’s body, from top to bottom and back again, ending with her eyes, in an image train that rebels against and rebuts more conventional or sentimental descriptions as well as any logic of image relation or scene.  It is a very odd and even audacious assortment of images at work here, from wood burning fires and lighting to greenhouses, otters, sandstone, asbestos, broken glass, and many more, connected only by their focus as a description of his wife’s body.  Used in this way, the poem essentially deconstructs her body, making it part of everything, with everything equally a part of her body.  It is not really a personal poem; that it, it is strange that after so many words and images, we don’t know the woman at the end of the poem, or know her name, or even, after all this, what she looks like.  Perhaps we have a sense of the force of her and of her impact on the poet.  Her “wood-burning hair” and thoughts that are “summer lightning” tells us more about the force of her than anything to do with her actual hair or her thinking.  It is odd that these are the first two images that come to the poet’s pen as descriptions of her rather than, say, her voice or her tenderness, or her face.  

Does he love her?  Even that is hard to tell from what we see here, and indeed, the poem seems to be not so much about love or marriage to a particular person (outside the repeated use of the word “my” with “wife,” which is assertion not a showing of evidence) as it is about the use of free language to describe the other, this unnamed person who is the nominal object of the poem.  The commitment to her is there, if anywhere, in the poet’s commitment to the poem, and in the strikingly unusual and sometimes even vulgar images.  It is not a love-poem, in any usual sense; rather it is a poem in which great energy expended on behalf of the other.  Perhaps we can consider it a sort of mating dance without real end, a psalm of admiration and regard, in which the abilities of the poet are on full display in a kind of other-directed showing off, where the beloved in the act of love becomes the point of contact with the surreal unspoiled world of nature—not a person but a process, a roadway to attainment of salvation.  

I’m fascinated by the poem in a kind of push-pull way, attracted and repulsed.  I think Allen Ginsberg got it right in his description of the poem:

His list is about his wife, which should be a serious subject and should, presumably, evoke all sorts of nostalgic and sentimental, or romantic, faithful, or sincere improvisations, but what you get is a real twentieth-century dissonance and absolute reliance on the unconscious. And so it’s a portrait of his wife, sort of Cubist (in the sense of, from a lot of different angles) but, at the same time, absolutely ridiculous, and even ugly at times, and then, at other times, very romantic and exquisite. 

Others have noted that Breton’s method in imagery in other poems is similar to this one, characterized by yoking together different objects, suddenly shifting contexts, and by what might be called syntactic derangement.  These give his poetry the sense of being spontaneous, which it is not.  I should mention that there is a formal poetic construct to the poem.  It is a 16th century blason, a form that traditionally uses metaphors to praise different parts of a woman’s body. The word blason itself shares a root with “emblazon,” to celebrate or adorn with heraldic markings, and “blazon,” the heraldic coat of arms.  A famous and somewhat similar non-French example of such a celebratory poem is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; / Coral is far more red than her lips’ red; / If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; / If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head…” 

“On Writing, Blogging, and Waking Early”


I’m writing today’s name:

Broken footed table. 
Now I carry the table into tomorrow’s garden

Where sparrows walk on it. 

—from a notebook, Finland, 1982

People tend to ask writers when they started writing. I like the question because I can’t  answer it. I remember writing stories about animals when I was approximately four years old and I distinctly recall a moment when in the fifth grade I concocted a short essay about the distressed lives of bumble bees. It was reasonably clever for a child of eleven, so much so that a classmate said I clearly stole the essay from an adult. I began saying I wished to be a writer that same year. There’s nothing like a schoolyard critic to spur ambition.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I really found my writing voice. I studied during my undergraduate years at Hobart and William Smith Colleges where I caught “the poetry bug” and was later fortunate to gain admission to the University of Iowa’s “Writer’s Workshop” where I worked with poets Marvin Bell and Donald Justice.

After graduate school I was awarded a Fulbright to study in Finland where I researched Finnish poetry after World War II—a period of international engagement in Scandinavian writing, much like the burgeoning global awareness in American poetry during the sixties and seventies. Because I was legally blind, my reading (both in Finnish and English) was slow, careful, always difficult. In those years I grew to appreciate necessity in poetry and prose—bad eyes tell you a text should be worth reading. As a Fulbrighter I tried to understand what makes first rate poetry and prose succeed.

My first two books appeared almost simultaneously: a memoir from Dial Press entitled “Planet of the Blind” (a New York Times “notable book”) and a collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Only Bread, Only Light.” Over the course of the last fifteen years I’ve published three books of nonfiction and a second volume of poems “Letters to Borges.” My latest book, “Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey” will appear in March 2018 from Simon & Schuster.

So much for the curriculum vitae. I wake most mornings quite early and drink coffee before the sun has risen and write straight off the top of my head. I never know what I’m doing in advance, or at least I seldom do. For this reason I’ve always loved the painter Jackson Pollock who was famous for painting in trances.

This morning I wrote:

Green feathers in memory—transatlantic shipboard, 1958, old woman’s hat

Snow, apple branches, sky gone gray, the neighborhood quiet

What’s winter for? To remember ocean going hats…

As Jack Kerouac famously said: “first thought, best thought”—which in my case means I can get some freshness on the page without thinking too hard about the coming day and its entrapments.

Yesterday I wrote:

The Half-Finished Garden

Up early, dead father in mind, walking my dog

Thinking: “don’t moan, keep going” 

Last summer’s plantings under snow

How many seasons remain?

Challenge, inventing hopeful names

Along the road—Locust Dharma

Branch to branch Bodhisatva….

Oh I could kiss you Transtromer—

Darkness against my cheek 

Your Haydn, not mine, playing

Under my feet… Piano 

For native country

How does it go?

This poem is a tribute to the Nobel Prize winning Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer and it’s probably not for everyone but it was my thinking at 5 AM. It feels close to being a finished piece. Writing early is my way of savoring the blank page.

And yes this is for me the whole point—the writing has to be gratifying which means surprising. This astonishing thing may be gloomy—dead father in mind; it might be playful—imagining names for rebirth like Locust Dharma. Early the imagination is still quick from a night of dreaming.

Writing prose is much the same. I go at it without regard to what’s coming next. This allows for lyrical discoveries though it’s not so good for adhering to plot. In my first memoir Planet of the Blind I wrote a litany about what life might be like on a planet where only blind people live. These lines came all at once and without rehearsal:

Late at night, awake as usual,  I toy with the idea of a television channel for the blind. At first, I have silly revenge fantasies.  That is, the programming would inflict on the sighted  what the blind invariably experience.  But thinking about television, I remember that the public broadcasting channel is now pioneering a video description service for blind viewers.  Skilled narrators interpose  incisive descriptions of the visual images on the screen between breaks in the soundtrack. Thinking about the tender voices on PBS  and the medium of television, I picture the curve of the earth, and the rising stars, and the stylized rays of broadcast energy moving into space. I imagine that somewhere out there exists a planet of the blind, where the video description from earth might be overheard.  They, in turn, would send back their own descriptive signals. How marvelous to conceive that our first contact with intelligent life would, in fact, be blind life. I invoke the planet at three a.m.:

On the planet of the blind, no one needs to be cured. 

Blindness is another form of music, like the solo clarinet in the mind of Bartok. 

On the planet of the blind, the citizens live in the susurrus of cricket wings 

twinkling in inner space. 

You can hear the stars on the windless nights of June. 

On the planet of the blind, people talk about what they do not see, like Wallace Stevens,  who freely chased tigers in red weather.  

Here, mistaken identities  are not the stuff of farce.  

Instead, unvexed, the mistaken discover new and friendly adjacent arms to touch. 

On this particular planet, the greyhounds get to snooze at last in the tall grass. 

The sighted are beloved visitors, their fears of blindness assuaged with fragrant reeds.  On the planet of the blind, everyone is free to touch faces, paintings, gardens—

even the priests who have come here to retire. 

There is no hunger in the belly or in the eyes. 

And the furniture is always soft.  

Chairs and tables are never in the way. 

On the planet of the blind, the winds of will are fresh as a Norwegian summer.  

And the sky is always between moonshine and morning star. 

God is edible. 

On the planet of the blind self-contempt is a museum. 

When I set out to write Planet of the Blind I had a goal—I wanted non-disabled readers to understand the interiority of disability. Moreover I hoped they’d come away from my book recognizing disability is no impediment to imagination. Poetry was the answer. The book’s first draft was essentially a daily notebook of prose poems written over the course of a year. Later I wrote descriptive prose, or stream of consciousness, or scenes as links between the poetry. Planet of the Blind reads like a memoir but its timbers are entirely made of poetry fragments. I trusted this method and I continue to write prose in this manner.

When blogging became a “thing” around 2005 I decided to launch a blog extension of my first memoir and continue the practice of writing quick poetic prose. I’ve been posting top of the head fragments on the site for ten years now. I post first drafts of poems, found poetry, fist shaking opinion essays, links to other literature sites or disability forums, whatever strikes my fancy. Since I’ve kept notebooks from my college days onward, writing in fragments has been fairly easy. I like the idea that friends and strangers can read my evolving journals. I’ve nothing lurid or sinister in my notebookish life. I am opinionated.

