Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Today’s translation comes from a poem by a truly fascinating poet, Henri Michaux. Michaux’s poems (typically written in prose) often describe traveling—for instance, his well-known Plume series or Au pays de la magie. However, how much of the “travel” is interior & how much takes place in any “external” world is always open to question. Michaux was himself much captivated by the mystical & the supernatural, & although he wasn’t part of the Surrealist movement itself, his works are built on an intense foundation of surreality. Michaux said, "The Surrealist supernatural is a bit predictable, but given the choice between supernatural and anything else, I would have no hesitation. Long live supernatural!"

Michaux’s landscapes can be quite disturbing—there is an intense underlying sense of isolation in much of his work. One of Michaux’s books of poems is titled Le lointain intériur, or The Distant Within—this gives a sense of his focus on both the exploration of the unconscious, & also a sense of the “distance” that his poems express—a distance at which words constantly fail & yet still must be employed, despite their ultimate inadequacy.

Hope you enjoy today’s poem.


    One day,
    One day, maybe soon.
    One day I’ll uproot the anchor that keeps my ship far from the seas.
    With the sort of courage that’s needed to be nothing and nothing but nothing, I’ll let loose what seemed indissolubly close to me.
    I’ll carve it up, I’ll knock it down, I’ll smash it, I’ll give it a shove.
    All at once disgorging my miserable modesty, my miserable schemes and “needle and thread” chains.
    Drained of the abscess of being someone, I’ll drink nourishing space again.
    Striking with absurdity, with degradation (what is degradation?), by explosion, by void, by a total dissipation-derision-purgation, I’ll oust from myself the form they believed was so well connected, compounded, coordinated, suited to my entourage and to my counterparts, so respectable, my so respectable counterparts.
    Reduced to a catastrophe’s humility, to a perfect levelling as after a big scare.
    Dragged down beyond measure from my actual rank, to a low rank that I don’t know what idea-ambition made me abandon.
    Annihilated in pride, in reputation.
    Lost in a far off place (or not), without name, without identity.

    CLOWN, demolishing amidst laughter, amidst grotesqueness, amidst guffaws, the opinion which against all evidence I’d formed of my importance.
    I’ll dive.
Without a cent into the underlying infinite-spirit open to everything,
open myself to a new and unbelievable dew
by force of being null
and blank...
and laughable...

Henri Michaux
Translation © John Hayes 1990-2009


  1. Wllace Stevens says "I wish that I might be a thinking stone..."

  2. The great thing about the poem is its "oneness". It's indivisible. I intended to copy a couple of lines into my book but found it impossible to cut into or cut out of it. In the end I had to cut and paste all of it.

  3. Yesterday I wrote in my blog
    'I am currently planning my 'retirement'.or at least,in the process, blowing several ships out of the water.............'
    This Poem Could Well describe my feelings on the matter.
    I have a mind to print it out and put on my fridgedoor.Something of a 'MISSION STATEMENT' For Me!
    Thank You John.

  4. When was this poem written, John? I keep hearing echoes of Camus,and now I've built up a scenario in which the two men meet at a cafe in the south of France, where they drink coffee and smoke appalling cigarettes. Intrigued by his new friend's ideas, yet fearing them, Michaux goes back to his hotel and writes this poem...

    Or not.

  5. great poem - i think the others above have spoken for me, actually - a bit of each of their comments - really enjoyed the dialogue! jenean

  6. Hi Susan, Alan, Tony, Sandra & Jenean

    Susan: Great quote from Stevens--you're always coming up with fantastic quotes from him.

    Alan: That makes sense!

    Tony: The Michaux retirement plan!

    Sandra: Clown was published in "Peinture" in 1939; Michaux was a bit older than Camus (about 14 years), & I'm not familiar with any close connections between them. I love your scenario nonetheless.

    Jeanean: So glad you liked it!


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