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"Seven Poems"

Pierre Reverdy

translated by
Kenneth Rexroth

THE SAME NUMBER  |  STILL LIFE-PORTRAIT
THE DRY TONGUE  |  SPECTACLE FOR THE EYES  |  MEMORY
SACRIFICED MAN  |  LIVE FLESH

These seven poems, translated from the French by Kenneth Rexroth, are from Pierre Reverdy: Selected Poems, published in 1969 and now out of print. Reverdy is one of the foremost poets associated with cubism, and his work was also a direct inspiration for the emerging surrealist and dadaist movements. Reverdy's cubist poetry, however, is rather unlike the later movements he helped influence. As Rexroth says in his Introduction:

"Poetry such as this attempts not just a new syntax of the word. Its revolution is aimed at the syntax of the mind itself. Its restructuring of experience is purposive, not dreamlike, and hence it possesses an uncanniness fundamentally different in kind from the most haunted utterances of the Surrealist or Symbolist unconscious."

 

THE SAME NUMBER

The hardly open eyes
                The hand on the other shore
The sky
           And everything that happens there
The leaning door
              A head sticks out
From the frame
And through the shutters
You can see out
The sun fills everything
But the trees are still green
                          The falling hour
                          It gets warmer
And the houses are smaller
The passersby go less quickly
And always look up
                 The lamp shines on us now
Looking far away
We could see the light
                          Coming
We were happy
                          That evening

At the other house where somebody waits for us

 

STILL LIFE-PORTRAIT

Cigarette papers datebook and tobacco pouch
Life
Ought to be like painting
Still
And literature
A hairless head
Eyes straight
Comma
A flat nose a plane
On the forehead
My portrait
My heart beats
It's an alarm clock
In the mirror I'm full length
My head smokes

 

THE DRY TONGUE

There is a nail
         Holding up the slope
The bright tatter of twisting wind blows and anyone
     who understands
           The whole road is naked
the pavement the sidewalks the distance the railings are
     white
                     Not a drop of rain
                     Not a leaf of a tree
                     Not the shadow of a garment
                                             I wait
                                                the station is a long way off
The river still flows as you go up along the embankments
       the earth is dried out
                everything is naked and white

With only the movement of a clock out of order
                        the noise of the train passed
                                   I wait

 

SPECTACLE FOR THE EYES

The heads that got out of line have fallen
Everybody yells out the windows
Others are also in the street
In the middle of noise and laughter
There are animals you have never seen
Familiar passersby
Golden faces
Voices on the paths
Broad accents
Then about noon the sun the trumpets
Men so happy they start to laugh
Houses opening their eyes
The doorsills smile with welcome
When the parade floats in dust
A child with eyes burning with astonishment
Against the wife with a blue apron
The blond child and the angel
Timid before all these people come together
Like nobody they ever knew
Whom they'd like to go away with
Marvelous deathless foreigners who go by
The evening lights its lamps again
The show sets up its flares
The blazing dancer comes out of her suitcase
The swollen tights come to life
The one-wheeled bicycle runs on the frame
The spotlight rolls in the track
They jump through the scenery
While the equivocal deep shadow of the circus
Revolves with the racket
And the child dreamer of magnificent dreams
Weeps for his own ugliness

 

MEMORY

Just a minute
                  And I am back
Of everything that's gone I have kept nothing
A point
         The wide sky
                        And at the last moment
The lantern goes by
                   The step you hear
    Somebody stops and everything else goes on
You let the world go
                      And what is inside
Dancing lights
            Outstretched shadows
There is still space
                     Looking ahead
A cage where a live animal leaps
Breast and arms make the same motion
A woman was laughing
                     With her head thrown back
And the man who came mistook us
Who didn't know each other all three of us
And yet we formed
                        A world full of hope

 

SACRIFICED MAN

Nothing but blue spots in the corner of a sheet
Memories of smiles filed away
A head and thorns on a crown of arms
Heaving shoulders
At last the mill moves
And the mountain of brass wire
Slides around the world
Somewhere doors open
On ordered numbers
Gathered by name
By height
Rollcall
Over the whole mob
Rain splinters of glass
Or dew
The dampness of the shores penetrates to the middle
    of the driest soil
And beneath their shivering dance the houses
Rotted by sun and chill wear away
Then leaves are born from young girl's fingertips
Eyes open under moss
Now and then feet crush eyelids
Then curtains are drawn still lower
The head turns and hides in the hollow of the arms
Memories stir
Night goes

 

LIVE FLESH

Rise up carcass and walk
Nothing new under the yellow sun
The very last of the last gold pieces
The light which detaches itself
under the films of time
The lock of the bursting heart
A silk thread
A lead wire
A trickle of blood
After waves of silence
These signs of love's black pelt
Heaven slippery as your eye
The neck wrenched with pride
My life in the wings
Where I can watch the harvests of death undulate
All these avid hands kneading balls of smoke
Heavier than the pillars of the universe
Empty heads
Naked hearts
Perfumed hands
Monkey tentacles aiming at the clouds
In the wrinkles of those grimaces
A straight line bends
A nerve twists
The sated sea
Love
Death's bitter smile

 

© 1969 New Directions Publishing Corp.

These seven poems, translated from the French by Kenneth Rexroth, are from Pierre Reverdy: Selected Poems, published by New Directions in 1969, now out of print. Two new translations of Reverdy's prose poems have recently been released. See Wikipedia: Pierre Reverdy for more.

see also:  Rexroth: The Cubist Poetry of Pierre Reverdy (Introduction to Selected Poems)

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