Here’s a sample of my bloggish contrarianism:

Dear cripples and friends of cripples: breath a bit, imagine a moment when contrarian intellectual principles stood for possibility (as opposed to post-modernity’s dystopia and suspicion.) Theodor Adorno: “Intelligence is a moral category.”  One’s stance toward the function of thought shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’re a person with a disability its important to hold some ideas about human progress.

Here I’m thinking of Walter Benjamin’s assertion: “The adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception.” 

In the US we are witnessing an election in which neo-conservative rhetoric about the provision of social services, especially for the elderly and people with disabilities, has been presented as the main ingredient in the Republican party’s reaction against taxes and the role of government. In this way the GOP is arguably the most post-modern political party you can find, for its embrace of trans-national capital, deregulation, the shipment of jobs oversees, and of union busting at home are built on dystopic visions of capital–that is, capital must always be in the hands of those who will grow it–government intervention on behalf of the poor and the infirm is now officially a matter of suspicion.

For suspicion one may substitute cultural relativity–you see those people over there? They’re none of our business. Or, conversely, they’re our business only if they get in the way of business. Bush’s war in Iraq was about business, and Christopher Hitchens got it wrong. It was never a war of liberation. If Adorno was right, and I think he was, the moral category must include an appreciation of people who cannot rightly speak for themselves–especially in the age of trans-national capital and reductionist rhetorics about human progress. In our post-modern age capital is largely concerned with gobbling up the planet’s resources (China in Africa, America at the North Pole).

Against this stands the movement toward human rights–concurrent with the United Nations charter on the rights of people with disabilities. And here at home, tied to the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is unlawful to throw people with physical or mental disabilities into the streets though the people behind Paul Ryan’s plan haven’t fully conceived of the matter. The GOP’s plan to lop 30% off the top of Medicare, slash Medicaid, and then give the rest back to the states is likely illegal. 

And so my argument is that people with disabilities may be holding the moral cards in what is otherwise a dark time. I am not sentimental. I do not believe the goal of life is to lose teeth and still smile. But this is a time when groups like ADAPT and NAMI and Blinded Veterans of America, and Paralyzed Veterans of America, the AAPD, and many other groups, can drive a moral conversation in a cynical age.

Most days I find I cannot separate my disabled reality from my literary ones. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Stephen Kuusisto is co-editor and co-publisher of Nine Mile Magazine and Nine Mile Books. This piece was written for Wordgathering, one of the premier literary journals devoted to disability writing in the U.S.

On Editing:  A Modest Proposal for Poetry Magazines

Here’s something I don’t believe:  That the real purpose of editorial committees is to bring fairness to the process.  I think the real purpose of editorial committees is to spread the blame for failure so that no one has to take responsibility.

Any editor knows that every issue of every magazine is a testament to failure at some level—some wonderful but odd poem not published, some deserving author overlooked, some grand opportunity for comment or article not seized.  It comes with the territory.  If you can’t bear failure, and if you can’t understand that recognizing your failure is the price you pay for improving, then you’d best pick a different occupation or avocation:  you shouldn’t be an editor, you don’t have the nerves or the vision or the stamina for it.

What prompts this reflection is a note on one of the more prominent poetry magazines publishing today, that the editors are trying to speed up their response times, and expect to be able to respond to submissions within seven months.

Seven months!  Are you kidding me?

If seven months is your idea of good editorship, then let me say again:  Go do something else.  Really.  Become a trash collector, or house painter, where the object of your attention is limited to a single object for a specified period of time, and you get to go home at night and not worry about tomorrow until tomorrow; but get the hell out of editing.

I think an editor has several important tasks and constituencies, and that to fail at achieving any one of them is to fail at all of them.

I will, for the sake of this piece, limit myself to discussing editing poetry magazines, but the points made here can apply more broadly to other publications.

There are two main groups that an editor has responsibility to.  One is the readers and one is the contributors.  That’s easy enough to understand.  There are also the funders, the private donors and the grants foundations, and their needs can sometimes be a little eccentric; but by and large while their specific needs are narrower than those of the other two groups (a project, a mission, a celebration, a remembrance are not unusual), their general needs are the same, and those are:  a good product and good treatment of the people who create the content.

So, then, the first of the major editorial goals is the obvious one:  to publish the best work you can lay your hands on.  This may not be limited to what comes over the transom, it may include things you solicit, run into accidentally, see on social media:  source matters less than effect.  Your job is to find the best.

Second goal is to be varied.  In the old old days, when I first started writing and dinosaurs still roamed the planet, it was possible to parody the poems of certain magazines, because every poem in those magazines was basically the same:  same affect, same syllable count, line length, vowel sounds, almost the same metaphors and subject matter.  Everyone knew what a Field poem was, or a Poetry Northwest poem, and to some extent, even a kayak poem.  They had gone beyond the place where magazine poem selections end; they had become genres.

I count that an editorial sin, unless there is a point to the monomania:  One might argue that Blast magazine, with its focus on vorticism, had to limit appearances.  But that magazine, like Bly’s Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies magazine, was not a magazine, it was a crusade, with important points to make.  The purpose of those magazines was not to publish poetry, or at least not merely to publish poetry; the purpose was to change the world.

Goal three is to have a personality.  I can imagine the  reader asking, Hunh?  What I mean is that blandness, sameness, and dull null predictability are the enemy of a good publication.  “It’s just boring” is a criticism I never want to hear about a mag that I edit.  Or, “It’s just like all the rest of the mags around”:  Jeepers!  No!  Be what you are, and be what you are with intention.  Quirky is good, identifiably responsive is wonderful.

Now, where goals one to three have focused on responsibility to readers, the fourth is about the responsibility editors owe to authors.  Its is a big responsibility, and no less in importance than the others, possibly more important, for it makes the others possible at the level of their supposed ethos.

Follow me on this:

I believe that many magazines treat authors like cattle:  Let them wait in line chewing their cuds for their little bit of attention, that may come in a month, two months, seven months, and then give them an acceptance, or reject them in a form letter.

After so much delay, even acceptance feels like an afterthought, like O yeah, about your poems…

This is scandal, and frankly, it is inexcusable.  Either poetry is a great art practiced by people who mean it, or it is the equivalent of doodling on paper during too long committee meetings, distractions from distraction, so that no one, least of all editors, has to take it seriously.

“Seriously,” in these terms, means that you accept that the sender of the work is a professional, who has labored to create the work, and has sent it to your publication, which he or she respects, in order to share it with the world in a proper and appropriate home.

Respect to such an author—and we assume that all authors are like this—means that the author gets a decision quickly, which means in a week if possible, and no more than a month if not.

If that’s not what you believe, then why are you editing a poetry magazine?  Your ethos is that the publication of such work is important, but your practice insults  your ethos.

I don’t suggest that publication is the most important, or any, aspect of the creation of a work—creation is, of course.  But editors need to be modest about this:  They have nothing to do with creation; they are editors, they are editing a magazine whose sole purpose is to bring creative work to a wider readership.

Editors have a responsibility to writers, to treat the works seriously, and expeditiously.  To respond on a professional’s timeline, and not to treat the work on an amateur’s basis, as if it was a matter of giving what little time I have between reading comic books for this minor activity of editing today.

In opting for speed, might you miss something?  Yes, just as in slowness you will miss something, because that’s the nature of editorship:  You will fail.  You cannot help yourself.  And spreading responsibility out through committees of readers doesn’t change that, it only spreads out the failure, and changes the causes of that failure from one person to several.

Diffusion does not solve the problems of inclusion or exclusion, of balance, of merit.  In fact, I could argue that it does the opposite, for it reduces willingness to risk, to chance, to trust one’s own odd and eccentric eureka-moment taste.  It is not too much to say that it is a moral lapse at a personal level.

Finally, this:  I believe that one or two person editorship is much to be desired over committeeship.  Not only because it is potentially faster, but also because it allows for the imprint of a personality or a character—all right, of a taste—on the magazine, identifiable to a single person, than whom if the controlling board  desires a change, it can change.  But at least the board, and the mag’s readers, know who is in charge, and what the taste is, and possibly even the reasons why this or that editorial decision is being made.  I like, that is, the look of a kayak under Hitchcock, of Bly’s multi-named mag, of the old Poetry.  And so I make this assertion:  That single person editorship in this sense is more transparent than editorship by committee.

And I think readers innately and intuitively prefer it.  Our preference in this country for ascribing guilt or blame or praise, is to single out the individual—the corporate chief, the president, the university chancellor.  We do that, I think, because of our sense that acts or failures of morality are always individualized in the end, we believe that they are committed by one person, who may order others, but one person has the responsibility in the end.  No one has to say this to us; it’s how we think, how we talk about such things.  It is an intuitive sense of how things work.  It’s what we prefer, and how we practice our preference in speech and discussion.

What strange mental and moral twist, then, got anyone to think that a committee of anonymities is a better guarantor of merit or balance than an individual?  That a bureaucracy better encapsulates merit than an individual?  That delay is virtue?  It’s a mistake in the logic of morality to think so.  There is a great old Communist era joke:  At a Moscow meeting of the Union of Socialist Writers, one regional representative gives a buoyant report: “In our region, Soviet literature has made astounding progress. Today, we have no fewer than 277 writers producing literature full-time, whereas in backward Czarist times the region could claim only one: Leo Tolstoy.”

