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This review is taken from PN Review 85, Volume 18 Number 5, May - June 1992.

DOING MARTEAU JUSTICE Robert Marteau, Eidolon: Two Long Poems; 'Treatise on White and Tincture' and 'Atlante', translated by Barry Callaghan (Exile Editions, Toronto, 1990) n.p.

The publication of Eidolon marks the latest tribute paid by Barry Callaghan's Exile Editions to the French poet and novelist Robert Marteau. It brings together two poems, Atlante and Traité du blanc et de la teinture, which date from 1976 and 1978 respectively; Exile published separate parallel texts in 1979 and 1980. They represent Marteau's extremely various poetry at its most mineral. The short poems, centred on the page like inscriptions, employ the full wealth of Marteau's formidable vocabulary, which draws impartially on patois and science. This is a vocabulary at which even the native-speaker blenches. Of the two, Traité is probably the most purely alchemical in Marteau's corpus. 'In the hands of God, everything is white in order to receive its colour': from this observation the poem grows, in Marteau's description 'a genesis, a reading of the perpetual birth of the world'. Out of the untenanted world of matter come life and consciousness; Adam and Eve come to inhabit a world regulated by the signs of the Zodiac and the symbolic ladder of alchemy. Marteau's alchemical repertory, more explicitly present in the essays of Voyage au Verso, is a universalizing code; syncretic, synthetic, it absorbs what it finds. It articulates the unity of human and natural worlds as a contexture of historical and spiritual orders. Thus:

En eux le même ressac!
  Nés de l'algue et du gel des nostocs,
   issus de peuplement de gorgonies,
          de ramures coeliaques,
à peine au premier ...


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