Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

Seamus Heaney




And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open


From The Spirit Level, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996)



A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts

Charles Freger
Charles Fréger, Babugeri, Bansko, Bulgaria, 2010-2011


A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts

by Wallace Stevens


The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

How Do You Do?

Guido's Hand of Music

Guido d’Arezzo, The Harmonic Hand, Venice Petri Rabani 1554.


How Do You Do?

By Jeff Dolven


All hands are out on the street today,
straining against the leashes of forearms.
Little concerned with us, they leap
to greet each other, tangle and clasp,
a subtle suction, like a kiss,
then off again in a friendly game
to overlord and underdog
we only understand in part.

Sometime later, folded in prayer,
or contemplation, right says to left,
if anything should happen to me
you’ll know, won’t you, what to do?
and left says to right, you’ve always kept me
friendless and illiterate.
We really ought to get them to shake,
but it’s not clear that they fit that way.


Jeff Dolven is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Interdiscplinary Program in the Humanities (IHUM) at Princeton University. He is also an Editor at Large at Cabinet magazine and The American Reader. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The TLS, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. ‘How Do You Do?’ is taken from his new collection Speculative Music, published by Sarabande Books in July, 2013.


My God, It’s Full of Stars


Film still,  Afronauts, Dir. Frances Bodomo (2013)


My God, It’s Full of Stars

By Tracy K. Smith


We like to think of it as parallel to what we know,
Only bigger. One man against the authorities.
Or one man against a city of zombies. One man

Who is not, in fact, a man, sent to understand
The caravan of men now chasing him like red ants
Let loose down the pants of America. Man on the run.

Man with a ship to catch, a payload to drop,
This message going out to all of space. . . . Though
Maybe it’s more like life below the sea: silent,

Buoyant, bizarrely benign. Relics
Of an outmoded design. Some like to imagine
A cosmic mother watching through a spray of stars,

Mouthing yes, yes as we toddle toward the light,
Biting her lip if we teeter at some ledge. Longing
To sweep us to her breast, she hopes for the best

While the father storms through adjacent rooms
Ranting with the force of Kingdom Come,
Not caring anymore what might snap us in its jaw.

Sometimes,  what I see is a library in a rural community.
All the tall shelves in the big open room. And the pencils
In a cup at Circulation, gnawed on by the entire population.

The books have lived here all along, belonging
For weeks at a time to one or another in the brief sequence
Of family names, speaking (at night mostly) to a face,

A pair of eyes. The most remarkable lies.


Charlton Heston is waiting to be let in. He asked once politely.
A second time with force from the diaphragm. The third time,
He did it like Moses: arms raised high, face an apocryphal white.

Shirt crisp, suit trim, he stoops a little coming in,
Then grows tall. He scans the room. He stands until I gesture,
Then he sits. Birds commence their evening chatter. Someone fires

Charcoals out below. He’ll take a whiskey if I have it. Water if I don’t.
I ask him to start from the beginning, but he goes only halfway back.
That was the future once, he says. Before the world went upside down.

Hero, survivor, God’s right hand man, I know he sees the blank
Surface of the moon where I see a language built from brick and bone.
He sits straight in his seat, takes a long, slow high-thespian breath,

Then lets it go. For all I know, I was the last true man on this earth. And:
May I smoke? The voices outside soften. Planes jet past heading off or back.
Someone cries that she does not want to go to bed. Footsteps overhead.

A fountain in the neighbor’s yard babbles to itself, and the night air
Lifts the sound indoors. It was another time, he says, picking up again.
We were pioneers. Will you fight to stay alive here, riding the earth

Toward God-knows-where? I think of Atlantis buried under ice, gone
One day from sight, the shore from which it rose now glacial and stark.
Our eyes adjust to the dark.


Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,

That the others have come and gone—a momentary blip—

When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,

Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel

Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,

Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,

Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones

At whatever are their moons. They live wondering

If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,

And the great black distance they—we—flicker in.

Maybe the dead know, their eyes widening at last,

Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on

At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns

Not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want to be

One notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.

Wide open, so everything floods in at once.

And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,

Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.

So that I might be sitting now beside my father

As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe

For the first time in the winter of 1959.


In those last scenes of Kubrick’s 2001
When Dave is whisked into the center of space,
Which unfurls in an aurora of orgasmic light
Before opening wide, like a jungle orchid
For a love-struck bee, then goes liquid,
Paint-in-water, and then gauze wafting out and off,
Before, finally, the night tide, luminescent
And vague, swirls in, and on and on. . . .

In those last scenes, as he floats
Above Jupiter’s vast canyons and seas,
Over the lava strewn plains and mountains
Packed in ice, that whole time, he doesn’t blink.
In his little ship, blind to what he rides, whisked
Across the wide-screen of unparcelled time,
Who knows what blazes through his mind?
Is it still his life he moves through, or does
That end at the end of what he can name?

On set, it’s shot after shot till Kubrick is happy,
Then the costumes go back on their racks
And the great gleaming set goes black.


When my father worked on the Hubble Telescope, he said
They operated like surgeons: scrubbed and sheathed
In papery green, the room a clean cold, a bright white.

He’d read Larry Niven at home, and drink scotch on the rocks,
His eyes exhausted and pink. These were the Reagan years,
When we lived with our finger on The Button and struggled

To view our enemies as children. My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise

As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space. On the ground, we tied postcards to balloons
For peace. Prince Charles married Lady Di. Rock Hudson died.

We learned new words for things. The decade changed.

The first few pictures came back blurred, and I felt ashamed
For all the cheerful engineers, my father and his tribe. The second time,
The optics jibed. We saw to the edge of all there is—

So brutal and alive it seemed to comprehend us back.


Afronauts (2013) Dir. Frances Bodomo, starring Diandra Forrest.

Tracy K. Smith, “My God, It’s Full of Stars” from Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011)


Tracy K. Smith is a Professor of Creative Writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. Her most recent collection of poetry Life on Mars was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

Sarah Kirsch (1935 – 2013)


Eichen und Rosen


Ich habe mir in Ferlinghettis Laden

Einen Fahrplan gekauft und sitze im Pullman-Waggon

Und fahre die Küste ab Tag und Nacht und der Dichter

Spiegelt seinen Kuhschädel im Fenster wir fahren

Auf ewig nach Wyoming rein Zeile für Zeile Mann

O Mann ist das ein Tempo und ich sehe ihn mit einer

Krimmerfellmütze in einem Blechdorf die schwankenden

Telegrafenmaste kippen gleich um und die Straßen-

Kreuzer heulen wie Wölfe, auf einer Kreuzung.

Die welt ist ein Gehöft im Winter wir kommen

Nicht rein fliegender Nebel wenn ich zum Fenster gehe

Und die herrlichen Baüme in Deutschland

Wandern als amerikanische Eichen glühend vorbei

Auf den prebyterianischen Kirchhöfen modern Rosen

Und sein Gedicht knallt wieter Schienenstöße

Böse böse redden schwerverständliche Krähen

Und als es extreme dunkel geworden ist und wir uns

Unübersehbar wohl und Steppe im Blick weiße Heide

In der Transkyrillischen Bahn befinden, komm

Ins Offene Freund und Leben rückwärts buchstabieren

Fragen wir uns was aus den wilden Jungs Jewgeni Andrei

Inzwischen alles geworden sein kann und wir fliegen

Durch die unendlichen nichtabhörbaren Birkenwälder des Zaren

Lew Kopelew winkt uns ein Streckenarbeiter

Mitm Beutel schwarzer Heimaterde zu sein riesiger Kopf

Sein weißer Bart begleiten uns lange sind einfach nicht

Von der Scheibe zu wischen bevor der schöne Waggon

Auffährt in herbstlichen flammended Flammen.

