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This article is taken from PN Review 261, Volume 48 Number 1, September - October 2021.

The Fate of Wondering
Hope Mirrlees, Paris: A Poem (Faber) £9.99
Jena Schmitt
If I’d had the chance to visit Paris before the pandemic, I might have walked along Rue de Bouloi, past the green-and-yellow-striped awning of Café de L’Époque, advertisements for Byrrh reflected in the windows, through Galerie Véro-Dodat, one of the nineteenth-century covered passageways Walter Benjamin writes about in The Arcades Project (1927–44), with its diamond-shaped marble walkway, Corinthian columns, peaked skylights and filigreed ceiling. I might drop my bag off at a hotel near Palais-Royal, buy a brioche Suisse from a pâtisserie along the way, the Louvre close by now, past Jeanne d’Arc in the Place des Pyramides, through the Portes de Lions entrance towards the Cour Napoléon, where an ornate caryatid supports the upper level of Pavillon Mollien, two more holding hands at the Pavillon de la Bibliothèque, their tunics light, wavering, one slipping from her right breast.

After zigzagging back and forth across the Seine – Jardin des Plantes, Musée d’Orsay, Shakespeare and Company, the charred spires of Notre-Dame – I might hop onto Line 1 of the Métro to Père-Lachaise Cemetery – if there’s time – to the graves of Colette, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Modigliani, Chopin, Maria Callas, Molière, the stately cenotaph of Héloïse and Abélard. As Héloïse wrote to Abélard in the 1100s (a book of letters I found at a university library in Toronto in the 1990s): ‘Instead of sanctifying myself by a life of penitence, I have confirmed my reprobation. What a fatal wandering!’

Over one hundred years ago the poet Hope Mirrlees (1887–1978) wandered around a seemingly different Paris, just after World War ...

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