CONJUNCTIONS:38, Spring 2002
From A Dozen Surrealist Poems
Translated from French by Paul Auster


1968. I was TWENTY-ONE, a junior at Columbia, and these poems were among my first attempts at translation. Remember the times: the war in Vietnam, the clamor of politics on College Walk, a year of unending protests, the strike that shut down the university, sit-ins, riots, the arrest of seven hundred students (myself among them). In the light of that tumult (that questioning), the Surrealists were a major discovery for me: poets fighting against the conventions of poetry, poets dreaming of revolution, of how to change the world. Translation, then, was more than just a literary exercise. It was a first step toward breaking free of the shackles of myself, of overcoming my own ignorance. You must change your life. Perhaps. Back then, it was more a question of searching for a life, of trying to invent a life I could believe in. . . .

Paul Éluard


She is standing on my lids
And her hair is in mine
She is the form of my hands
And the color of my eyes,
She is swallowed in my shadow
Like a stone against the sky

Her eyes are always open
And she does not let me sleep
In the light of day her dreams
Make suns evaporate,
Make me laugh, cry and laugh,
And speak when I have nothing to say.

André Breton


The stone cocks turn to crystal
They defend the dew with battering crests
And then the charming flash of lightning
Strikes the banner of ruins
The sand is no more than a phosphorescent clock
Murmuring midnight
Through the arms of a forgotten woman
No shelter revolving in the fields
Is prepared for Heaven's attacks and retreats
It is here
The house and its hard blue temples bathe in the night
                         that draws my images
Heads of hair, heads of hair
Evil gathers its strength quite near
But will it want us?

Hans Arp


the elephant is in love with the millimeter

the snail dreams of the moon's defeat
his shoes are pale and purged
like the gelatine rifle of a neo-soldier

the eagle owns the motions of a mind's-eye void
his piss is speckled with gleams

the lion sports a pure and racy gothic mustache
his hide is calm
he cackles like a splotch of encores

the crayfish owns the raspberry's bestial voice
the apple's cunning
the prune's compassion
the pumpkin's lascivity

the cow takes the parchment path
last in a book of flesh
whose every hair weighs a pound

the snake jumps pricking and pricking
around the dishpan of love
filled with arrow-pierced hearts

the butterfly buttered with straw becomes a butterfly in straw
the butterfly buttered with straw becomes a big butterfly
                                     smothered and pappaed in straw

the nightingale pulls heart-stomachs from gut-brains
that is to say the lilies of roses from the carnations of
the thumb holds its right foot behind its left ear
its left hand in its right hand
on its left leg jumping over its right ear