Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"The Marriage Of The Leaves"

Tuesday is upon us again, folks, & that means another translation. Today we have my rendering of a poem by Benjamin Péret—as I mentioned in an earlier post, I translated oodles of M. Péret’s poems during my San Francisco days. In this case, I recall getting some insight on the poem from a fine book I picked up at one of the best bookstores I know, Mo’s in Berkeley—Mary Ann Caws’ The Inner Theatre of Recent French Poetry; Ms Caws, who is a distinguished translator & scholar, spoke of the poem as one of Péret’s “reliable descriptions of the road leading to the summit of surrealist poetry.” She also points to the “softening” of the majestic mountains as “des grandes montagnes molles” (third line from the end). I belive this book is out-of-print, but if you’re interested in surrealist poetry & you should run across a copy in your favorite used booksellers, give it a try.

Hope you enjoy the poem.

The Marriage Of The Leaves

The man discovers circular poetry
He perceives that it rolls and careens
like the floods of botany
and prepares periodically its flux and reflux

O saints may you not be ceintured with sound breasts
Your sign language would be a hand that's all thumbs
shaken by delirium tremens
O saints what do you have on your hands
Is that a smaller hand
that turns up another smaller hand
and so on until the consummation of hands

The dust stirs in its solitude
It wishes the silence surrounding it
were peopled with winged phantoms
with the voices of rotten trunks
of fair women like the white lady
of old men descending the mountain
preyed on by eternal snows
of the big soft mountains
where the dancing-slippers
spin veer and dive

Benjamin Péret
translation by John Hayes © 1990-2009


  1. Most enjoyable. Why do I find surrealist poetry easier to digest than surrealist art? I suppose it is that with poetry we learn to soften the images as we internalise them through reading whilst art strikes us without warning and without the protection of interpretation.

  2. Ah beautiful! I love Tuesdays. Thank you.

  3. Hi Alan & Reya

    Alan: That's an interesting point--it does seem in some ways that a lot of visual art lacks "gaps" for the imagination to enter in an unconstrained way, whereas poetry almost by definition creates such gaps.

    Reya: Thanks!

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  5. Enjoyable translation!

    Re surrealist art vs surrealist poetry. I tend to agree with Alan Burnett and I'm reminded of the famous epigram regarding TV and radio which I think has something to do with it: the only difference between TV and radio is that on the radio the pictures are better.

    (Sorry, I messed up my previous attempt to comment. That'll teach me to preview).

  6. Hi Dominic:

    I'd say that's a much better way of saying what I was trying to say!


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