Wim Wenders

Film still from Alice in den Städten (1974) Dir. Wim Wenders



Oaks and Roses


I’ve bought myself a timetable in Ferlinghetti’s

Store and I sit in the Pullman car

And ride along the coast day and night and the poet

Mirrors his cowhead in the window we ride

Endlessly into Wyoming line by line man

Oh man what a pace and I see him with an

Astrakhan cap in a tinplate village the tottering

Telegraph poles are just about toppling and the highway

Cruisers howl like wolves, on a crossing.

The world is a farmstead in winter we can’t

Get in fog flies when I go to the window

And the magnificent trees in Germany

Hike by fiery as American oaks

Roses rot in Presbyterian graveyards

And his poem keeps cracking track-jolts

Wicked wicked talk abstruse rooks

And when it has gotten extremely dark and we find ourselves

Unbounded steppe in our view white heather

On the Transcyrillian Railway, come

Into the open friend and we spell live backwards

Ask what can have become of the wild boys Yevgeny Andrei

In the meantime and we fly

Through the boundless untappable birchwoods of the Czar

Lev Koplev waves to us a track-layer

With a bag of black earth from home his giant head

White beard accompany us long can’t be

Wiped off the pane before the beautiful wagon

Drives up in autumnal fiery flames.



from the collection Catlives: Sarah Kirsch’s “Katzenleben”

Translated by Marina Roscher and Charles Fishman, 1990

Blog editor’s note: Many thanks to Philipp Weber for enlightening me on Sarah Kirsch and other contemporary German poets during my visit this summer to Berlin.

Hölderlin’s River

Der Ister

Friederich Hölderlin c.1803-5


Jetzt komme, Feuer!
Begierig sind wir,
Zu schauen den Tag,
Und wenn die Prüfung
Ist durch die Knie gegangen,
Mag einer spüren das Waldgeschrei.
Wir singen aber vom Indus her
Fernangekommen und
Vom Alpheus, lange haben
Das Schickliche wir gesucht,
Nicht ohne Schwingen mag
Zum Nächsten einer greifen
Und kommen auf die andere Seite.
Hier aber wollen wir bauen.
Denn Ströme machen urbar
Das Land. Wenn nämlich Kräuter wachsen
Und an denselben gehn
Im Sommer zu trinken die Tiere,
So gehn auch Menschen daran.

Man nennet aber diesen den Ister.
Schön wohnt er. Es brennet der Säulen Laub,
Und reget sich. Wild stehn
Sie aufgerichtet, untereinander; darob
Ein zweites Maß, springt vor
Von Felsen das Dach. So wundert
Mich nicht, daß er
Den Herkules zu Gaste geladen,
Fernglänzend, am Olympos drunten,
Da der, sich Schatten zu suchen
Vom heißen Isthmos kam,
Denn voll des Mutes waren
Daselbst sie, es bedarf aber, der Geister wegen,
Der Kühlung auch. Darum zog jener lieber
An die Wasserquellen hieher und gelben Ufer,
Hoch duftend oben, und schwarz
Vom Fichtenwald, wo in den Tiefen
Ein Jäger gern lustwandelt
Mittags, und Wachstum hörbar ist
An harzigen Bäumen des Isters,

Der scheinet aber fast
Rückwärts zu gehen und
Ich mein, er müsse kommen
Von Osten.
Vieles wäre
Zu sagen davon. Und warum hängt er
An den Bergen grad? Der andre,
Der Rhein, ist seitwärts
Hinweggegangen. Umsonst nicht gehn
Im Trocknen die Ströme. Aber wie? Ein Zeichen braucht es,
Nichts anderes, schlecht und recht, damit es Sonn
Und Mond trag im Gemüt, untrennbar,
Und fortgeh, Tag und Nacht auch, und
Die Himmlischen warm sich fühlen aneinander.
Darum sind jene auch
Die Freude des Höchsten. Denn wie käm er
Herunter? Und wie Hertha grün,
Sind sie die Kinder des Himmels. Aber allzugeduldig
Scheint der mir, nicht
Freier, und fast zu spotten. Nämlich wenn

Angehen soll der Tag
In der Jugend, wo er zu wachsen
Anfängt, es treibet ein anderer da
Hoch schon die Pracht, und Füllen gleich
In den Zaum knirscht er, und weithin hören
Das Treiben die Lüfte,
Ist der zufrieden;
Es brauchet aber Stiche der Fels
Und Furchen die Erd,
Unwirtbar wär es, ohne Weile;
Was aber jener tuet, der Strom,
weiß niemand.




Josef Koudelka Danube 2000

Josef Koudelka, Danube after dam construction, 2000





The Ister


Come to us, fire!
We are avid
For sight of day,
And when the ordeal
Has passed through the knees,
Woodsong is within hearing.
But we sing, having come
Far from the Indus
And Alpheus, we have long sought
Adequacy to fate,
It takes wings to seize
The nearest things
And reach the other side.
Let us settle here.
For the rivers make the land
Arable. If there be vegetation
And animals come to water
At the banks in summer,
Here men will also go.

And they call this the Ister.
Beautiful his dwelling. Leaves on columns
Burn and quiver. They stand in the wild,
Rising among each other; above which
Surges a second mass,
The roofing of rock. So it does not
Surprise me he had
Hercules as a guest,
Far-shining, up from Olympos,
Having left the Ishmos heat
In search of shade,
For though they had great fortitude
In that place, spirits also need
The cool. He therefore chose
To travel to these springs and yellow banks
With their ascending fragrance and black
With firs, and these valleys
That hunters love to roam
At noon, when you can hear the growing
Of the resinous trees of the Ister

Which almost seems
To run backwards and
Strikes me must come
From the East.
Much could be said
Of this. And why does he cling
So steep to these hills? The other,
The Rhine, ran off
Sideways. There is a reason rivers run
Through dry land. But how? All that is needed
Is a sign, pure and simple, which bears
Sun and moon in mind, indivisible,
And goes its way night and day, and
The gods will feel each other’s warmth.
Which is why rivers
Are the Almighty’s joy. How could He otherwise
Descend? And like green Hertha,
They are the children of heaven. Yet this one here
Strikes me as all too placed, barely
Free, almost laughable. For when
In his youth
The day come of him to begin
To grow, the Rhine is already there,
Driving his splendor higher, champing at the bit,
Like a colt, with the winds hearing
His passage in the distance,
While this one lies content.
But rock needs splitting,
Earth needs furrowing,
No habitation unless one longer;
But what he does, the river,
Nobody knows.

translation by Richard Sieburth, from Friederich Hölderlin: Hymns and Fragments, Princeton University Press, 1984




Heidegger reads Hölderlin’s “Der Ister”, excerpt from the documentary film “The Ister” (2004) dir. David Barison and Daniel Ross

The Ister
Still from the documentary film “The Ister” (2004) written/directed David Barison & Daniel Ross



Extract from Claudio Magris, The Danube [Danubio]


