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This poem is taken from PN Review 200, Volume 37 Number 6, June - July 2011.

Six Poems Translated from the French by Timothy Adès Robert Desnos
Robert Desnos (1900-45) is the most exciting of twentieth-century French poets. André Breton hailed him as 'the prophet of Surrealism' for his exquisite super-Spoonerisms, evidently created while asleep. Desnos took the movement out into the world, into radio and cinema, poems and novels. Half his poems are in rhyme and metre, his touch often cavalier: other translators have ignored too many of these. He is known for his love poetry and children's poetry; he also wrote long poems during his crisis, when he left Breton's group for Bataille's, and went from Yvonne who did not love him to Youki who did. Later he wrote great sequences against the Occupation: Contrée, Andromède, Calixto. Arrested as a Resistant, he was in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, became a slave labourer, and died at Terezin.

Original publication details are as follows: 'Cesse, ô Calixto, de crier...' in CALIXTO, 'À l'Aube' and 'Le rêve dans une cave' in Youki 1930 poésie, 'L'étoile du matin' in Sens, 'Soyons sérieuse' and 'Histoire de Folfanfifre' in Les nuits blanches in DESTINÉE ARBITRAIRE. © Éditions Gallimard, Paris.


The Dream in a Cellar

So many bottles shattered in this cellar.
The wine-soaked sand gave off a rising smell,
Like fog above old quaysides in the fall,
And the saltpetred walls were lava-yellow.

The spider span its thread and poised its greedy
Paunch that these aromatics magnified,
Just as a ship does, when the clacking tide
Is popping like an abscess in the shadow.

Fine ship, that sleek-haired siren on your prow
(Your name in legend is a loving lady's) -
Would she have left you in the jaws of spiders?
Abruptly you were in the web - and how

Crowding, and swelled by base north winds, your sails
...


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