This is a plea to dispense with the committees, take up responsibility, and pick up the speed.  The good editor will find the Tolstoy, the Hopkins, the Donne; and the committee will level taste until such notables disappear and never find publication, and we are all the poorer for it.

PS — There is one other argument I understand, which is about overwork, that there are too many submissions to refer all to one or two to three people; but there is a way to handle that problem also, which is to shut down submissions for some months every year to a level that a small group can handle expeditiously.  There.  Problem solved.  Authors still treated with respect.   You’re welcome.

Notes on the One-Line Poem


Why not a one-line poem?

Think about it:  The greatness of poetry as a medium is that it can take in anything, and anything it takes in can become good or even great poetry:  Think of the worlds of things taken in by Whitman and Dickinson, Ginsberg and Hecht and Ammons, Black Mountain, Deep Image, Auden, Gluck, Justice, Collins, Koch, Language poets…  catalogues, and mountains, galaxies of large and small, hot and cold,  and neither this nor that things…

So why not the one-line poem?  What’s the problem?

Well, says the critic in all of us, consider the objections, think of the contraries to be posited, the real distinctions to be made.

For example, consider this question:  In writing a one-line poem, how do you know when you’re done?

The easy answer is that the form tells everything you need to know: write two lines and you’ve blown your charter, and written something else; might as well go finish that sonnet.

But maybe a better answer comes from poet Marvin Bell’s wonderful statement that a poem ends when it has used up all its information.  He wasn’t specifically talking about one-line poems, but the principle applies.  Consider Ben Jonson’s beautiful and perfect

O Rare Ben Jonson

What more is there to say?  What more is needed?  Any addition would make this poem not merely different, but would lessen it, for it has in that one line used up all of its information, said as much as Jonson needed for it to say, and as much as anyone could want for it to say.

And against all arguments is the fact of the one-line poem.  That is, the fact that they exist.  Take a look at the little anthology of one line poems included at the end of this essay.  They are poems, written by poets and intended to be read as poems.  Is there any reason to think of them as not-poems?

There is of course more to discuss about this subject, about how the one-line poem is different from the aphorism, the folk-wisdom, the prophecies of bibles and men, cliches, haikus.

And it’s worth pausing for a moment to note how often we as readers treat our poems as if they were one-liners:  Slouching toward Bethlehem, Not with a bang but a whimper, The world is ugly and its people are sad, etc.  These are of course not one line poems, except by virtue of an application of memory’s razor, and except by the preference of our forms of speech and thought, which make in practice an implicit acknowledgement that the power of such lines comes not from the poem they are quoted from but from the world as it is, as we have found and live in it, which is the criteria that makes the lines detachable and great:  They touch the world, and they inform and organize reality.  Separated from their origins, they have become part of this new thing, our lives.


There’s not a lot of room in a one-line poem.  The poet can’t do much witty turning and pirouetting (that turn from one line to next being at some point in its  ancestry descended from Latin versus “a line, row, line of verse, line of writing,” the enlivening and informing metaphor lurking behind being one of plowing, of “turning” from one line to another (vertere = “to turn” as a plowman does):  the one-line poem being unable to turn, as verses do, and thus surrendering ab initio at the level of form one of the great traditional armaments of poetic strength.  In such rejection, the one line poem must have other strengths, other pleasures.

There’s also this taxonomic problem, that one-line poems are both like and unlike everything near them:  They borrow, for example, their sense of balance and tension from the aphorism, their offerings of wisdom from the folk saying, their perfection in the moment from the cliche; but they are not aphorisms, folk sayings, or cliches.  Their life is different, their purpose inclusive of these others but also broader, as all poetry is broader, else it is not poetry.

As a starting point for discussion of these differences, let us endure the shock of the obvious by positing that all poems start as one-line poems.  There is always, somewhere, a first line.  Everything begins somewhere, wherever it may ultimately end.  This rule of first-line-ness is true in poetry and in prose, and for the same reason:  Everything must begin somewhere.  Hemingway famously discussed it in A Movable Feast:

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.  

Hemingway’s stories and novels do not stop at one line, of course.  What I think is important in his description is the tremendous weight he puts on that first finding, of the “.…one true sentence…”   It is not only a beginning, in his hands, its is also the criteria by which he will judge every sentence that comes after:  “If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”  The one true line is thus both beginning and aesthetic, the start and the criteria, the reality of everything and the promise of more.  That’s a lot to carry; and of course it’s easier to bear if you’re a great writer like Hemingway.

Dylan Thomas, another great, described his writing process as beginning somewhere, and then becoming in effect self-created.  As I understand his description, it is a variant on the Hemingway notion of a criteria that firstness brings with it:

I make one image… let it breed another, let that image contradict the first, make of the third image bred our of the other two together, a fourth contradictory image, and let them all, within my imposed formal limits, conflict.  Each image holds within it the seed of its own destruction, and my dialectical method, as I understand it, is a constant building up and tearing down of the images that come out of the central seed, which is itself destructive and constructive at the same time.  

Got that?  You ask, perhaps, what is left after all that tearing down and building up, all that heavy-breathing Hegelian afflatus?  Well, the answer seems to be something similar to what Hemingway said:  what is left is the image, the creation that contains within itself not only everything necessary to it as an image, but also the criteria used to judge and accept our reject its warring successor.

The lesson I take from these two writers is that poems and stories begin somewhere, with a line or sentence or image that contains information enough to sustain itself, and all that is necessary to generate a next line or image.

And if it doesn’t do that?  If the information is all used upon in the first line?  Well, then you have the one-line poem.


Everyone knows, sort of, what we mean when we speak of a line of poetry, and what we mean by a poem.  But here, for the pedants in us all, are definitions of line and poem, and a brief excursion into etymology.  First, “line,” from The Poetry Archive (http://www.poetryarchive.org/glossary/line):

A line is a subdivision of a poem, specifically a group of words arranged into a row that ends for a reason other than the right-hand margin. 

This strikes me as pretty nearly perfect a definition as needed for any line in any poem, but more especially for our subject, the one-line poem.  I’m not sure any more is needed; but the discussion goes on:

This reason [for the ending of the line] could be that the lines are arranged to have a certain number of syllables, a certain number of stresses, or of metrical feet; it could be that they are arranged so that they rhyme, whether they be of equal length or not. But it is important to remember that the poet has chosen to make the line a certain length, or to make the line-break at a certain point. This line-break, where a reader has to turn back to the start of the next line, was known in Latin as the versus, which translates as “turn”, and is where the modern English term “verse” comes from. It is one of the strongest points of a line, which means that words that fall at the end of a line seem more important to a reader (an effect that rhyme can intensify); other strong points are the start of a line, and either side of a caesura.

Note that this is not so much a definition as a set of parameters intended to contain the notion of a line in poetry; the words here define the container, as the critic or reader must see it for analysis, and syllables or rhymes or stresses, but not the content, as the poet and the lover of the words must it to take and hold them.

So for the kine.  What about the poem?  The Oxford Living Dictionaries defines a poem as

A piece of writing in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by particular attention to diction (sometimes involving rhyme), rhythm, and imagery.

—a definition not especially helpful, as it could apply to what we usually think of as poetry, in stanzas and lines and rhymes, but also to any heightened piece of writing, in prose, songs, plays, or for that matter, in words shouted at no one in acts of madness on some dim street.  Yet, there is something here, that the writers of this definition thought helpful, that wonderfully avoids the can’t about little machines of words.

We should consider one more thing, origins.  This is from the Online Etymology Dictionary, the etymology of the word “poem”:

poem (n.) 1540s (replacing poesy in this sense), from Middle French poème (14c.), from Latin poema “composition in verse, poetry,” from Greek poema “fiction, poetical work,” literally “thing made or created,” early variant of poiema, from poein, poiein, “to make or compose” (see poet). Spelling pome, representing an ignorant pronunciation, is attested from 1856.

I’m fascinated by parts of all three definitions and explanations, and want to cherry-pick them a bit, in order to do a little special pleading for our one-line poem genre, thus:  A poem is a “thing made or created” (etymology) which possesses intense feelings and ideas and imagery (definition) whose ending comes typically for reasons other than facing the right-hand margin of the page (Poetry Archive).  I would add, it ends where art ends because its information is used up.  It doesn’t go any farther, because it can’t.  Back to our beginning:

O Rare Ben Jonson

That in itself is enough for our distinctions.  An aphorism, says my Merrian-Webster, is “1 : a concise statement of a principle. 2 : a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment : adage the high-minded aphorism, “Let us value the quality of life, not the quantity.”   A truth, a principle, are surely important things; but the principle business of an aphorism is in these things, not poetry.

As for folk wisdom, my Collins English Dictionary defines it as “wisdom or beliefs associated with or traditional to the common people of a country.  Folk wisdom recognizes that to forgive is divine.  A leopard’s spots are fixed for life, according to folk wisdom, but despite the saying, people do change.”  Again, wonderful; but folk wisdom’s aim is wisdom, not poetry.

In both cases, aphorism and folk wisdom, the writing can rise to the level of poetry, in  which case it becomes a one-line poem in addition to anything else it might be.  You can see countless examples of lines which are both poetry and something else through the Book of Proverbs in the bible:  “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”  A haiku, of course, by entering this world in three or four lines, violates our first principle, of being a one line poem.