The river has many names. Among some peoples the words Danube and Ister were used respectively for the upper and lower courses, but sometimes for the entire length. Pliny, Strabo and Ptolemy wondered where the one ended and the other began: maybe in Illyria, or at the Iron Gates. The river, which Ovid called “bisnominis” or double-named, draws German culture, with its dream of an Odyssey of the spirit, towards the east, mingling it with other cultures in countless hybrid metamorphoses in which it find fulfillment and tis fall. The German scholar who travels fitfully along the whole course of the river carries with him his baggage of fads and quotations; if the poet entrusts himself to his bateau ivre, his understudy tries to follow the advice of Jean Paul, who suggested that on the way one should gather and record no only visual images but old prefaces and playbills, railway- station gossip, epics and battles, funerary and metaphysical inscriptions, newspaper clippings, and notices pinned up in taverns and parish halls. Memories, impressions, reflections and landscapes on a voyage to the Orient, announces a title of Lamartine’s. Reflections and impressions of whom? one may ask. When we travel alone, as happens only too often, we have to pay our way out of our own pocket; but occasionally life is good to us, and enables us to see the world, if only in brief snatches of time, with those four or five friends who will bear us witness on the Day of Judgment, and speak in our name.

Between one trip and the next we attempt to transfer the bulging files of notes onto the flat surface of paper, to get the bundles of stuff, the note-pads, the leaflets and the catalogues, down onto typewritten sheets. Literature as moving house; and as in every change of address something is lost and something else turns up in a “safe place” we had forgotten about. Indeed, we go almost like orphans, says Hölderlin in his poem on the sources of the Danube: the river flows on glittering in the sunlight, like the non-existent luminous spots on the wall, the neon dazzle.

A tremor of nothingness sets fire to things, the tin cans left on the beach and the reflectors of motorcars, just as sunset makes the windows blaze. The river adds up to nothing and travelling is immoral: this is what Weininger said, as he was travelling. But the river is an old Taoist master, and along its banks it gives lessons on the great Wheel and the gaps between its spokes. In every journey there is at least a smattering of the South, with hours of relaxation, of idleness. Heedless of the orphans on its banks the Danube flows down towards the sea, towards the supreme conviction.

Claudio Magris, The Danube, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989

Inge Morath Sulina Canal 1994

Inge Morath, Sulina Canal – Danube Delta, 1994








Some Accounts of Talking to the Sun

John Donne

The Sunne Rising


Busie old foole, unruly Sunne,

Why dost thou thus,

Through windowes, and through curtaines call on us?

Must to thy motions lovers seasons run?

Sawcy pedantique wretch, goe chide

Late schoole boyes, and sowre prentices,

Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride,

Call countrey ants to harvest offices;

Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme,

Nor houres, dayes, moneths, which are the rags of time.


Thy beames, so reverend, and strong

Why shouldst thou thinke?

I could eclipse and cloud them with a winke,

But that I would not lose her sight so long:

If her eyes have not blinded thine,

Looke, and to morrow late, tell mee,

Whether both the’India’s of spice and Myne

Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with mee.

Aske for those Kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,

And thou shalt heare, All here in one bed lay.


She’is all States, and all Princes, I,

Nothing else is.

Princes doe but play us; compar’d to this,

All honor’s mimique; All wealth alchimie.

Thou sunne art halfe as happy’as wee,

In that the world’s contracted thus;

Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties bee

To warme the world, that’s done in warming us.

Shine here to us, and thou art every where;

This bed thy center is, these walls, thy spheare.

John Donne  [c.1601]




The Sun woke me this morning loud
and clear, saying “Hey! I’ve been
trying to wake you up for fifteen
minutes. Don’t be so rude, you are
only the second poet I’ve ever chosen
to speak to personally

so why
aren’t you more attentive? If I could
burn you through the window I would
to wake you up. I can’t hang around
here all day.”

“Sorry, Sun, I stayed
up late last night talking to Hal.”

“When I woke up Mayakovsky he was
a lot more prompt” the Sun said
petulantly. “Most people are up
already waiting to see if I’m going
to put in an appearance.”

I tried
to apologize “I missed you yesterday.”
“That’s better” he said. “I didn’t
know you’d come out.” “You may be
wondering why I’ve come so close?”
“Yes” I said beginning to feel hot
wondering if maybe he wasn’t burning me

“Frankly I wanted to tell you
I like your poetry. I see a lot
on my rounds and you’re okay. You may
not be the greatest thing on earth, but
you’re different. Now, I’ve heard some
say you’re crazy, they being excessively
calm themselves to my mind, and other
crazy poets think that you’re a boring
reactionary. Not me.

Just keep on
like I do and pay no attention. You’ll
find that people always will complain
about the atmosphere, either too hot
or too cold too bright or too dark, days
too short or too long.

If you don’t appear
at all one day they think you’re lazy
or dead. Just keep right on, I like it.

And don’t worry about your lineage
poetic or natural. The Sun shines on
the jungle, you know, on the tundra
the sea, the ghetto. Wherever you were
I knew it and saw you moving. I was waiting
for you to get to work.

And now that you
are making your own days, so to speak,
even if no one reads you but me
you won’t be depressed. Not
everyone can look up, even at me. It
hurts their eyes.”
“Oh Sun, I’m so grateful to you!”

“Thanks and remember I’m watching. It’s
easier for me to speak to you out
here. I don’t have to slide down
between buildings to get your ear.
I know you love Manhattan, but
you ought to look up more often.

always embrace things, people earth
sky stars, as I do, freely and with
the appropriate sense of space. That
is your inclination, known in the heavens
and you should follow it to hell, if
necessary, which I doubt.

Maybe we’ll
speak again in Africa, of which I too
am specially fond. Go back to sleep now
Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem
in that brain of yours as my farewell.”

“Sun, don’t go!” I was awake
at last. “No, go I must, they’re calling
“Who are they?”

Rising he said “Some
day you’ll know. They’re calling to you
too.” Darkly he rose, and then I slept.

Frank O’Hara [1958]


