Conjunctions:38 Rejoicing Revoicing

The following Surrealist poems appeared with nine additional Paul Auster translations in Conjunctions:38.


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 …


Lady Love

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.
Paul Éluard


All Paradise Is Not Love

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?

André Breton


What Violins Sing in Their Bed of Lard

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
Hans Arp

Paul Éluard (1895–1952) participated in the activities of French Dada and later was a major presence in the Surrealist movement. His principal collections of poetry include Capitale de la douleurLa Rose publiqueLes Yeux fertiles, and Coeps mémorable. His Selected Poems are available in English.
In 1924, André Breton (1896–1966) published the first manifesto of Surrealism, and from then until his death was the chief organizer and theoretician of the movement. He broke with the communist party in 1935 and soon after met Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky in Mexico prior to moving to New York and founding the magazine VVV with Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and David Hare. He published numerous collections of poetry and prose.
Benjamin Péret (1899–1959) was an active Surrealist from the beginning of the movement, publishing, in 1923, what many consider to be the first Surrealist fiction, Au 125 du boulevard Saint-Germain. All of his poems have been collected in a two-volume Ouvres Compètes, published by Éditions Losfeld.
Antonin Artaud (1896–1948) was active in the Surrealist movement until 1930. All of his writings have been collected in the multivolumed set Oeuvres Complètes, published by Gallimard, and English-language collections include Artaud AnthologyBlack Poet and Other Textsand Selected Texts.
Philippe Soupault (1897–1990) was a prolific novelist and essayist. Founder of the review Littérature in 1919 (with André Breton and Louis Aragon), he was active in French Dada and a central figure of Surrealism in its early years, though eventually drifted away from the movement. His principal collections of poetry were published in a single volume by Grasset in 1973.
Robert Desnos (1900–1945) was one of the most important members of the Surrealists. His principal collections of poetry include Corps et biens: poèms 1919–1929Fortunes, and Contée. Active during World War II as a member of the Resistance, he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and died shortly after liberation from a German concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.
Louis Aragon (1897–1982) was an active participant in the French Dada movement and later a principal member of the Surrealists. His poetry collections include Feu de joieLe Mouvement perpétLa Diane française, and Le Voyage en Hollande. In addition to poetry, he wrote novels, essays, and a long study of Matisse.
Hans Arp (1887-1966) aka Jean Arp, is best known as a visual artist associated with both the Dada and Surrealist movements. He was also the author of hundreds of poems written in both German and English.
Paul Auster is the author of over twenty books including The New York Trilogy (Faber & Faber) and The Book of Illusions (Henry Holt).