People keep trying to make poetry co-dependent, as if it needed criticism, or needed teachers, or books, or magazines.  But here’s the thing.  Poetry has always existed.  It was here before any of those other things, before books, magazines, the internet.  In fact, it’s likely that the only thing that is co-terminus with poetry is the critic.

Thinking about the starting place, the first moments, it’s possible that the first poems were one-line poems:  subjective exclamations, exhortations to the sun or moon, not scattered, or unintentional, not accidental, but a necessary calling out, of gods or fire or rain. The fact of the one line poem is the fact of speech so heightened as to become poetry.

With all that as background, I offer here a brief anthology of one-line poems from many sources:



Did you move, in the sun?

The Shadow’s Song 

I am beside you, now.

The Aspen’s Song

The summer holds me here.

God Of Roads 

I, peregrine of noon.


0 living pine, be still!



Who would I show it to


Unable to endure my world and calling the failure God, I will destroy yours.


In Memory Of The Horse David,

Who Ate One Of My Poems


194 (Epigraph beneath portrait in his shroud. Deaths Duel!, 1632).

Corporis haec Animae sit Syndon, Syndon Jesu.


(May this shroud of the body be the shroud of the soul of Jesus.



(From: From A Notebook. No. 6~)

M., opening my diary, found the pages blank


Spiritual Life

to be warm, build an igloo


Insomnia, old tree, when will you shed me?



Just hope that when you lie down your toes are a firingsquad

I only keep this voice to give to anything afraid of me

Cueballs have invented insomnia in an attempt to forget eyelids


Hope… goosestep


Your nakedness:  the sound when I break an apple in half


The rain has stopped falling asleep on its crystal stems

What I love is the variety here, from the wit of Winters to the images of Charles Wright and Bill Knott, to the wisdom of Mathews.  As we said at the start, the genius of poetry is that it can engorge anything and make it poetry. The one line poem is the reminder of all beginnings of the art, what a poem is before it becomes anything else.

The Last Poems of Jules LaForgue



Here are some things we think we know about Jules LaForgue (1860 – 1887), the great 19th century French poet whose outsized influence on many 20th century Modernist English and American poets remains in evidence on poets today in tone, voice, and image:

He was young—very young:  He died of tuberculosis ether two days before or four days after his 27th birthday (sources disagree).

He never wrote in English.  Those who discovered him, or were influenced by him, read him in French, or read each other’s translations of his work.

He did not have an extensive publication history while alive.  The books of his poetry published in his lifetime were Les Complaintes, (“The Complaints”), and L’Imitation de Notre-Dame la Lune (The Imitation of Our Lady the Moon), both in 1885, both hailed today as masterpieces.  They are outshone for many readers by a posthumously published work, the more mature and fully realized Derniers Vers (Last Poems) (1890), translated here.

He came from a large but an oddly distant family:  His mother died in 1876 while giving birth to a 12th child.  LaForgue wrote that he barely knew her.  He described his father as a man whom timidity had made hard.  He did not attend his funeral.  

He was employed well for a time before giving it up:  From November 1881 until 1886, while still  in his 20’s, he served as the French reader for the Empress Augusta, a well-paying job that left him plenty of free time to read and write and gave him opportunities for travel as the German court moved from Berlin to Baden-Baden and others cities depending on season.

He fell in love, and it changed everything:  He left the court in 1886, risking the Empress’ displeasure, and married Leah Lee, an Englishwoman, about whom he said (meaning it as a compliment), “There are three sexes — the man, the woman, and the Englishwoman.”  She may also have been the model for Andromede in his story, “Persee and Andromede.”

Settled love was short-lived for him:  The marriage took place in London, in freezing weather on New Years Eve, 1886, after which the couple moved to France, living in extreme and apparently unexpected poverty.  He died a year after the marriage, in 1887, of tuberculosis.  His wife died the year after, of the same disease.  She is said to have laughed hysterically at his funeral.

He was an innovator, one of the first French poets to write in free verse.  The major poetic influence on him was Walt Whitman, whom he translated badly.  His Whitman translations are said to be “poetic,” inaccurate, sometimes nonsensical.  His major French influences were Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

He was a pessimist, a follower of Schopenhauer and Hartmann, horrified by pain, seeing the Universe as basically a mistake from which we must try to free ourselves.  At the same time he seems to have believed that art, done right, can express the never-erring Unconscious, or inner being of the Universe, making such art a direct reflection of fundamental reality.

He believed that there was a link between chastity and truth, and a difference between woman and Woman.  He thought women enslaved and enslaving, forced into that position by their treatment in society.  (More on this below.)

His English was terrible.  He could barely read it.  He picked his way in translations word by word with a French-English dictionary, and the help of Leah Lee; neither provide much aid in conquering American idioms.

His examples in style, imagery, voice, and tone helped Eliot, Pound, and Crane find their voice, as Whitman, badly understood, helped him find his.

He thought the truth of the moment as valid as Eternal Truth, and indeed that concentration on the eternal distracted from actual experience.  This aesthetic set him against high-flown rhetoric, in favor of the immediacy of slang and colloquialism, and in favor of an aesthetic that would be faithful to experience and opposed to transforming it into a category, into pre-described and accepted notions of wisdom or beauty. The marginal thus for him became philosophically the essential, the quip a sufficient and perhaps the only appropriate response to a brutal and brutalizing world.


His impact on other poets was profound.  T.S. Eliot described his tutelage to LaForgue as a “sort of possession by a stronger personality,” and you can see the debt clearly in poems such as “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Portrait of a Lady,” and parts of “The Wasteland,” all of them inconceivable without the influence of LaForgue.

Pound called him “an angel with whom our modern poetic Jacob must struggle“  and “perhaps the most sophisticated of all the French poets.”

Crane read him in 1920, though he was likely exposed to him second hand, via Prufrock and Other Observations, as early as 1917.  That 1920 date is the important one, though, since from October of that year until late January of the next, he wrote virtually no poetry.  This was unusual.  Something was changing for him, possibly spurred in part by his reading.  The poem that he produced in February 1921, “Black Tambourine,” is really his first mature verse.  He translated, loosely, three of LaForgue’s poems under the title “Locutions des Pierrots,” in a magazine called the Double Dealer:  “Your eyes, those pools with soft rushes…”  They were not good translations but were perhaps necessary ones.  Later, Whitman became his muse, as he had been for LaForgue.

Eliot initially discovered LaForgue through a book, The Symbolist Movement in Literature, by Arthur Symons (E. P. Dutton & Company, 1919), an extended introduction to a series of French writers, from Balzac through Rimbaud.  About LaForgue, Symons wrote:

Verse and prose are alike a kind of travesty, making subtle use of colloquialism, slang, neologism, technical terms, for their allusive, their factitious, their reflected meanings, with which one can play, very seriously. The verse is alert, troubled, swaying, deliberately uncertain, hating rhetoric so piously that it prefers, and finds its piquancy in, the ridiculously obvious. It is really vers libre, but at the same time correct verse, before vers libre had been invented. And it carries, as far as that theory has ever been carried, the theory which demands an instantaneous notation (Whistler, let us say) of the figure or landscape which one, has been accustomed to define with such rigorous exactitude. Verse, always elegant, is broken up into a kind of mockery of prose…..

Here, if ever, is modern verse, verse which dispenses with so many of the privileges of poetry, for an ideal quite of its own. It is, after all, a very self-conscious ideal, becoming artificial through its extreme naturalness; for in poetry it is not “natural” to say things quite so much in the manner of the moment, with however ironical an intention.

This was appealing to Eliot at the time, and necessary to his development as a poet. Later, he would say (in his Clark Lectures) of his one-time spiritual guide, that he was trapped by his “effusion of adolescent sentiment and he remained, for us, imprisoned within his own adolescence.”  Even so, the influence remained life-long.  You can see it in his work as late as in Four Quartets.


How bad was LaForgue’s English?  Well, his Whitman translations were titled “Brins d’Herbes (Traduit de l’étonnant poëte américain Walt Whitman),” meaning literally “Blades of Grasses (Translated from the astonishing American poet, Walt Whitman).”  Throughout there are phrases that make no sense in French.

But so what?  LaForgue took from Whitman what he needed, not the same thing as taking all that Whitman had to offer, or the essential Whitman; perhaps he only ever read an invented poet named Whitman, that is, a poet invented through his bad translation but necessary to his own development:  In other words, what he found, and needed, from Whitman, may not have been there at all.

No matter.  What he created from his selective use of invented influences was different than what had gone before in French poetry.  It was a new note, and one that translated well to the English of American writers who read him.

Here’s an interesting take on the relation between the two poets, an abstract of an article “The Body Poetic: Laforgue’s Translations of Whitman,” by Samuel Douglas Bootle, Dix-Neuf Vol. 20 , Iss. 1,2016:

This article explores Jules Laforgue’s 1886 translations of a selection of poems from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and their connections with his broader oeuvre through a thematic lens — that of corporeality. Both poets give a prominent role to embodiment, but there are significant disparities between their representations of bodily experience. Whitman’s treatment of sexuality is forthright, betraying the influence of contemporary scientific discourse, while Laforgue uses jocular periphrasis; Whitman tends to portray vigorously healthy bodies, while Laforgue’s poetry is riddled with illness and weakness. These differences are tied to their disparate conceptions of their roles as poets. Whitman sees his creative project as inherently political, his aesthetics being founded on the metaphorical equivalence between body, text, and nation; Laforgue, on the other hand, rejects this political role, focusing his attention on the suffering of the individual body. In contrast to Whitman’s expansiveness, then, Laforgue’s poetic self remains essentially bounded.