An Extraordinary Adventure Which Befell Vladimir Mayakovksy In A Summer Cottage

A hundred and forty suns in one sunset blazed,
and summer rolled into July;
it was so hot,
the heat swam in a haze—
and this was in the country.
Pushkino, a hillock, had for hump
Akula, a large hill,
and at the hill’s foot
a village stood—
crooked with the crust of roofs.
Beyond the village
gaped a hole
and into that hole, most likely,
the sun sank down each time,
faithfully and slowly.
And next morning,
to flood the world
the sun would rise all scarlet.
Day after day
this very thing
to rouse in me
great anger.
And flying into such a rage one day
that all things paled with fear,
I yelled at the sun point-blank:
“Get down!
Stop crawling into that hellhole!”
At the sun I yelled:
“You shiftless lump!
You’re caressed by the clouds,
while here—winter and summer—
I must sit and draw these posters!”
I yelled at the sun again:
“Wait now!
Listen, goldbrow,
instead of going down,
why not come down to tea
with me!”
What have I done!
I’m finished!
Toward me, of his own good will,
spreading his beaming steps,
the sun strode across the field.
I tried to hide my fear,
and beat it backwards.
His eyes were in the garden now.
Then he passed through the garden.
His sun’s mass pressing
through the windows,
and crannies;
in he rolled;
drawing a breath,
he spoke deep bass:
“For the first time since creation,
I drive the fires back.
You called me?
Give me tea, poet,
spread out, spread out the jam!”
Tears gathered in my eyes—
the heat was maddening,
but pointing to the samovar
I said to him:
“Well, sit down then,
The devil had prompted my insolence
to shout at him,
I sat on the edge of a bench;
I was afraid of worse!
But, from the sun, a strange radiance
and forgetting
all formalities,
I sat chatting
with the luminary more freely.
Of this
and that I talked,
and of how I was swallowed up by Rosta,
but the sun, he says:
All right,
don’t worry,
look at things more simply!
And do you think
I find it easy
to shine?
Just try it, if you will!—
You move along,
since move you must;
you move—and shine your eyes out!”
We gossiped thus till dark—
Till former night, I mean.
For what darkness was there here?
We warmed up
to each other
and very soon,
openly displaying friendship,
I slapped him on the back.
The sun responded!
“You and I,
my comrade, are quite a pair!
Let’s go, my poet,
let’s dawn
and sing
in a gray tattered world.
I shall pour forth my sun,
and you—your own,
in verse.”
A wall of shadows,
a jail of nights
fell under the double-barreled suns.
A commotion of verse and light—
shine all your worth!
Drowsy and dull,
one tired,
wanting to stretch out
for the night.
shone in all my might,
and morning ran its round.
Always to shine,
to shine everywhere,
to the very deeps of the last days,
to shine—
and to hell with everything else!
That is my motto—
and the sun’s!

Vladimir Mayakovsky [1920]


The Cloud Corporation

Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly, Untitled [from Blooming. A Scattering of Blossoms And Other Things], 2007



The Cloud Corporation
By Timothy Donnelly


The clouds part revealing a mythology of clouds
assembled in light of earliest birds, an originary
text over water over time, and that without which

the clouds part revealing an apology for clouds
implicit in the air where the clouds had been
recently witnessed rehearsing departure, a heartfelt phrase

in the push of the airborne drops and crystals
over water over time—how being made to think
oneself an obstruction between the observer

and the object or objects under surveillance or even
desired—or if I am felt to be beside the point
then I have wanted that, but to block a path is like

not being immaterial enough, or being too much
when all they want from you now is your station
cleared of its personal effects please and vanish—

not that they’d ever just come out and say it when
all that darting around of the eyes, all that shaky
camouflage of paper could only portend the beginning of the

end of your tenure at this organization, and remember
a capacity to draw meaning out of such seeming
accidence landed one here to begin with, didn’t it.


The clouds part revealing an anatomy of clouds
viewed from the midst of human speculation, a business
project undertaken in a bid to acquire and retain

control of the formation and movement of clouds.
As late afternoons I have witnessed the distant
towers borrow luster from a bourbon sun, in-box

empty, surround sound on, all my money made
in lieu of conversation—where conversation indicates
the presence of desire in the parties to embark on

exchange of spirit, hours forzando with heartfelt phrase—
made metaphor for it, the face on the clock tower
bright as a meteor, as if a torch were held against

likelihood to illuminate the time so I could watch
the calm silent progress of its hands from the luxury
appointments of my office suite, the tumult below

or behind me out of mind, had not my whole attention
been riveted by the human figure stood upon
the tower’s topmost pinnacle, himself surveying

the clouds of the future parting in antiquity, a figure
not to be mistaken, tranquilly pacing a platform
with authority: the chief executive officer of clouds.


The clouds part revealing blueprints of the clouds
built in glass-front factories carved into cliff-faces
which, prior to the factories’ recent construction,

provided dorms for clans of hamadryas baboons,
a species revered in ancient Egypt as attendants
of Thoth, god of wisdom, science, and measurement.

Fans conveying clouds through aluminum ducts
can be heard from up to a mile away, depending on
air temperature, humidity, the absence or presence

of any competing sound, its origin and its character.
It is no more impossible to grasp the baboon’s
full significance in Egyptian religious symbolism

than it is to determine why clouds we manufacture
provoke in an audience more positive, lasting
response than do comparable clouds occurring in nature.

Even those who consider natural clouds products
of conscious manufacture seem to prefer that a merely
human mind lie behind the products they admire.

This development may be a form of self-exalting
or else another adaptation in order that we find
the hum of machinery comforting through darkness.


The clouds part revealing there’s no place left to sit
myself down except for a single wingback chair
backed into a corner to face the window in which

the clouds part revealing the insouciance of clouds
cavorting over the backs of the people in the field
who cut the ripened barley, who gather it in sheaves,

who beat grain from the sheaves with wooden flails,
who shake it loose from the scaly husk around it,
who throw the now threshed grain up into the gently

palm-fanned air whose steady current carries off
the chaff as the grain falls to the floor, who collect
the grain from the floor painstakingly to grind it

into flour, who bake the flour into loaves the priest will offer
in the sanctuary, its walls washed white like milk.
To perform it repeatedly, to perform it each time

as if the first, to walk the dim corridor believing that
the conference it leads to might change everything,
to adhere to a possibility of reward, of betterment,

of moving above, with effort, the condition into which
one has been born, to whom do I owe the pleasure
of the hum to which I have been listening too long.


The clouds part revealing the advocates of clouds,
believers in people, ideas and things, the workers
of the united fields of clouds, supporters of the wars

to keep clouds safe, the devotees of heartfelt phrase
and belief you can change with water over time.
It is the habit of a settled population to give ear to

whatever is desirable will come to pass, a caressing
confidence—but one unfortunately not borne out
by human experience, for most things people desire

have been desired ardently for thousands of years
and observe—they are no closer to realization today
than in Ramses’ time. Nor is there cause to believe

they will lose their coyness on some near tomorrow.
Attempts to speed them on have been undertaken
from the beginning; plans to force them overnight

are in copious, antagonistic operation today, and yet
they have thoroughly eluded us, and chances are
they will continue to elude us until the clouds part

in a flash of autonomous, ardent, local brainwork—
but when the clouds start to knit back together again,
we’ll dismiss the event as a glitch in transmission.


The clouds part revealing a congregation of bodies
united into one immaterial body, a fictive person
around whom the air is blurred with money, force

from which much harm will come, to whom my welfare
matters nothing. I sense without turning the light
from their wings, their eyes; they preen themselves

on the fire escape, the windowsill, their pink feet
vulnerable—a mistake to think of them that way.
If I turn around, the room might not be full of wings

capable of acting, in many respects, as a single being,
which is to say that I myself may be the source of
what I sense, but am no less powerless to change it.

Always around me, on my body, in my mouth, I fear them
and their love of money, everything I do without
thinking to help them make it. And if I am felt to be

beside the point, I have wanted that, to live apart
from what depends on killing me a little bit to keep
itself alive, and yet not happily, with all its needs

and comforts met, but fattened so far past that point
I am engrossed, and if I picture myself outside of it
it isn’t me anymore, but a parasite cast out, inviable.


