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Monday 24 February 2014

Robert Desnos: I Am a Shadow


3323: photo by Petros Kotzabasis (pkomo), 24 December 2012

The Last Poem

I’ve dreamed so much of you
Walked so much
Talked so much made love to your shadow
So much that there’s nothing left of you
What is left
Of me is a shadow
Among shadows but 100
Times more shadowy than the rest
A shadow that will come
To rest
In your life in which the sun
Is so much.

Robert Desnos (b. Paris 4 July 1900, d.Theresienstadt concentration camp, 8 June 1945): Le Dernier Poème (The Last Poem), addressed to the poet's wife Youki, found in his effects after his death at Theresienstadt concentration camp, 8 June 1945; English version by TC

Nous sommes à jamais perdus dans le désert de l'éternèbre (We are forever lost in the desert of eternal darkness): still from Man Ray and Robert Desnos: L'etoile de mer, 1929; image by SOLARIXX, 19 January 2012

Le dernier poème

J'ai rêvé tellement fort de toi,
J'ai tellement marché, tellement parlé,
Tellement aimé ton ombre,
Qu'il ne me reste plus rien de toi,
Il me reste d'être l'ombre parmi les ombres
D'être cent fois plus ombre que l'ombre
D'être l'ombre qui viendra et reviendra
Dans ta vie ensoleillée.

2675: photo by Petros Kotzabasis (pkomo), 30 August 2012

5302: photo by Petros Kotzabasis (pkomo), 8 September 2010

J’ai tant rêvé de toi (1926)

J’ai tant rêvé de toi que tu perds ta réalité.
Est-il encore temps d’atteindre ce corps vivant et de baiser sur cette bouche la naissance de la voix qui m’est chère?

J’ai tant rêvé de toi que mes bras habitués, en étreignant ton ombre, à se croiser sur ma poitrine ne se plieraient pas au contour de ton corps, peut-être.

Et que, devant l’apparence réelle de ce qui me hante et me gouverne depuis des jours et des années, je deviendrais une ombre sans doute.

Ô balances sentimentales.

J’ai tant rêvé de toi qu’il n’est plus temps sans doute que je m’éveille. Je dors debout, le corps exposéà toutes les apparences de la vie et de l’amour et toi, la seule qui compte aujourd’hui pour moi, je pourrais moins toucher ton front et tes lèvres que les premières lèvres et le premier front venus.

J’ai tant rêvé de toi, tant marché, parlé, couché avec ton fantôme qu’il ne me reste plus peut-être, et pourtant, qu’àêtre fantôme parmi les fantômes et plus ombre cent fois que l’ombre qui se promène et se promènera allégrement sur le cadran solaire de ta vie.

File:Desnos youki.jpg

Robert Desnos and his wife Youki: photographer unknown, 1933; image by Menerbes, 29 October 2008


Last known photo of the poet Robert Desnos, in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp: photographer unknown, c. May 1945; image by Menerbes. 20 October 2008

[The eyes of Robert Desnos]: image by Camilo_ Hoyos, 9 May 2009


Poet Red Shuttleworth said...

Thank you, Tom. Desnos... noble heart, brave poet, sweet soul....

TC said...

And thank you, Red.

And almost forgot -- the second and seventh (final) images here are stills from this haunting work of poetic cinema:

L'etoile de mer (The Starfish): a film by Man Ray, script by Robert Desnos, 1928 (musical reconstruction by Jacques Guillot, using music from Man Ray's personal record collection)

ACravan said...

This (all of it -- the paired Desnos poems, the images and especially the translation, which I loved) is extremely fine. As Red suggests, says, it is good to remember and be reminded of Desnos. Not only does it enrich this day, but it sends me back to the time when I first encountered him, surrealism, and particularly all those verbal and pictorial images and the great adventure. It was also very nice to re-employ my disused French language education. Curtis

Ed Baker said...

that is SOME film :

L'Etoile de Mer .... and for Desnos ...thanks.... and for pointing everyone who has yet to have been culturally lobotomized .... and in just about every other way...
/ thanks to the Internet and Mass media /

towards and into (hopefully) those Golden Days of
creative explorations.... Surrealism .... imagine all of the energy that was revolving around Montparnesse.... say, 1900 - 1935 !

just look at those who gravitated around or near to Kiki de Montparnesse and the Baroness Elsa and the countless other Goddess-Muses that5 were "used-and-abused"

the music that goes with Man Ray's film it 'perfect'... Paul Mercer, a fine, fine violinist is playing.

another film that is via your link linked to:
Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1928).... that dance scene is also 'something-else-again'.... and the image of the multiple eyes....

nice to revisit things/images/poems/art/music in the period of their doing

long before they have been hackneyed to death and murdered in Akanemia and other Bell Weathers of our Lower Educational Beheoumouth
system ;

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore said...

Desnos! There are two stories from his last days in the concentration camp (for underground radio broadcasts). One is he was hustled in a group for the ovens, and they were lined up, and he began walking down the line doing palm readings for everyone, telling about glorious days to come, and everyone became happy to the great consternation of the guards, so they loaded them all back in the truck (that time anyway) and back to the barracks. A real surreal act!

Second, and more poignant, two Czech prisoners were given the task of a roll call, or something, and saw Robert Desnos' name on the list. When they got to him, and he was I think ill with influenza, they asked him if he was at all related to the great French poet, Robert Desnos. He replied, "Yes, that's me."

Sadly he died a few days before the camp was liberated.

There exists a recording of his voice, "Description of a Dream," 1938, posted on Ubu (

tpw said...

That he could write something so beautiful and masterful under such circumstances is at once humbling and inspiring. I've loved his work for a long time but confess to not having read him in years, so I have taken The Voice and 22 Poemsdown off the shelves for tonight's reading. Thanks, Tom.

TC said...

Thanks so much, Curtis, Ed, Daniel, Terry.

Curtis, remembering back to that sense of "the great adventure" -- yes.

Ed, glad you enjoyed the Man Ray/Desnos film as much as I did.

Daniel, those two stories are heartbreaking. For some odd reason, the thought popped into mind: poetry once actually meant something real to people; and the survival of the spirit that moved through poetry was also understood by some to be crucial to the survival of the world.

And Terry, "That he could write something so beautiful and masterful under such circumstances" -- yes, it feels like a miracle indeed. And then when we look at the 1926 poem, and the 1942 poem beside it, we see the poet had to have been carrying these lines within him all that time, continuing to shape and hone them, all through the harrowing that had befallen him.

To me there's a lesson in that: he meant what he was saying, and it got truer and closer to his ideal, all through the worst of times. Would that we could all say as much.

Nin Andrews said...

Beautiful--I love this poem.

TC said...

Thanks, Nin.