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Robert Desnos

To the One
of Mystery



          O pangs of love!
          How necessary you are to me and how dear you are to me.
          My eyes closing on imaginary tears, my hands endlessly straining toward the void.
          Last night I dreamed of crazy landscapes and dangerous exploits from death’s perspective and life’s perspective, which are also love’s perspective.
          On waking you were here, O pangs of love, O muses of the desert, O exacting muses.
          My laughter and joy crystallize around you. It’s your makeup, it’s your powder, it’s your rouge, it’s your snakeskin handbag, it’s your silk stockings . . . and it’s also that little fold between your ear and the nape of your neck, where your neck begins, it’s your silk slacks and your sheer nightie and your fur coat, your round tummy my laughter and joy your feet and all your jewels.
          To tell the truth, how well-dressed you are and how smartly decked out.
          O pangs of love, exacting angels, there I go imagining you in the same image as the one I love, mistaking you for her . . .
          O pangs of love, you which I create and dress, you confuse yourself with the one I love, of whom I only recognize the clothes and the eyes, the voice, the face, the hands, the hair, the teeth, the eyes . . .



           I’ve dreamed of you so much you’re losing your reality.
          Is there still time to reach that living body and kiss on that mouth the birth of the voice that’s dear to me?
          I’ve dreamed of you so much that my arms, used to crossing on my chest as I hug your shadow, couldn’t fold themselves around the shape of your body, maybe.
          And faced with the actual appearance of what’s haunted me and ruled me for days and years, I would probably turn into a shadow.
          O what a sentimental pair of scales.
          I’ve dreamed of you so much there’s probably no more time for me to wake up. I sleep standing up, my body exposed to all the appearances of life and love and you, the only thing that counts for me today. I’d probably reach for the first lips and face that came along, than your face and your lips.
          I’ve dreamed of you so much, walked so much, talked, slept with your phantom that maybe there’s nothing left for me to do but be a phantom among the phantoms and a hundred times more shadow than the shadow that strolls and will go on strolling cheerfully over the sundial of your life.



          In the night of course are the seven wonders of the world and grandeur and tragedy and enchantment.
          Forests with legendary creatures hidden in thickets blindly smack against it.
          There is you.
          In the night the footsteps of the walker and the murderer and the policeman and the light of the streetlamp and the ragman’s lantern.
          There is you.
          In the night trains pass and boats and the mirage of lands where it’s daylight. The last breaths of twilight and the first shudders of dawn.
          There is you.
          A piano melody, a snatch of conversation.
          A door slams. A clock.
          And not only beings and things and physical noises.
          But also me pursuing myself or endlessly passing me by.
          There is the sacrificial you, the you I wait for.
          Often strange shapes are born at the instant of sleep and disappear.
          When I shut my eyes, phosphorescent florescences appear and fade and revive like fleshy fireworks.
          Unknown lands I cross in the company of creatures.
          Probably there is you, O lovely and cautious spy.
          And the tangible spirit of immensity.
          And the perfumes of the sky and stars and the crowing of the cock 2,000 years ago and the cry of the peacock in flaming parks and kisses.
          Hands clutching ominously in a pallid light and axles grinding on jellyfish roads.
          Probably there is you that I don’t recognize, that on the contrary I do recognize.
          But who, present in my dreams, are opposed to suggesting yourself without appearing there.
          You who remain beyond reach in reality and in dreams.
          You who belong to me by my will to possess you in illusion but who bring your face near mine only if my eyes are closed both to dream and to reality.
          You in defiance of a fluent rhetoric where the wave dies on the shore, where the crow flies in ruined factories, where the forest decays crackling under a sun of lead.
          You who are at the origin of my dreams and who make my spirit teem with metamorphoses and who leave me holding your glove when I kiss your hand.
          In the night there are the stars and the shadowy movement of the sea, of the rivers, the forests, the cities, the grass, the lungs of millions and millions of beings.
          In the night there are the wonders of the world.
          In the night there are no guardian angels, but there is sleep.
          In the night there is you.
          And in the day.



          Far from me and similar to the stars, to the sea and to all the accessories of poetic mythology,
          Far from me and yet here without your knowing it,
          Far from me and more silent still because I imagine you endlessly,
          Far from me, my pretty mirage and my eternal dream, you can’t know.
          If you knew.
          Far from me and maybe ignoring me all the more and ignoring me more than that.
          Far from me because you certainly don’t love me or, what amounts to the same thing, that I suspect you don’t.
          Far from me because you knowingly ignore my passionate desires.
          Far from me because you’re cruel.
          If you knew.
          Far from me, O joyous as the flower dancing in the river at the tip of its watery stem, O sad as seven in the evening in mushroom nurseries.
          Far from me yet still silent as you are in my presence and still joyous as the hour in the shape of a stork falling from up above.
          Far from me at the moment the alembics sing, at the moment the silent and boisterous sea slumps back on its white pillows.
          If you knew.
          Far from me, O my present present torment, far from me in the magnificent noise of oyster shells crackling under the tread of the sleepwalker, in morning twilight, when he passes in front of restaurant doors.
          If you knew.
          Far from me, willing and solid mirage.
          Far from me, an island turning away from passing ships.
          Far from me a peaceful herd of cattle takes the wrong path, stops obstinately at the edge of a deep precipice, far from me, O cruel one.
          Far from me, a shooting star falls into the poet’s night bottle. He screws the cork in briskly and from then on he’s on the lookout for the star lodged in the glass, he’s on the lookout for the constellations born on the inner walls, far from me, you are far from me.
          If you knew.
          Far from me a house finishes being built.
          A mason in a white shirt at the top of the scaffold sings a very sad little tune and, suddenly, in the tub filled with mortar the future of the house appears: kisses of lovers and double suicides and nudity in the rooms of lovely unknown women and their dreams at midnight, and voluptuous secrets surprised by the parquet flooring.
          Far from me.
          If you knew.
          If you knew how I love you and, though you don’t love me, how full of joy I am, how strong and proud I am to go out with your image in my head, to go out of the universe.
          How I’m joyous enough to die of it.
          If you knew how the world has given in to me.
          And you too, lovely unsubmissive one, how you are my prisoner.
          O you, far-from-me, to whom I have given in.
          If you knew.

Translated from the French by Bill Zavatsky

ROBERT DESNOS was born in Paris in 1900 and died in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp in 1945. In his brief life Desnos created an enormousbody of work, from one-line poems to long poems to novels and choral pieces. His brief association with the Surrealist movement saw him as its brightest poetic star, brought down by André Breton because Desnos chose to work as a journalist. He is in many ways the most accessible and most sympathetic of those in that constellation, and declared in a letter to Breton that Surrealism had gone into the “public domain,” the title of a posthumously published anthology of his work. To the One of Mystery is one of the masterpieces of French love poetry. Desnos’ work may be easily found in the Gallimard Poésie series (Corps et biens, Fortunes, Destinée arbitraire) as well as in a large Gallimard “Quarto” collection called Desnos: Oeuvres, edited by Marie-Claire Dumas.

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