Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Murderous Rescue"

Happy Tuesday everybody! I’ve decided for no apparently good reason to make October André Breton month on Translation Tuesday. As regular readers know, I’ve posted a handful of Breton poems in the past & have written about this rather remarkable man in my introductions to those posts. If you’re not familiar with Breton, I’ll say I think of him as the “godfather of surrealism,” both in the positive & negative connotations of that term—he wrote Le Manifeste du Surréalisme, co-authored a book of automatic writing— Les Champs Magnétiques—with Phillipe Soupault, & was certainly a charismatic figure in the Surrealist movement. Breton also wrote some really remarkable poetry.

“Murderous Rescue” (in French “Le Grand Secours meurtrier”) comes from Breton’s 1932 collection, La Revolver à cheveux blancs (The White-haired Revolver), & is an examination of one of Breton’s great heroes, the 19th century Comte de Lautrémont (the pen-name of Isidore Lucien Ducasse), who wrote the proto-surrealist Maldoror, as well as some poetry. It seems certain that Breton’s poem is an examination of the surreal process as embodied in Lautréamont's writing. The photo up top isn’t Breton, by the way—it’s the only known photo of Ducasse.

Hope you enjoy this one!

Murderous Rescue

Lautréamont's statue
With its pedastal of quinine tablets
In the open country
The author of the Poems is lying flat on his face
And near him a dubious gila monster keeps vigil
His left ear laid to the ground is a glass box
Filled with a lightning bolt the artist hasn't forgotten to depict
        above him
The sky-blue balloon in the shape of a Turk's head
The swan of Montevideo whose wings are outspread and always
        ready to flap
When it's a question of luring the other swans from the horizon
Opens upon the false universe two eyes each a different color
The one iron sulfate on the lashes' creeping vines the other
        diamond-studded mud
He sees the great funnelled hexagon in which the machines will
        shrink soon
The ones man's determined to cover with bandages
With his radium candle he rekindles the human crucible
The sex of feathers the oil paper brain
He presides over doubly nocturnal ceremonies whose point once
        allowing for fire is to transpose the hearts of men and birds
I have access near him as a convulsionary
The ravishing women who usher me into the rose-upholstered
        railroad car
Where a hammock they've taken pains to make from their hairs is
        reserved for me
For all eternity
Enjoin me before departure not to catch cold while reading the daily
It appears that the statue near which my nerve ending's witchgrass
Reaches its destination is tuned each night like a piano

André Breton
translation John Hayes, © 1990-2009


  1. You know, John, I can't resist a title with "murder" in it.
    I think if Sherlock Holmes wrote a poem while under the influence of opium it would come out rather like this. Great stuff!

  2. Nothing like keeping company with a dubious gila monster.

    I like what Kat had to say about Sherlock Holmes and the opium! :^)

  3. Hey John, How 'bout some Halloween lit?

    I think this writer fits nicely with October!

  4. Hi Kat & Willow & Jen

    Kat: Great comment about Sherlock!

    Willow: Yes--how did that gila monster get in there? The French is actually a term for the more generic "beaded lizard," of which the gila monster is one type.

    Jen: Good suggestion--I've very much liked your Halloween costume posts by the way! I do have a couple of other Halloween-oriented series on simmer, tho at least this time around neither is lit.

  5. What a rich and challenging-to-digest poem, like the title itself. Who gets murdered? Who gets rescued? What's it like to be "a convulsionary"? Thanks, John, for taking me someplace I would never have gone on my own!

  6. Hi Audrey:

    Geez, thanks for that! Hope you're having a good one.


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