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This report is taken from PN Review 269, Volume 49 Number 3, January - February 2023.

Wild Thought
Some Notes on Poetry
Devin Johnston
I am up early, sitting on the couch with a mug of coffee, reading Claude Lévi-Strauss for the first time in twenty­odd years. I have long known La Pensée savauge as The Savage Mind, the title of the book’s first appearance in English, in 1966. But a new translation by Jeffrey Mehlman and John Leavitt renders it Wild Thought, a title more suited to such a vertiginous, sui generis work. The translators note in their introduction that the French word pensée refers not only to thought but to the Viola tricolor or pansy. In the language of flowers, a pansy means I am thinking of you, doubling the title’s emphasis on thinking, but with that thinking directed by feeling towards another. As an epigraph to the book has it, in a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, ‘and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts’. The thought itself is undomesticated, uncultivated, perhaps involuntary. You’ve been on my mind, the old songs tell us, on my mind in a sustained or recurrent way. Flower on flower, thought on thought, our preoccupations and desires elaborate the architectures of the world.

It is a bright spring morning after a night of rain: I set aside Lévi-Strauss and leash Edie for a walk down Virginia Avenue. On the corner of Sidney, I pass a priest in black-and-white sneakers talking on his cell phone. Otherwise, beyond the buzz of a few distant power tools and the chitter of chimney swifts, the street is quiet. The brick fronts of turn-of-the-century homes offer no signs of life. An azalea shrub has erupted in deep-red ruffles, unmodified by ...


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