The clouds part revealing the distinction between
words without meaning and meaning without words,
a phenomenon of nature, the westbound field

of low air pressure developing over water over time
and warm, saturated air on the sea surface rising
steadily replaced by cold air from above, the cycle

repeating, the warm moving upward into massive
thunderclouds, the cold descending into the eye
around which bands of thunderclouds spiral, counter-

clockwise, often in the hundreds, the atmospheric
pressure dropping even further, making winds
accelerate, the clouds revolve, a confusion of energy,

an incomprehensible volume of rain—I remember
the trick of thinking through infinity, a crowd of eyes
against an asphalt wall, my vision of it scrolling

left as the crowd thinned out to a spatter and then
just black until I fall asleep and then just black again,
past marketing, past focus groups, past human

resources, past management, past personal effects,
their insignificance evident in the eye of the dream
and through much of the debriefing I wake into next.


Cy Twombly, Untitled, 2007


Timothy Donnelly was on campus Friday April 26th, 2013 for “Lament of the Mak­ers: Con­cep­tu­al­ism and Poetic Free­dom” a sym­po­sium on con­cep­tual poetry orga­nized by the Con­tem­po­rary Poetry Col­lo­quium. “The Cloud Corporation” is from his collection The Cloud Corporation, Wave Books, 2010.


Forgotten American Poets of the 19th Century

George Inness, The Lackawanna Valley, 1855

George Innes, The Lackawanna Valley, 1855


Forgotten American Poets of the 19th Century
by Kent Johnson

                                                           —for John Bradley, in the 21st

Absalom William Moore is a poet who thought poetry was an anchor in the drift of the world.

Adelaide Mary Brown is a poet who inspired strong feelings among the bachelors of her town.

Bartholomew Derrick Taylor is a poet who spoke to us intimately, from an almost suffocating nearness.

Obedience Sophie Walker is a poet who believed there’s another world where we will read to each other high on a mountain in the wind.

Cuthbert Eli Morgan is a poet who always seemed to connect with the choir.

Abiah Charlotte Sanders is a poet who spun her gold down through the moving deep laurel shade all day.

Chauncey Thaddeus Powell is a poet who believed that there are no grounds for belief.

Lucretia Florence Jenkins is a poet who believed they will have to believe it as we believed it.

Cornelius August Parker is a poet who thought he was lit up like morning glories and was showered by the rain of his symbols.

Cyrus Wiley Butler is a poet who believed long poems are “much closer to a whole reality” than shorter poems, but too late.

Fredonia Anna Ross is a poet who believed she had spent the afternoon blowing soap bubbles.

Obediah Virgil Foster is a poet who believed the day was gloves.

Hester Wilma Campbell is a poet who was suddenly covered at the party by the wasps of the doorsill.

Ebenezer Charles Freeman is a poet whose last words were “The pool is covered in slime.”

Permelia Margaret Holmes is a poet who believed that when a screen door banged in the wind it made one of her hinges come loose.

Epaphroditus Benjamin Warren is a poet who didn’t and doesn’t really care where poetry is now.

Prudence Alice Grant is a poet who rode a mule until the mule had to be carried.

Phineas Derrick Knight is a poet who thought of himself highly, believing the nature of what is personal imitates oblivion.

Temperance Clarissa Hamilton is a poet who wrote poems in French with the design that they be translated into the English of the Queen.

Hiram Josiah Hunt is a poet who dragged a rotten log from the bottom of a stagnant pond.

Jedediah Louis Mason is a poet who nested at the end of a tunnel, where he was discovered beneath a bank.

Elijah Aquilla Burns is a poet who loved Rochester, and who flows northward like two joined sewers.

Zachariah Thomas Hayes is a poet who believed we go back to poems as to a wife, leaving the boyfriend we desire.

Malvina Penelope Smith is a poet who shouted primitive slogans and shot symbolic smoke out her gills.

Olive Martha Weaver is a poet who believed she could simply choose to “wander away” from an optional apocalypse.

Nathaniel Edward East is a poet who wondered how the singing of the housefinch rings in finchskull, which wondering made him mad.

Electa Joan McCoy is a poet who believed it was a misunderstanding, mud sliding from the side where the thing was let in.

Mabel Ellen Greene is a poet who believed the whole brilliant mass comes spattering down.

Hezekiah Zander Fox is a poet whose two stalks pushed from the brain, through a series of miraculous infoldings to form optic cups.

Kesiah Relief Riley is a poet whose hair was black, and whose eyes were black, and from whose long fingers the spirits were conjured.

Newton Duncan Stone is a poet who believed Orpheus liked the glad personal quality of the things beneath the sky, which on that strange day began to rain frogs.

Isaac Davis Gibson is a poet who had a cow’s head on his shoulders and candles sprouting from his back.

Abigail Isabel Hicks is a poet who has disappeared into libraries, into microfilm.

Jeremiah Cross Shaw is a poet who went mad and had relations with Longfellow, his steed.

Tryphosia Sybrina Chapman is a poet who believed our jousting ends in music, like saplings do, after a typhoon.

Loretta Judith Porter is a poet who liked it when it was snowing in Paris, a city which does not exist.
Priscilla Elinamifia Woods is a poet who wrapped you in the burnoose of memories against the dark temptations of the flesh.

Francis Quiet Bryant is a poet who entered the forest, followed a path, and was eaten by The Bear, or The Witch.

Judah Robert Daniels is a poet who discovered a way to translate Eastern texts so that Western men could read Orientally, down at the beach of agates.

Lafayette Blessed Strongly is a poet who thought he was ahead of his time, but now he is regarded as apocryphal.

Pleasant Reunion Washington is a poet whose last line was “I don’t think the leeches are sucking anymore.”

Jackson Auction Black is a poet whose classical meters were all blasted to ruins in defense of Charleston.

Henrietta Troy Mills is a poet who was stolen by the Apache and became an Apache, it is rumored.

Edward Azariah Cole is a poet who knew he would show them, those who had laughed and mocked him, but alas.

Anne Liza Bishop is a poet who insisted on signing Anonymous and so forever does.

Martha Damaris Tucker is a poet who did not doubt that her hands or her whole body were hers, as the grain of sand to the haboob or the shrimp to the tsunami.

Winifred Fullest Hart is a poet who, like Thomas Jefferson, saw grass enough for myriads of oxen to grind between their teeth.

Kenward Linwood Johnson is a poet who at one end of his line had a knot, and at the other end a hook, and he sat fishing for a camel until he was called to come back.

Experience April Weaver is a poet whose sorrow was so wide you couldn’t see across it, if sorrow could be seen.



On Friday April 26th, 2013, Kent Johnson joins us in conversation with Timothy Donnelly, Jena Osman, Monica de la Torre and a keynote address by Vanessa Place.  “Lament of the Makers: Conceptualism and Poetic Freedom” is a symposium on conceptual poetry organized by the Contemporary Poetry Colloquium with funding and support from the Lewis Center for the Arts, The Program in Latin American Studies, The Princeton University 250th Anniversary Fund, and the English Department. The event will take place at 127 East Pyne from 3Pm – 6:30PM.


La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France

blaise-cendrars-le-bourlingueur Prismes Electriques

                                                                                                                                                Dédiée aux Musiciens

En ce temps-là j’étais en mon adolescence
J’avais à peine seize ans et je ne me souvenais déjà plus de mon enfance
J’étais à 16.000 lieues du lieu de ma naissance
J’étais à Moscou, dans la ville des mille et trois clochers et des sept gares
Et je n’avais pas assez des sept gares et des mille et trois tours
Car mon adolescence était si ardente et si folle
Que mon cœur, tour à tour, brûlait comme le temple
d’Éphèse ou comme la Place Rouge de Moscou
Quand le soleil se couche.
Et mes yeux éclairaient des voies anciennes.
Et j’étais déjà si mauvais poète
Que je ne savais pas aller jusqu’au bout.