One might note that in contrast to Whitman, anyone’s poetic self would seem “essentially bounded.”  I like the comparison, however, as the use of Whitman forces the more rigid and extreme statements of their differences.  The overt can be helpful is shedding light where needed.


LaForgue’s treatment of women in his poems may be confusing at first, as he seems to be moving toward them and away, wanting and patronizing, courting and fleeing.  His most interesting, and perhaps complete, expression of his feelings about the other sex is in Melanges posthumes (1901-3),

No, woman is not our brother; by forcing her into idleness and corrupting her, we have made her a being unknown and apart, possessing no weapon except her sex — which not only leads to perpetual warfare, but is also an unfair weapon — in adoration or in hatred, but never our frank companions, closing their ranks with esprit de corps in the freemasonry of their sex — but with the mistrustfulness of the eternal little slave.  O young ladies, when will you be our brothers, our bosom friends, with no ulterior motive of exploitation!  When shall we exchange an honest handshake!

This sense of desire and exasperation are present in the poems, along with his need to break free from existing morality and his sense of enslavement and the tragedy of that enslavement.  They are all there as explicit or implicit self-dialogues throughout the Last Poems.  His reaction to women, to sex, to relations, is never simple.  It may even be regarded as rather forward-looking for his time, this notion of how society and culture corrupts the role of women and the relations between the sexes.


Published three years after LaForgue’s death,  Derniers Vers (Last Poems) (1890) is considered the first volume of free verse in French poetry (excluding the prose poems of Aloysius Bertrand, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud). It is an odd mix of old and new—new technique, new images, new concentrations, of older themes, subjects, and ideas, for example, the quest-like seeking of the ideal in the figure of woman.

What is striking throughout the poems is their sense of spontaneity, almost of improvisation, the lines seeming to appear as they occur in the mind:  This is not the “and then” construction of a story being told, but the semi-random sequence of the mind at work and play, always longing to be free, and sometimes managing it.  As he says in one of the poems, “To arms, citizens!  This has nothing to do with REASON.”

This is not quite Frank O’Hara-level spontaneous aesthetics, but as Gustave Kahn, a poet and friend of LaForgue, said of Last Poems, LaForgue sought to free himself of “every literary artifice of presentation” and this sequence of his Last Poems bears “the imprint of this strong desire to reproduce thought, to catch the heartbeat without ever sacrificing anything to symmetry or verbal redundancy.”

LaForgue spoke of this new style and of what he thought he had achieved in a letter to Kahn:  “I forget about rhyme, forget about the numbers of syllables, I forget about the break-up of stanzas, my lines begin at the margin like prose.  the old regular stanza comes back only when it can be in the form of a popular quatrain, etc.”

These poems have been called LaForgue’s last testament, a climax of sorts, and can be treated as related in their use and choice of images, for example, of the hunting horns, or of the church bells that occur throughout.  The poems are about love (or Love), the quest for it, and its difficulties.  There are the striking images of the girls in white moving at speed toward both infinity and innocence, of the passage of time, the end of a day being a death, of the sun.  Death is an obsession throughout these poems of love, appearing in roles as Ennui or as the Moon.  There are some places in these poems where he describes the process of his poem, as if he was thinking and writing it at the same time:

I’m on my back, smoking, facing the sky,
On the roof of the coach,
My body jolted as we go 
But my soul dancing like Ariel; 
Not sweet, not bitter, my lovely soul dances, 
O roads, hills, smoke, valleys, 
O my beautiful soul, let’s go over it all again:…

There is so much in these poems that is wonderful and strange — and much that now seems familiar, used as we all are to seeing versions of LaForgue’s voice and tone, his play of contradictions, absorbed in the work of others.  Having all the last poems together may give a chance to experience the real strangeness and wonder of these.


I am indebted to other translations and other work in preparing these notes and poems:  Jules LaForgue, Selected Poems (Penguin Books, 1998); Poems of Jules LaForgue, Trans. Patricia Terry (University of California Press, 1958);  “Crane and LaForgue,” Warren Ramsey, The Sewanee Review, Vol. 58, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1950), pp. 439-449; “Moon Solo:  The Last Poems of LaForgue,” William Jay Smith, The Sewanee Review, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1956), pp. 444-458.  All have been extremely helpful in thinking about this work.  Very early on I had tremendous help from Linda Orr, Professor Emeritus of Romance Studies at Duke University; her comments made a great difference in my approach to the poems.  Any errors here, as well as the mode of translation I have chosen, are entirely my fault and responsibility.

I should also include here a not on these translations:  No poem is ever strictly “translated,” or even “transported” from one language to another.  At best it is imitated, perhaps, sometimes closely, sometimes loosely.   I have tried in these to give a sense of the work, and where a line our phrase admitted of more than one meaning for interpretation, I have tried to broaden the sense by including them.  The original French of these poems is available in many places online, and readers will have their own sense of the poems after comparing these to the originals. These translations are meant to provide only a starting point into this work.  I hope that they are helpful.


I.  The Coming Of Winter

Sentimental blockade!  Steamships from the East!
Rain!  Downpour of night!
& wind!…
All Saints, Christmas & New Year’s, all of them passing,
& in the drizzle, my chimneys of home!…
My factory chimneys….

There’s nowhere to sit, all the benches are wet;
Listen, it’s all over till next year,
All the benches are wet, the woods are rust-colored,
The hunting-horns are lost to long sad songs.

You storms in from the channel,
You’ve spoiled our last Sunday.

The drizzle continues;
In the forests, the spiderwebs
Fall under the rain, they’re ruined.
You plenipotentiary suns that have swollen
The gold rivers of our great country fairs,
Where are you buried now?
Tonight I see one of you, a spent sun dying
Helpless at the top of the hill,
He lies on his side, among the flowers,
His great-cloak under him like a litter,
He’s white as spit on the barroom floor,
& he lies there as on the litter of a yellow broom,
On the yellow broom of autumn.
While the horns call to him,
They want him to return!….
To return to himself!
But listen!  Listen!  It’s the death-call!
O sad anthem, won’t you just play & be done with!…
O music, all gone crazy!
& he lies there like a gland ripped out of a throat,
& he shivers, without friends!….

Hurry, hurry, for it is the death-call!
It’s this winter we know so well that is coming now;
On the turnings of the high roads,
That’s no sweet innocence there,
No Little Red Riding Hood coming there!…
The rut-marks from last months’ carts are still in the road,
Rising up like rails, dream-like, quixotic,
Toward the fleeing patrols of the storm-clouds
That go where the wind drives them,
To sheepfolds above the Atlantic!….

Hurry, hurry, for we know this season so well, too well.
For tonight the wind has made such beautiful clouds!
O wreckage, O nests, O modest little gardens!

O my heart & my sleep:  O echoes of hatchets!….
Green leaves still on the branches,
The underbrush no more than a heap of dead leaves;
Leaves, leaflets, let us pray that a good wind carries you
Swarming toward the pond,
Or to the fire of the gamekeeper,
Or into the mattresses of ambulances
For soldiers far from France.

It’s the season, the season, rust invades the masses,
Rust torments their little kilometric spleens,
The telegraph wires on the high roads where no one goes.

The horns, the horns—so sad!…
It is so sad!…
They are going, they are changing tone as they go,
They are changing their tone & their music,
The long sounds changing now,
The horns, the horns,
Voices gone on the North Wind.

But I cannot leave them, this poem, these sounds, these echoes!….
It’s the season, my season, good-bye grape-harvests,
Here come the rains with the vast patience of angels,
Goodbye grape-harvests, & good-bye baskets of the harvesters,
Goodbye lovely Watteau-like baskets
& skirts of the dancers under the chestnut trees,
Now is the time of coughing in high-school dormitories,
The time of medicinal tea before no familiar hearth,
Pulmonary consumption saddening the neighborhood,
The misery of all places where people live close together.

You, woolens, rubbers, medicine, dreams,
Parted curtains on balconies above the strand
Facing the ocean of roofs of the working-class suburbs,
Lamps, prints, tea, petits-four,
You will be my only loves!….
(O, & have you seen these, here beside the piano,
The sober & church-like mysteries
Of the sanitation statistics from our weekly journals?)

No!  No!  It is the season & the strange planet.
May the storm, the storm
Unravel Time’s shoddy knit slippers!
It is the season, O tearing!  O heartbreak, the season!
Every year for all my years,
Let me try to give its true choruses, & its rightful voice.

II.  The Mystery Of The Three Horns

On the plain a horn
Blown long till breath is gone,
Another, from the forest’s heart,
The one chants its own song
To the neighboring woods,
The other its responding song
To the echoing hills.

The one on the plain
Felt the veins on its its forehead
Stand out;
In the grove the other
Saved the best of its power
Till a later time.

—Where are you hiding,
My beautiful horn?
You’re really wicked!

—I’m looking for my love,
Down there, calling me
To watch the setting sun.

—I hear you!  I love you!
Hey!  Ronceveaux!

—To be in love, yes, that’s very sweet;
But look:  There’s the sun killing itself, right in front of you!

