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This poem is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

Excerpt from Le Voleur de Talan (translated by Ian Seed) Pierre Reverdy

Introductory Note

Pierre Reverdy (1889-1960) was a French poet revered by André Breton and an important influence on different Anglo-American poets, such as Kenneth Rexroth, John Ashbery and Tom Raworth. Born in south-western France, the son of a wine-grower, Reverdy moved to Paris in 1910 and founded the influential review Nord-Sud with Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire. Never at ease in Paris, Reverdy left in 1926 and lived a solitary existence for the rest of his life near the Abbey of Solesmes.

Le Voleur de Talan (1917) was written in response to Max Jacobs' challenge to write a novel. The result was a long, fragmentary and hauntingly beautiful poem, later described by Reverdy himself as 'clumsy' and 'perhaps the most faithful portrait of who I was at that time'. Although there is no obvious narrative, the real subject of Le Voleur de Talan is Reverdy's growing sense of dislocation and loss of self in Paris, leading eventually to a kind of spiritual death and rebirth. It is, in the words of Maurice Saillet, 'un adieu au monde, une longue suite de ruptures avec le monde'. Like Reverdy's other early works, Le Voleur de Talan was published at the author's own expense. The book did not attract much attention, in part because it was badly printed, but also because its sheer innovation must have alienated many potential readers of the time: a 127-page 'roman ' made up of fragments and small blocks of text.

The translated excerpt published here is taken from the opening pages.

An animal had just moved
A hoof was heard scraping the cobbles under the straw

            Then a cry

Wait and see what will happen

            Someone put an eye to the skylight
            and watched

It was still night but the clock struck the hour without a sound and we had to wait until day to know what was happening

            The years pass quickly in the dark
            head of a child

And then there is nothing more than a single memory which transforms itself

                              However if we looked carefully
                              at the same point we would see

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