Le Kremlin était comme un immense gâteau tartare
Croustillé d’or,
Avec les grandes amandes des cathédrales toutes blanches
Et l’or mielleux des cloches…

Un vieux moine me lisait la légende de Novgorode
J’avais soif
Et je déchiffrais des caractères cunéiformes
Puis, tout à coup, les pigeons du Saint-Esprit s’envolaient sur la place
Et mes mains s’envolaient aussi, avec des bruissements d’albatros
Et ceci, c’était les dernières réminiscences du dernier jour
Du tout dernier voyage
Et de la mer.

Pourtant, j’étais fort mauvais poète.
Je ne savais pas aller jusqu’au bout.
J’avais faim
Et tous les jours et toutes les femmes dans les cafés et tous les verres
J’aurais voulu les boire et les casser
Et toutes les vitrines et toutes les rues
Et toutes les maisons et toutes les vies
Et toutes les roues des fiacres qui tournaient en tourbillon sur les mauvais pavés
J’aurais voulu les plonger dans une fournaise de glaives
Et j’aurais voulu broyer tous les os
Et arracher toutes les langues
Et liquéfier tous ces grands corps étranges et nus sous les vêtements qui m’affolent…
Je pressentais la venue du grand Christ rouge de la révolution russe…
Et le soleil était une mauvaise plaie
Qui s’ouvrait comme un brasier.

En ce temps-là j’étais en mon adolescence
J’avais à peine seize ans et je ne me souvenais déjà plus de ma naissance
J’étais à Moscou, où je voulais me nourrir de flammes
Et je n’avais pas assez des tours et des gares que constellaient mes yeux

Delaunay from prose

En Sibérie tonnait le canon, c’était la guerre
La faim le froid la peste le choléra
Et les eaux limoneuses de l’Amour charriaient des millions de charognes.
Dans toutes les gares je voyais partir tous les derniers trains
Personne ne pouvait plus partir car on ne délivrait plus de billets
Et les soldats qui s’en allaient auraient bien voulu rester…
Un vieux moine me chantait la légende de Novgorode.

Moi, le mauvais poète qui ne voulais aller nulle part, je pouvais aller partout
Et aussi les marchands avaient encore assez d’argent
Pour aller tenter faire fortune.
Leur train partait tous les vendredis matin.
On disait qu’il y avait beaucoup de morts.
L’un emportait cent caisses de réveils et de coucous de la Forêt-Noire
Un autre, des boîtes à chapeaux, des cylindres et un assortiment de tire-bouchons de Sheffield
Un autre, des cercueils de Malmoë remplis de boîtes de conserve et de sardines à l’huile
Puis il y avait beaucoup de femmes
Des femmes, des entre-jambes à louer qui pouvaient aussi servir
De cercueils
Elles étaient toutes patentées
On disait qu’il y avait beaucoup de morts là-bas
Elles voyageaient à prix réduits
Et avaient toutes un compte-courant à la banque.

Or, un vendredi matin, ce fut enfin mon tour
On était en décembre
Et je partis moi aussi pour accompagner le voyageur en bijouterie qui se rendait à Kharbine
Nous avions deux coupés dans l’express et 34 coffres de joaillerie de Pforzheim
De la camelote allemande “Made in Germany”
Il m’avait habillé de neuf, et en montant dans le train j’avais perdu un bouton
– Je m’en souviens, je m’en souviens, j’y ai souvent pensé depuis –
Je couchais sur les coffres et j’étais tout heureux de pouvoir jouer avec le browning nickelé qu’il m’avait aussi donné

J’étais très heureux insouciant
Je croyais jouer aux brigands
Nous avions volé le trésor de Golconde
Et nous allions, grâce au transsibérien, le cacher de l’autre côté du monde
Je devais le défendre contre les voleurs de l’Oural qui avaient attaqué les saltimbanques de Jules Verne
Contre les khoungouzes, les boxers de la Chine
Et les enragés petits mongols du Grand-Lama
Alibaba et les quarante voleurs
Et les fidèles du terrible Vieux de la montagne
Et surtout, contre les plus modernes
Les rats d’hôtel
Et les spécialistes des express internationaux.

Et pourtant, et pourtant
J’étais triste comme un enfant.
Les rythmes du train
La “moëlle chemin-de-fer” des psychiatres américains
Le bruit des portes des voix des essieux grinçant sur les rails congelés
Le ferlin d’or de mon avenir
Mon browning le piano et les jurons des joueurs de cartes dans le compartiment d’à côté
L’épatante présence de Jeanne
L’homme aux lunettes bleues qui se promenait nerveusement dans le couloir et qui me regardait en passant
Froissis de femmes
Et le sifflement de la vapeur
Et le bruit éternel des roues en folie dans les ornières du ciel
Les vitres sont givrées
Pas de nature!
Et derrière les plaines sibériennes, le ciel bas et les grandes ombres des Taciturnes qui montent et qui descendent

Je suis couché dans un plaid
Comme ma vie
Et ma vie ne me tient pas plus chaud que ce châle Écossais
Et l’Europe tout entière aperçue au coupe-vent d’un express à toute vapeur
N’est pas plus riche que ma vie
Ma pauvre vie
Ce châle
Effiloché sur des coffres remplis d’or
Avec lesquels je roule
Que je rêve
Que je fume
Et la seule flamme de l’univers
Est une pauvre pensée…

Du fond de mon cœur des larmes me viennent
Si je pense, Amour, à ma maîtresse;
Elle n’est qu’une enfant, que je trouvai ainsi
Pâle, immaculée, au fond d’un bordel.

Ce n’est qu’une enfant, blonde, rieuse et triste,
Elle ne sourit pas et ne pleure jamais;
Mais au fond de ses yeux, quand elle vous y laisse boire,
Tremble un doux lys d’argent, la fleur du poète.

Elle est douce et muette, sans aucun reproche,
Avec un long tressaillement à votre approche;
Mais quand moi je lui viens, de-ci, de-là, de fête,
Elle fait un pas, puis ferme les yeux – et fait un pas.
Car elle est mon amour, et les autres femmes
N’ont que des robes d’or sur de grands corps de flammes,
Ma pauvre amie est si esseulée,
Elle est toute nue, n’a pas de corps – elle est trop pauvre.

Elle n’est qu’une fleur candide, fluette,
La fleur du poète, un pauvre lys d’argent,
Tout froid, tout seul, et déjà si fané
Que les larmes me viennent si je pense à son cœur.

Et cette nuit est pareille à cent mille autres quand un train file dans la nuit
– Les comètes tombent –
Et que l’homme et la femme, même jeunes, s’amusent à faire l’amour.