The sun puts off its pontifical stole,
Loosens the locks,
& a thousand rivers
Burning gold
Drain through the under-sky,
Rekindling in the windows
Of artistic liquor-dealers
In a hundred bottles of exotic vitriol!….
& the pond, bloody, suddenly opening, spread-out,
& the mares of the sun’s chariot drowning there,
Rearing, splashing, finally settling
In a deluge of industrial ash & alcohol!….

The hard sands & cinders of the horizon
Are quick to absorb that display of a poisons.

Yes this is it,
The song the song the song of their glories!….

Suddenly the dismayed horns
Find themselves nose to nose;

They are three!
The wind rises, it’s suddenly cold.

Can’t you hear the song, the song of their glories!….

Linking arms everyone goes
Back to their homes,
—“Can’t we stop somewhere
For a drink first?”

Poor horns!  Poor horns!
How bitter their laughter became.
(I hear them still).

The next day, the hostess at the Grand-St.-Hubert
Found them, all three of them, dead.

So someone went & got the authorities
Of that locality

Who began an investigation into the history
Of this very immoral mystery.

III.    Sundays

My original plan was to say just once but extremely well, “I Love You,”
But I couldn’t say it without pain,
I have no patience for such self-possession.

(C’mon, Self, this is all just Galatea dazzling Pygmalion again;
Some things never change).

So what then, you poor pale pitiful Self,
Who never believes in yourself
Except for in a few lost moments,
I see how your love disappears,
Yes I see exactly how it disappears,
Carried off by the flow of things, I see it
The way thorns see petals fall
From their best roses under pretext of night.

This is the anniversary night of the failed good Love,
When all the Valkyries of the wind
Come back roaring under the crack of my door:
Vae soli!
What’s it mean?
It stuns me, I stagger around!
(Maybe it should have stunned me before)….
Too late!  Any hope for madness is quite gone now.
Yes, ok, but what’s it mean, Vae soli!
Sad.  Because I know:  It won’t be found again.  (Another good- bye).

Then the great wind gets suddenly quiet, gets dignified,
Dressed in its Sunday best under the beautiful morning sky.
Go ahead, announce it,
Do it with a thousand bells, for it’s the Sunday of our goodness.
Put on the diapers & the stiff collars & white dresses,
Think of yourselves walking under the rustling of lavender & thyme,
Toward the incense & just-baked cakes!
All this for the family!  This!  Vae soli!
Yes, we know it, it’s what counts ….

The young girl with her ivory prayer-book
Modestly enters her house again.
I see her, that little body made innocent again,
& it pleases me, knowing she is part of
A whole other past that’s not mine!

But what about my body, my own poor little sister,
It has an ache in its tough-minded soul….

Here that old piano
Begins in me again, trying to find some tune to keep birthdays going,
& the heart, ignorant of its own foolish stammerings
In the burlesque of low dance-halls you have come to,
& your poor flesh, which has committed every sin,
Hurting itself again & again….
Ah, Valkyries!
Valkyries of hypochondria, & of real slaughter!

I confess it, I disfigured you with pleasure,
O my jewel of a body, O my true pure tenor’s heart,
How often you have tried to make me do right,
Speaking out to me in a rage,
In fact speaking out with rage enough for two.
(If only you had wanted to be a little like the others afterward.)

No, no!  It is the sweetness of the body surrounded by one chosen heart,
Adored by these incurable organs of ours, look at them,
They want to visit one another, to be this close then fade,
They are monomaniacs, they want to be like two recluses huddled together.

But really, it is not the body.  I have perfect self-control.
It is not that I possess such a great heart for some woman either.
But there are other things, madnesses that come suddenly
In the history of relationships!
(I have already forgotten her).
Ah, soul & body, body & soul—
Look at them, everywhere, these spirits Edenic & proud
Of being, for a little while, a man with a woman.

But wait a minute.  Let’s be a little careful about this.
It’s already like taking a serious blow to the head.
Put away that old complaining spinning-wheel song, pray & stay honest.
Do what’s right.

—Think of yourself for a change, you, least of the poets.
Always shut up like this, you’ll get sick.
Look:  the weather is lovely, there’s a whole world out there, waiting, undiscovered, unexplored, all yours.
Go & buy not one, but two hellbores, those
Classical purges for madness, & try & take a little walk.

IV.   Sundays

It is autumn, autumn, the autumn
Of the great wind & its full sequel
Of reprisals!  & falling musics….
Of curtains drawn, annual closings,
The falling of leaves & old prints, of Antigones & Philomelas!
My gravedigger:  Alas, poor Yorick!
Who then turns a few well-chosen spadefulls….

Long Live Love, & all other short blazes!….

The young girls so inviolable & so fragile
Walk down toward the little chapel
While the chimerical bells
Of this lovely lovely Sunday
That is so hygienic & elegant call to them.

As if everything were perfect around them!
As if everything were Sunday!

As if you could be so hard & sullen at their approach….

But yes, that’s me alright.  I’m the Great White Polar Bear,
I walk out on the ice-floes that are more pure
Than even these little communicants in their whites….
Yes that’s me, who does not go to church,
Who is the Grand Chancellor of Analysis,
Who is (why fight it?) whatever anyone says I am.

I say so, & yet—& yet what is there about all this that is so anemic?
C’mon, tell your problems to an old friend….

Really?  Really & truly?
So then I turn toward the sea, the elements,
All that is part of the vast black grumbling around us….

Yes, this is the real sacred!
It gives us everything we need (whether we ask for it or not).
It gives us an enormous roaring insomnia!

But how poor the colors of these attractions are….

But us, what about us,
Drunk, drunk to the gills with astonishment,
So astonished that one of us is on his knees even now!….

Think how we trembled
That first grand night
When in the pure blossom of despair
We suddenly wanted only to die together!

O poor burning martyred miracle,
Where do you hide now!
Miracle one does not even attempt to touch
Except in this blinding, divine delirium.

Yes you, miracle, I’m speaking to you,
You must stay hidden, like some violet-colored ideal,
The Universe sleepless because of you,
The generations of planets already at your breast like infants,
The funerals beginning, & the long days of church-going with all the other women.

But all this is really much higher
Than even God & even than this thought!
Truthfully, nothing holds me anymore but those sweet eyes on high,
Totally unconscious, full of the deep colors of real thought,
So frail, so fragile,
& all the mortal atoms waiting,
All, all that living womb & hearth in her….

O pardon her if, in spite of herself,
In spite of everything that maybe is good for her,
Sometimes her eyes half-shut, just a little,
As if to ask you, just a little,
Just to move you to pity her a little.

She is so frail, so fragile, & always giving herself
To these masses, until the act itself seems a kind of game,
She turns her head slightly toward you, come,
Look at these bunches of first violets,
& her eyes are downcast & her head tilts back toward you….
O innocence, it is not the restlessness of conquests with me, not any more,
But a genuine interest in the Afterlife.

O if we could only leave this life
Together, now, during High Mass,
Sickened as we are by our own species,
Which even now yawns, glutted & farting,
At the very doors….

V.  Petition

Absolute love:  crossroads without a single fountain.
But at every turn, the dizzying fury of fairgrounds & holidays.

No one is free,
Everyone stands around with their hands on their hips:
Everywhere, love changes hands simply & with about as much real commitment & belief
As people show when saying “Good Morning” to each other.

The bouquet of orange-blossoms, armor-plated in satin,
Is fading, it is fading,
The rose-colored windows of the church
That have seen so many weddings served up by the fat woman of circumstance,
As couples begin the great waltz, rushing toward the common grave….  Such a sad race!

Nothing is left, everything is compromised;
Nothing remains, everything is permitted.

And yet on these nights you come to me, you Circes,
Dark-hooded figures to your Titus,
Enormous grief showing in your eyes like a real thought!
I want you to pass,
Venus after Venus, all beautiful,
Lips open, smiles so broad that the gums show, like dead royalty,
Stretching & yawning in your drowsiness, arms lifted to the sun,
& the air filled with the huge sound of cicadas.
Then suddenly taking on the tall violet-color of poppies,
As if some domestic sacrilege had been committed,
Raising a forefinger:  Silence!

They pass, they pass, they have the eyes of virgins,
Eyes with the blue-tints of sun-dials,
You can hear the hour of desire strike for them,
The hour kept safe for them, for the Eternal Female,
The hour of their immortality.
At the first word
Their eyes will half-close,
They will seem to swoon, there will be singing,
& the virgins will come, in their flowered robes,
That will not have real flowers on them, but only flowers
Of the skin, as if their nerves had penetrated right there, through everything,
But their destiny, O Lord, is to get in the way of everything.

O history of slaves!
Look at their little rooms!
You can almost watch them descend
Toward the next stage, going down floor by floor,
The sophistication of feeling welling up in them until they reach the cellar
(Talk about mixing good food with bad!),
Where they are watched over by the least likely guardian angel of good housekeeping!

Then comes the great suicide, the cold soullessness sets in,
The enormous Amen is said, & there is nothing feminine in it,
& the vacancy begins, the time of secrets & superiority sets in,
It comes with this eternal distraught air,
A grand manner of saying, “For what?
Speak to me!  What is it for? What is there more than this?”

