Tuesday, October 20, 2009

“Broken Line”

It’s Translation Tuesday once again on Robert Frost’s Banjo & time for more André Breton. Today’s poem (“Ligne brisée”) is a relatively early piece from Breton’s 1923 collection Clair De Terre (“Earthlight”). As is fitting given the poem’s title, the poem is essentially fragmentary, tho the lines beginning “We” do tend to create some sort of cohesion, at least in the sense of a return.

Hope you enjoy it!

Broken Line

for Raymond Roussel

We dry bread and water of the sky’s prisons
We love’s cobblestones all interrupted signals
Who personify the graces of this poem
Nothing explains us beyond death
At that hour when night slips on its polished ankle boots to go out
We take time as it comes
Like a wall adjoining those of our prisons
Spiders bring the boats into anchorage
There’s only touch there’s nothing to see
Later you learn who we are
Our labors are still well protected
But it’s dawn on the last shore the weather grows worse
Soon we’ll carry our burdensome luxury elsewhere
We’ll carry the plague’s luxury elsewhere
We a bit of hoarfrost on human firewood
And that’s all
The brandy dresses wounds in a cellar through an air-vent
          through which is seen a road lined with big empty patiences
Don’t ask where you are
We dry bread and water of the sky’s prisons
The card game in the starlight
We scarcely lift an edge of the veil
The mender of crockey works on a ladder
He seems young despite the concession
We wear yellow in mourning for him
The treaty hasn’t yet been signed
The sisters of charity provoke
Flights on the horizon
Do we perhaps palliate good and evil at the same time
It’s thus that the will of dreams is carried out
People who are able
Our rigors are lost in the regret of what crumbles
We are the leading men of the most terrible seduction
The crook of junkman Morning on blossoming rags
Casts us to the fury of treasures that are long in the tooth
Add nothing to the shame of your own pardon
It’s enough to take up arms for a bottomless end
Your eyes with ridiculous tears that relieve us
The belly of words is golden this evening and nothing’s
          in vain any more

André Breton
translation by John Hayes, © 1990-2009


  1. Love, love love love LOVE this. It's so right for this time of year, just before Halloween. What a beautiful description of life's ephemeral nature and all the great mysteries we will never understand. Thank you!

  2. Hi Reya: Thanks so much! It's interesting--tho the choice of Breton for this month was kind of random, he does seem to fit the season, doesn't he?

  3. At first, I found this poem completely baffling, John, but when I read it aloud (the folks in the next room are finding all this very amusing), I began to appreciate the rhythm of it. Still, I do find it very fragmented and somewhat baffling. I thought I was getting a handle on it when I read the "Soon we’ll carry our burdensome luxury elsewhere" section, but then I lost it. I think I need a guide, or many more readings.

    Yours truly,
    Hopeless in Victoria

  4. I agree with Sandra : the secret seems to be reading the words aloud. I am getting to quite like André Breton.

  5. Hi Sandra & Alan:

    So sorry I missed these. The reading aloud part is interesting to me. Of course, this is almost certainly automatic writing, so it's not programatic in any particular way, other than that Breton's poems often seem to fall into a certain shape & almost invariably have a whizz-bang ending! Sandra: the folks in the next room may still be thinking!


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