Le ciel est comme la tente déchirée d’un cirque pauvre dans un petit village de pêcheurs
En Flandres
Le soleil est un fumeux quinquet
Et tout au haut d’un trapèze une femme fait la lune.
La clarinette le piston une flûte aigre et un mauvais tambour
Et voici mon berceau
Mon berceau
Il était toujours près du piano quand ma mère comme Madame Bovary jouait les sonates de Beethoven
J’ai passé mon enfance dans les jardins suspendus de Babylone
Et l’école buissonnière, dans les gares devant les trains en partance
Maintenant, j’ai fait courir tous les trains derrière moi
J’ai aussi joué aux courses à Auteuil et à Longchamp
Paris-New York
Maintenant, j’ai fait courir tous les trains tout le long de ma vie
Et j’ai perdu tous mes paris
Il n’y a plus que la Patagonie, la Patagonie, qui convienne à mon immense tristesse, la Patagonie, et un voyage dans les mers du Sud
Je suis en route
J’ai toujours été en route
Je suis en route avec la petite Jehanne de France.

Le train fait un saut périlleux et retombe sur toutes ses roues
Le train retombe sur ses roues
Le train retombe toujours sur toutes ses roues.

Delaunay prose 2

“Blaise, dis, sommes-nous bien loin de Montmartre?”

Nous sommes loin, Jeanne, tu roules depuis sept jours
Tu es loin de Montmartre, de la Butte qui t’a nourrie, du Sacré-Cœur contre lequel tu t’es blottie
Paris a disparu et son énorme flambée
Il n’y a plus que les cendres continues
La pluie qui tombe
La tourbe qui se gonfle
La Sibérie qui tourne
Les lourdes nappes de neige qui remontent
Et le grelot de la folie qui grelotte comme un dernier désir dans l’air bleui
Le train palpite au cœur des horizons plombés
Et ton chagrin ricane…

“Dis, Blaise, sommes-nous bien loin de Montmartre?”

Les inquiétudes
Oublie les inquiétudes
Toutes les gares lézardées obliques sur la route
Les fils télégraphiques auxquels elles pendent
Les poteaux grimaçants qui gesticulent et les étranglent
Le monde s’étire s’allonge et se retire comme un accordéon qu’une main sadique tourmente
Dans les déchirures du ciel, les locomotives en furie
Et dans les trous,
Les roues vertigineuses les bouches les voix
Et les chiens du malheur qui aboient à nos trousses
Les démons sont déchaînés
Tout est un faux accord
Le broun-roun-roun des roues
Nous sommes un orage sous le crâne d’un sourd…

“Dis, Blaise, sommes-nous bien loin de Montmartre?”

Mais oui, tu m’énerves, tu le sais bien, nous sommes bien loin
La folie surchauffée beugle dans la locomotive
La peste le choléra se lèvent comme des braises ardentes sur notre route
Nous disparaissons dans la guerre en plein dans un tunnel
La faim, la putain, se cramponne aux nuages en débandade
Et fiente des batailles en tas puants de morts
Fais comme elle, fais ton métier…

“Dis, Blaise, sommes-nous bien loin de Montmartre?”

Oui, nous le sommes, nous le sommes
Tous les boucs émissaires ont crevé dans ce désert
Entends les sonnailles de ce troupeau galeux
Tomsk Tchéliabinsk Kainsk Obi Taïchet Verkné Oudinsk Kourgane Samara Pensa-Touloune
La mort en Mandchourie
Est notre débarcadère est notre dernier repaire
Ce voyage est terrible
Hier matin
Ivan Oulitch avait les cheveux blancs
Et Kolia Nicolaï Ivanovitch se ronge les doigts depuis quinze jours…
Fais comme elles la Mort la Famine fais ton métier
Ça coûte cent sous, en transsibérien, ça coûte cent roubles
Enfièvre les banquettes et rougeoie sous la table
Le diable est au piano
Ses doigts noueux excitent toutes les femmes
La Nature
Les Gouges
Fais ton métier
Jusqu’à Kharbine…

“Dis, Blaise, sommes-nous bien loin de Montmartre?”

Non mais… fiche-moi la paix… laisse-moi tranquille
Tu as les hanches angulaires
Ton ventre est aigre et tu as la chaude-pisse
C’est tout ce que Paris a mis dans ton giron
C’est aussi un peu d’âme… car tu es malheureuse
J’ai pitié j’ai pitié viens vers moi sur mon cœur
Les roues sont les moulins à vent du pays de Cocagne
Et les moulins à vent sont les béquilles qu’un mendiant fait tournoyer
Nous sommes les culs-de-jatte de l’espace
Nous roulons sur nos quatre plaies
On nous a rogné les ailes
Les ailes de nos sept péchés
Et tous les trains sont les bilboquets du diable
Le monde moderne
La vitesse n’y peut mais
Le monde moderne
Les lointains sont par trop loin
Et au bout du voyage c’est terrible d’être un homme avec une femme…

“Blaise, dis, sommes-nous bien loin de Montmartre?”

J’ai pitié j’ai pitié viens vers moi je vais te conter une histoire
Viens dans mon lit
Viens sur mon cœur
Je vais te conter une histoire…
Oh viens! viens!

Aux Fidji règne l’éternel printemps
La paresse
L’amour pâme les couples dans l’herbe haute et la chaude syphilis rôde sous les bananiers
Viens dans les îles perdues du Pacifique!
Elles ont nom du Phénix, des Marquises
Bornéo et Java
Et Célèbes a la forme d’un chat.

Nous ne pouvons pas aller au Japon
Viens au Mexique!
Sur ses hauts plateaux les tulipiers fleurissent
Les lianes tentaculaires sont la chevelure du soleil
On dirait la palette et les pinceaux d’un peintre
Des couleurs étourdissantes comme des gongs,
Rousseau y a été
Il y a ébloui sa vie
C’est le pays des oiseaux
L’oiseau du paradis, l’oiseau-lyre
Le toucan, l’oiseau moqueur
Et le colibri niche au cœur des lys noirs
Nous nous aimerons dans les ruines majestueuses d’un temple aztèque
Tu seras mon idole
Une idole bariolée enfantine un peu laide et bizarrement étrange
Oh viens!

Si tu veux nous irons en aéroplane et nous survolerons le pays des mille lacs,
Les nuits y sont démesurément longues
L’ancêtre préhistorique aura peur de mon moteur
Et je construirai un hangar pour mon avion avec les os fossiles de mammouth
Le feu primitif réchauffera notre pauvre amour
Et nous nous aimerons bien bourgeoisement près du pôle
Oh viens!

Jeanne Jeannette Ninette nini ninon nichon
Mimi mamour ma poupoule mon Pérou
Dodo dondon
Carotte ma crotte
Chouchou p’tit-cœur
Chérie p’tite chèvre
Mon p’tit-péché mignon
Elle dort.

Elle dort
Et de toutes les heures du monde elle n’en a pas gobé une seule
Tous les visages entrevus dans les gares
Toutes les horloges
L’heure de Paris l’heure de Berlin l’heure de Saint-Pétersbourg et l’heure de toutes les gares
Et à Oufa, le visage ensanglanté du canonnier
Et le cadran bêtement lumineux de Grodno
Et l’avance perpétuelle du train
Tous les matins on met les montres à l’heure
Le train avance et le soleil retarde
Rien n’y fait, j’entends les cloches sonores
Le gros bourdon de Notre-Dame
La cloche aigrelette du Louvre qui sonna la Barthélemy
Les carillons rouillés de Bruges-la-Morte
Les sonneries électriques de la bibliothèque de New-York
Les campanes de Venise
Et les cloches de Moscou, l’horloge de la Porte-Rouge qui me comptait les heures quand j’étais dans un bureau
Et mes souvenirs
Le train tonne sur les plaques tournantes
Le train roule
Un gramophone grasseye une marche tzigane
Et le monde, comme l’horloge du quartier juif de Prague, tourne éperdument à rebours.