My God, it is the whole ideal of becoming angels
That has stripped them of their wings & halos!
If only the Ideal had stripped them of these angel roles instead!
If only a woman could accept a man as an equal,
If only the Ideal could be banished forever from their eyes,
If only we could get down to real human exchanges,
& become true brothers & sisters in the heart,
If only the whole notion of lovers & fiancees could be totally passe,
& we could be united for eternity,
With simple, human, infinite exchanges of love
Filling our days to the end of our days,
Our arms taking equally whatever is offered,
& the love-drums & the love-trumpets
Sounding a retreat from this current war,
So that when we walked out, there on the steps before each house
We would toast the health of all the old bad dead years
Thrown out,
& we would feel no regrets,
There would be a new knowledge of things covering all of our part of the  country,
An entirely new & different song that at first would be only regional perhaps,
But it could spread,
& since this is the only world we’re going to be able to live in,
The only one we have ever lived in,
Come, my friends, let us try that new song, let us at least try.

VI.  Simple Agony

O pariah!—& here they come again, those May-feelings.
You just want to go on repeating yourself, it’s shameful.
You’re all filled up with yourself, a pod that never burst.
You know very well what it means to be like this,
Caught up in the pride of your own strength, pariah,
Just as you know that it is not everything.

O you,
Prophecy of the instant when we are completely alone
With our true natures—& song, my song,
You are everything & you are unique, ascending again & again
Into the night-sky, doing everything you can,
Speaking of things as they really are,
Falling, then recovering
Making something completely new of the pain inflicted,
Traveling alone among huge crying,
Recovering, then falling,
According to the tasks which are incumbent upon you to fulfill.
O may this music of mine
Be crucified, sacrificed,
Like in some old religious photograph
Leaning back on the posts, head in hands, & so sad….

I’m going to find other themes,
Themes more mortal & more sublime.
O hell, given a world like this one
I’m going to make myself a world more human.

The souls in my world will be made of pure music,
& all these puerile carnal interests that occupy us now,
This long fanfare of nights,
Will be recognized as what they are:  barbarism,
Acts wholly without hope.

Inquiries!  Inquiries!
Will be the only festivals…
Who’s going to stop me?
On my bed I pile up all the scandal sheets, dirty underwear,
Fashion designs, all kinds of photographs,
All the best, everything that makes Paris Paris,
Until this is a regular womb of society.
Such a nothingness gathered here,
& even if no one intercedes & no protest is ever spoken,
It will never be enough,
Because there is only one thing that offers hope for cure,
& that is to destroy everything.

O fanfares of all the nights!
All that barbarism,
All these goings-on without hope,
In vain we’ll stamp our feet,
But we’ll never be more cruel than life,
There will always be animals unjustly beaten
& women never beautiful enough….
What nothingness is gathered here,
Let no one try to stop us,
For we must destroy everything.

Rejoice, Earthly Pariah.
You will go on, without hope.
You will see dawn come down to the night
When to have nothing is to have everything,
Because there’s always a little more more
When nothing’s left,
There, at the end, when dawn comes down to the night.
Rejoice, Pariah of this world!
The artistic ones
Keep saying, “Really, all this just comes too late.”
It’s not reasonable
To press so hard toward this ending.

To arms, citizens!  This has nothing to do with REASON.

He caught at cold the end of autumn,
Hanging behind the pain of those horns
At the end of a beautiful day.
It happened because of the horns,
& because of the beautiful days of autumn,
He showed us what it means to die for love,
& one day perhaps we’ll wake up too
& be just like the others, lovers of death,
No one will observe the national holidays anymore,
Everyone will be locked in history & drawing the bolt,
It’s all going to happen soon, & so I say this with no desire to hurt:
All of you who can hear me now, go home, & hide.

VII.  Alone With Moonlight

I’m on my back, smoking, facing the sky,
On the roof of the coach,
My body jolted as we go
But my soul dancing like Ariel;
Not sweet, not bitter, my lovely soul dances,
O roads, hills, smoke, valleys,
O my beautiful soul, let’s go over it all again:

We loved each other crazily, she & I,
& parted wordlessly,
My temper, the way I am, kept me exiled,
My temper that was roused by everything.  Just so.

Her eyes asked, “Do you understand?
But why don’t you understand?”
But neither of us would ever take that first step,
The idea was, we had to fall to our knees together
At the exact same instant.  (Do you understand?)

Where is she now?
Maybe she’s crying…
Where is she now?
O take care of yourself, I beg you.

O coolness of the woods along this route,
This shawl of melancholy, the soul’s guardedness
That never quite abandons us—
Everyone feels it, but how much those others ask
Of my life!  How jealous they must be!
For here I am & the roof of this coach is magical.

Let’s pile up all the irreparable things in one place!
Let’s do better than our fates ever expected or allowed!
There are more stars tonight than the sand
Of seas where others may have seen her body as she bathes;
But you know, it doesn’t matter, not in the end,
For everything moves toward Death,
There’s no safe haven.

Years will pass,
We’ll all grow harder, each of us separate from the other,
& often say to ourselves (I already see myself doing it),
“If only I’d known…” or even married say, “If only I’d know, if only…”
O cursed rendezvous, O heart grown sterile…
I’ve behaved badly.

Maniacs for happiness, wanting so much,
What shall we do?  I with my soul,
She with her fallible youth!
O aging sinner,
How many nights I’ll be untrue to myself
From now on, in your honor!

Her eyes winked, “Do you understand?
But why don’t you understand?”
But neither of us could take that first step
To fall to our knees together.  Ah!….

The Moon is rising.
O high road of the great lost dreams….

We’ve passed the cotton mills, the saw mils,
There’s nothing out there now but the milestone markers,
Like little clouds of confectioner’s rose,
While the slender crescent of the moon rises,
O road of dreams, O music that never was….

In this pine wood that has been dark forever
How many clean deep hidden bedrooms!
O for an evening’s elopement there!
Already I see myself there,
There are lovers, I can see them together, a beautiful pair,
Gesturing toward each other, lawless, wild gestures.

& I pass & leave them behind,
& lie down facing the sky,
& the road turns, & I am Ariel,
& no one waits for me, I am going nowhere,
I have only the sad friendship of hotel rooms.

The Moon rises,
O high road of great dreams,
O road without end,
Here is the Inn
Where they light the lanterns,
& we paused to drink a glass of milk,
& then begin again,
With the sounds of the crickets all around,
Under the stars of July.

O light of the Moon,
Bengal lights, like the fire of weddings
Drowning my misfortunes,
Shadows of poplars along the route…
The listening mountain stream
Is singing, & listening to itself singing…
In these floodings of the river of death…

Alone in the moonlight,
Challenging me to write,
O this night of the road,
O stars, terrifying, so many,
O quickly-passing hour,
O if there was something to hold
Against the coming autumn….

It’s become cold, very cold,
What if at this hour
She too was traveling through forests
To drown her unhappiness
In these moonlight visions…
I know her, how she loves to stay out late—
I can imagine how she’ll have forgotten her scarf,
& she’ll catch cold, lost in the beauty if the hour,
Look after yourself, I beg you,
I can’t bear to hear that cough…

Why didn’t I fall at your knees when I had the chance!
Why didn’t you faint at my knees when you had the chance!
I’d have been the perfect husband, I know it,
Perfect in exactly the way that the rustle of your dress
Moving through the night is perfect.

VIII.  Legend

Heraldries of anemia!

Psalter of autumn!
Offertory chalice in which I have placed all my happiness & spirit
For a sacrifice to something so feminine
With that little dry cough, unknown,
Seen on these days when everything is completely deserted,
Held-down, ash-gray, loneliness mounted
Like a jewel on a dressing table,
In which we can already detect the final coming of winter
Fleeing past the superhuman cries of the sea.

Yes.  Grand passions, terrific stories of love:  but then what?…

More of the same:  lips with no particular shape,
Autumn lips, deflowered lips, fading, fading,
& although pretty much dead to all love-songs,
Still hungry & bitter at the hunt,
But those eyes—they are the eyes of someone good & beautiful
But utterly closed in, as if locked in a cloister.

Finally she honors me with her confidences.
These hurt me more than she thinks.

“But my most darling, given your enlightened spirit,
Given the marvelous steel stilettos of those infallible eyes,
Given all that, on that cold & miserable day, how could you not see through
That complete & total low-budget fop?”

“He came first; I was alone near the fireplace;
His horse, tied to the front gate,
Sounded so desperately, like a lost soul…”

“Yes.  That’s touching (poor girl).
Then what?
Wait.  Look.  Right there.  That sunset epilogue come just in time for bed.
Then.  Really,
Have you noticed lately that when it is autumn, it is, I mean, really autumn?
The casinos,
Which are abandoned now,
Put away their pianos;
Yesterday, the orchestra ravaged
Its last polka,
Yesterday the final fanfare
Sobbed all the way to the railroad station…”

(Oh!  But she is so thin!
What is she doing to herself?
Harden, harden,
Clots of memory!)

“Let’s go, the telephone poles
In their gray exile
Will serve as your funeral mourners;
As for me, this is the season that makes me want to get out of here,
For already winter is coming.
So ok.  Take care of yourself.  Keep well.

“Enough!  Enough!
You’re the one who started all this!

“Silence!  The least blink of your eye is a great lie
Stop!  With people like you nothing is forever.
Really, let me assure you,
I could only love you on a bet, & I have doubts about even that!

