When you feel compelled to make a big deal, a lot of noise about something that’s most likely obvious, isn’t that a sign you are being rather absurd? Surely, the poems of Robert Desnos require no commentary beyond a simple prose hymn of appreciation.
Desnos was a Surrealist. So maybe my compulsion to rummage around in the goes-without-saying is somehow absurdly appropriate. And who knows? Maybe that rummaging will stir up a small dust cloud of not-obvious particles.
In his poems, Desnos expresses an unrequited, impossible love. That’s obvious fact number one. He situates that unrequited condition in dream and fantasy, in beautifully strange figures of speech. That’s obvious fact number two.
What else besides those two things can be said?
I think Desnos accomplished something else with his poems, beyond expressing pathology and surrealizing language. To me, he opens up a tangent reality, a zone of art farther than dream.
Can a poem be more than a poem? Can it be a written temple of quietly breathed redemption? Desnos, in his poems, designates a place of being for himself that is sufficient as an aesthetic dwelling. He could, I think, exist contentedly inside the art of his poems. Desire, absence, and imagination are metabolized into the equanimity of accomplished, timeless work.
Desnos’s aesthetic sincerity is disconcerting and beautiful.
The Pataphysicist René Daumal (1908 – 1944) distinguished between mere absurdity (our regular condition of being human) and The Absurd (where metaphysics and astonishment teem). Feeling and confessing a forlorn love is a symptom of mere existential absurdity. But transmuting and casting that affliction into an auxiliary world of extreme vision, of elevated art is writing toward The Absurd — paradox of void and significance.
Have I said anything new, touched the not-so-obvious? I don’t know. But I just sense that something else besides expression and dream are going on in the poem below. It’s as if poetic “sleep” is the profoundest awakening.
In the night there are of course the seven wonders
of the world and greatness and tragedy and enchantment.
Forests collide with legendary creatures hiding in thickets.
There is you.
In the night there are the walker’s footsteps the murderer’s
the town policeman’s light from the street lamp and the ragman’s lantern
There is you.
In the night trains go past and boats
and the fantasy of countries where it’s daytime. The last breaths
of twilight and the first shivers of dawn.
There is you.
A piano tune, a shout.
A door slams. A clock.
And not only beings and things and physical sounds.
But also me chasing myself or endlessly going beyond me.
There is you the sacrifice, you that I’m waiting for.
Sometimes at the moment of sleep strange figures are born and disappear.
When I shut my eyes phosphorescent blooms appear and fade
and come to life again like fireworks made of flesh.
I pass through strange lands with creatures for company.
No doubt you are there, my beautiful discreet spy.
And the palpable soul of the vast reaches.
And perfumes of the sky and the stars the song of a rooster
from 2000 years ago and piercing screams in a flaming park and kisses.
Sinister handshakes in a sickly light and axles grinding on paralyzing roads.
No doubt there is you who I do not know, who on the contrary I do know.
But who, here in my dreams, demands to be felt without ever appearing.
You who remain out of reach in reality and in dream.
You who belong to me through my will to possess your illusion
but who brings your face near mine only if my eyes are closed in dream as well as
You who in spite of an easy rhetoric where the waves die on the beach
where crows fly into ruined factories, where the wood rots
crackling under a lead sun.
You who are at the depths of my dreams stirring up a mind
full of metamorphoses leaving me your glove
when I kiss your hand.
In the night there are stars and the shadowy motion of the sea,
of rivers, forests, towns, grass and the lungs
of millions and millions of beings.
In the night there are the seven wonders of the world.
In the night there are no guardian angels, but there is sleep.
In the night there is you.
In the daylight too.
The composer Witold Lutoslawski wrote some music inspired by this Desnos poem.
Posted by Tim Buck