Effeuille la rose des vents
Voici que bruissent les orages déchaînés
Les trains roulent en tourbillon sur les réseaux enchevêtrés
Bilboquets diaboliques
Il y a des trains qui ne se rencontrent jamais
D’autres se perdent en route
Les chefs de gare jouent aux échecs
La voie ferrée est une nouvelle géométrie
Et les soldats qui l’égorgèrent
Et les galères
Et les vaisseaux
Et les engins prodigieux qu’il inventa
Et toutes les tueries
L’histoire antique
L’histoire moderne
Les tourbillons
Les naufrages
Même celui du Titanic que j’ai lu dans le journal
Autant d’images-associations que je ne peux pas développer dans mes vers
Car je suis encore fort mauvais poète
Car l’univers me déborde
Car j’ai négligé de m’assurer contre les accidents de chemin de fer
Car je ne sais pas aller jusqu’au bout
Et j’ai peur.

J’ai peur
Je ne sais pas aller jusqu’au bout
Comme mon ami Chagall je pourrais faire une série de tableaux déments
Mais je n’ai pas pris de notes en voyage
“Pardonnez-moi mon ignorance
“Pardonnez-moi de ne plus connaître l’ancien jeu des vers”
Comme dit Guillaume Apollinaire
Tout ce qui concerne la guerre on peut le lire dans les Mémoires de Kouropatkine
Ou dans les journaux japonais qui sont aussi cruellement illustrés
À quoi bon me documenter
Je m’abandonne
Aux sursauts de ma mémoire…

prose siberien

À partir d’Irkoutsk le voyage devint beaucoup trop lent
Beaucoup trop long
Nous étions dans le premier train qui contournait le lac Baïkal
On avait orné la locomotive de drapeaux et de lampions
Et nous avions quitté la gare aux accents tristes de l’hymne au Tzar.
Si j’étais peintre je déverserais beaucoup de rouge, beaucoup de jaune sur la fin de ce voyage
Car je crois bien que nous étions tous un peu fous
Et qu’un délire immense ensanglantait les faces énervées de mes compagnons de voyage.
Comme nous approchions de la Mongolie
Qui ronflait comme un incendie
Le train avait ralenti son allure
Et je percevais dans le grincement perpétuel des roues
Les accents fous et les sanglots
D’une éternelle liturgie

J’ai vu
J’ai vu les trains silencieux les trains noirs qui revenaient de l’Extrême-Orient et qui passaient en fantômes
Et mon œil, comme le fanal d’arrière, court encore derrière ces trains
A Talga 100.000 blessés agonisaient faute de soins
J’ai visité les hôpitaux de Krasnoïarsk
Et à Khilok nous avons croisé un long convoi de soldats fous
J’ai vu, dans les lazarets, des plaies béantes, des blessures qui saignaient à pleines orgues
Et les membres amputés dansaient autour ou s’envolaient dans l’air rauque
L’incendie était sur toutes les faces, dans tous les cœurs
Des doigts idiots tambourinaient sur toutes les vitres
Et sous la pression de la peur, les regards crevaient comme des abcès

Dans toutes les gares on brûlait tous les wagons
Et j’ai vu
J’ai vu des trains de 60 locomotives qui s’enfuyaient à toute vapeur pourchassées par les horizons en rut et des bandes de corbeaux qui s’envolaient désespérément après
Dans la direction de Port-Arthur.

À Tchita nous eûmes quelques jours de répit
Arrêt de cinq jours vu l’encombrement de la voie
Nous le passâmes chez Monsieur Iankéléwitch qui voulait me donner sa fille unique en mariage
Puis le train repartit.
Maintenant c’était moi qui avais pris place au piano et j’avais mal aux dents
Je revois quand je veux cet intérieur si calme, le magasin du père et les yeux de la fille qui venait le soir dans mon lit
Et les lieder de Hugo Wolf
Et les sables du Gobi
Et à Khaïlar une caravane de chameaux blancs
Je crois bien que j’étais ivre durant plus de 500 kilomètres
Mais j’étais au piano et c’est tout ce que je vis
Quand on voyage on devrait fermer les yeux
J’aurais tant voulu dormir
Je reconnais tous les pays les yeux fermés à leur odeur
Et je reconnais tous les trains au bruit qu’ils font
Les trains d’Europe sont à quatre temps tandis que ceux d’Asie sont à cinq ou sept temps
D’autres vont en sourdine, sont des berceuses
Et il y en a qui dans le bruit monotone des roues me rappellent la prose lourde de Maeterlinck
J’ai déchiffré tous les textes confus des roues et j’ai rassemblé les éléments épars d’une violente beauté
Que je possède
Et qui me force.

Tsitsika et Kharbine
Je ne vais pas plus loin
C’est la dernière station
Je débarquai à Kharbine comme on venait de mettre le feu aux bureaux de la Croix-Rouge.

Ô Paris
Grand foyer chaleureux avec les tisons entrecroisés de tes rues
et tes vieilles maisons qui se penchent au-dessus et se réchauffent
Comme des aïeules
Et voici des affiches, du rouge du vert multicolores comme mon passé bref du jaune
Jaune la fière couleur des romans de la France à l’étranger.

J’aime me frotter dans les grandes villes aux autobus en marche
Ceux de la ligne Saint-Germain-Montmartre m’emportent à l’assaut de la Butte
Les moteurs beuglent comme les taureaux d’or
Les vaches du crépuscule broutent le Sacré-Cœur
Ô Paris
Gare centrale débarcadère des volontés carrefour des inquiétudes
Seuls les marchands de couleur ont encore un peu de lumière sur leur porte
La Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens m’a envoyé son prospectus
C’est la plus belle église du monde
J’ai des amis qui m’entourent comme des garde-fous
Ils ont peur quand je pars que je ne revienne plus
Toutes les femmes que j’ai rencontrées se dressent aux horizons
Avec les gestes piteux et les regards tristes des sémaphores sous la pluie
Bella, Agnès, Catherine et la mère de mon fils en Italie
Et celle, la mère de mon amour en Amérique
Il y a des cris de sirène qui me déchirent l’âme
Là-bas en Mandchourie un ventre tressaille encore comme dans un accouchement
Je voudrais
Je voudrais n’avoir jamais fait mes voyages
Ce soir un grand amour me tourmente
Et malgré moi je pense à la petite Jehanne de France.
C’est par un soir de tristesse que j’ai écrit ce poème en son honneur

La petite prostituée
Je suis triste je suis triste
J’irai au Lapin Agile me ressouvenir de ma jeunesse perdue
Et boire des petits verres
Puis je rentrerai seul


Ville de la Tour unique du grand Gibet et de la Roue.

Paris, 1913



On Thursday April 18th, 2013, from 6 to 8pm, the Departments of French and Comparative Literature will host an event at the Princeton Art Museum celebrating the centennial of the year 1913 and the modernist moment in poetry. The Prose du Transsibérien… by Blaise Cendrars with its “simultaneous” painted illustrations by Sonia Delaunay will be on display for viewing and will be performed along with poems by Rilke, H.D., Ezra Pound, Mayakovsky, Vincente Huidobro, Fernando Pessoa and many others. The event is free and open to the public. Join us!