“Silence!  Shut up!
You only love once.”

Good.  Now she must have a final reckoning with me.
But look—it’s not autumn anymore, therefore
The exile is over.
Now begins the sweetness of all the legends, the age of gold,
The legends of all Antigones.
They come with a sweetness that makes you want to ask,
“Did all that really happen?  When?”

Yes, it’s all legends, it’s the lost pearls of the piano keys
That taught me as a child,
It’s nothing, it’s what we heard about, it’s those beautiful prints
& the beasts of the earth & the birds of the air
Garlanded into the capital letters of a religious Missal;
& really, there’s not enough there to make you bleed when all is said & done?

Bleed?  Me?—The one moulded from the purest slime of the Cybele,
Made to be everything that the art of all the Adams
Of all the Edens ever promised, as faithful to her
As the sun is to the farthest western horizon….


O if that one, one night, would come to me, freely,
Seeking only the chance to drink at my lips, or die…

O Baptism!
O baptism of my whole reason for being!
To give birth to one good “I Love you!”
& then travel past men & gods
Under my window,
All of them lowering their eyes.

If it would come like lightning to a magnet,
Then my sky of storms would crack & open,
& the sudden showers of light would begin & last into the dawn
& there would be enormous thunder & sudden showers all night long!
That’s the end I want!

If only she would come!  & lowering her eyes
& wiping her feet
At the threshold of our church, O ancestors,
Ministers of Compassion,
She says:
“To me, you are not like other men,
They’re only men, you have come from the skies.
Your lips make me lower my eyes
Your whole bearing carries me away
& I hold these treasures for myself!  They are mine!
I know perfectly well that my destiny is now bound up in yours
(Yes, I have already adjusted to that fact)
To following you until you turn around, toward me
& I can tell you the beautiful truth about yourself!

“Truly, I do not think about the rest; I will wait
With all the tenderness of a life made purposeful especially for this.

“But I must tell you also that I cry at night,
That my sisters are really afraid I will die.

“I weep alone in corners, I have no interest in anything,
You have no idea how much I cried last Sunday, behind my prayer-book.

“You ask me why it’s you & not another,
Just believe me, it’s you & not another.

“I know this as well as I know the empty madness of my heart,
Or as I know that terrible mockery of yours.”

So she would come, a fugitive having escaped from something else, half-dead now,
To writhe on the mat that I placed for just that purpose at my door
& she would come to me with those eyes that are absolutely mad
& she would follow me with those eyes, everywhere, everywhere!


O diaphanous geraniums, magical street-warriors & enchantments,
Monomaniacal sacrileges!
Excitements, lewdness, douches!  O wine-presses
Of certain truly terrific nights!
Diapers & barking,
Thyrsi in the deep woods!
Transfusions, reprisals,
Getting up again, cold compresses & endless potions,
Angelus!  Complete loss of will
From nuptial debacles!  & nuptial debacles!….

& then, O my loves,
Everything in her days is for me,
O my little mine, O my quotidian,
In my little interior world,
& I mean it—for it is nowhere else!
O my little quotidian….

Then what?  O some genius,
Improvisations & insomnias!

Then?  The one who watches everything,
The dreamer in the corner:
“How far she is from me!  How beautiful!
Who is she?  Whose is she?
O beautiful stranger!  To speak to her!  To take her away!”
(& actually, when the ball is done & the music ends,
She’d follow me away in a simply pure & predestined way.)

& then I would avoid her for weeks,
After having hurt her seriously,
& then give her a time to meet again,
& make up, & begin playing our house-games again.
& then lose her for months & months
Until I can no longer recognize even her voice!….

Yes Time corrupts everything,
But doesn’t get rid of anything!

& then, no longer able to wander,
Hypochondria & rain,
Alone under ancient skies,
Playing the fool
Without a fire or a place for it
(Poor poor fool without love)
& then I have to fall very low
To purify this flesh of mine
Exulting at dawn
Fleeing from myself on some train
O Belles-Lettres, O Beaux-Arts,
Like an angel apart from the others

I shall have spent my life on railroad platforms
Ready to leave
Like some character in a disastrous story
& all for love,
All because my heart is crazy for the real glories of love.

How picturesque these missed trains are….

Always I hear, “See you soon!  See you real soon!”
I think of boats
At the end of the jetty….

& of jetties so perfectly constructed
Against the sea
Like me
Against love.

XI.  On The Defunct Thing

You don’t love me anymore,
Wouldn’t love me anymore,
There’s  no more between us
Than a fraternal occasion!…

—Ah, she doesn’t love me!
Because she would not take even that first step
That would have let us fall together at each other’s feet.

But if she had met
A, B, C, or D instead of me
She’d have loved them well enough.

I see it, I can see them…

Listen!  I see her
With the noble A, B, C, or D,
She was born for each of them,
It’s him, whoever & whichever he it is,
She reflects him, as she should,
She’s in rare form, in a perfect gesture
She shakes her head & says with a little laugh,
That nothing can stop or change
This astounding destiny from her.

It’s him, & she tells him,
“O your eyes, your walk!
O the incredible sound of your voice!
How long I’ve sought you!
O it’s you, really you, & so good that you have come like this…”

He turns the light down a little,
He bends her toward his heart,
He kisses her temple,
& at the place of her orphan heart…

He lulls her to sleep with his sad kisses,
He moves her almost to pity with his little love-talk,
He has some serious motives in all this,
He speaks of Destiny,
He swears by everything that exists,
& then, the fatal hour sounds.

Perhaps I am outside during all this,
Wandering nowhere in particular with her in my heart
Astonished, perhaps,
At how dark her windows are.

Or she is at his house, where she feels at home,
& as we’ve seen, she loves him, with a wild fidelity,
With all the beauty of her nights….

I have seen them!  This is more than I can take.

She has this air of great great fidelity
With her huge eyes shining so brightly
In a face made wholly new by all this.

I’d never be anything but a last resort.

Never anything but second best,
Like my day in Time
My place in Space
& I couldn’t settle
For that kind of depravity!…

No!  No!  With her it’s all or nothing!
& so I’ll go off like a fool
Striding though the autumn
With its high wind that says everything!

I’ll tell myself, “O this time
She is very distant, she weeps,
The great autumn wind weeps also.”
& I am alone at home,
& my noble heart is chilled,
& I am without love, & without anyone,
Because everything is misery everything is autumn,
Everything is hard & without mercy.

But if I could have loved you the way you wanted
You would have thought that the highest good:

Sure. Right. No thanks!


Get thee to a nunnery:  why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?  I myself am indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things, that it were better that my mother had not borne me.  We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us.  Go thy ways to a nunnery.  — Hamlet

Black north wind, howling downpour,
& black river, closed-up houses,
& parts of town sinister as Morgues,
& someone alone, late for something, bringing with him
All the misery of the heart & of everything,
& the innocence that has been dirtied by coming here
& that now cries to the storm:  “Oh?  Water, yes, for my heart
Which is burning so, for my flesh which so obsesses me!”

O she who is my heart & my flesh, what is she doing?….

If she is out in this vile weather
From what too-human adventures is she returning?
& if she is inside,
Unable to sleep because of the great wind,
Is she thinking on Happiness,
That kind of happiness that can come at any price,
& saying:  “Anything O anything, rather than let my heart
Still be so misunderstood?”

Be careful, be careful poor desperate heart.

(Languor, debilitations, palpitations, tears,
This miserable wish to be my wife!)

O motherland, O family!
& the soul turned away
From really heroic destinies
Beyond those even of the old maids
& that’s it, all over for this year!

Black night, closed houses, great wind,
Yes, to a nunnery, to a nunnery!

A convent in my native village,
A lovely place of hardly 20,000 people,
Standing between the school & the prefect’s offices,
& facing the cathedral
With anonymous women in gray robes
Always in prayer, at housework, or sewing;
& that’s enough for them….
& to scorn without envy
All that’s not part of this life
Of a Virgin of the Provinces,
& to walk always with a cold indifferent air
& lowered eyes.

O but I don’t want to see you in this scene
That would be so fatal to your real life,
& how you face looks so wretched behind the closed doors,
& your poor sad little indistinct gestures,
Until you grow perhaps incapable even of weeping.

But it won’t happen & cannot be
Because you are not like the others
Shrinking back behind the curtains
When the bedtime sun wallows in the sunset of its own blood!
O you are not old enough,
Promise that you’ll never be old enough,
Promise to stay exactly like the real image of yourself, good as gold….

The night is forever black,
The wind is sad almost beyond comprehension,
& everything tells an old story,
That there must always be two before the chimney fire,
The story of couples,
& that everything must be secure in the house, cobbled together in a fatalistic hymn!
But you—don’t give in
To these games, they are so vile…

Or to the great pity of November!
Stay in your little room,
Or go, with a cold & indifferent air,
Your lovely eyes
Irreconcilably lowered.

But she is out there, where the night is so endlessly black,
This life is one deadening dizzying circus!
All acts are creature-acts, everything is mere habit,
Without any real meaning!

The only sure thing is, we shall all die.
But if I am to love these stories
Behind the orphan heroine’s beautiful eyes,
Nature, give me the strength & the courage
To believe that I’m old enough
Nature, let me face the truth,
Lift up my head,
Since, sooner or later, we shall all die….