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This article is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

Arles (tr. Jaroslav Anders and Michael March) Zbigniew Herbert

for Mateusz

Thousands of colourful lanterns adorn the moonlit crowds with a clownish hue. The open doors and windows are full of music. The squares spin like carrousels. It seems as though I have stepped into the middle of a huge feast on my first night in Arles.

I had rented a room on the top of a hotel which faced the Réattu Museum in a street narrow and deep as a well. I could not sleep. It wasn't the voices, but rather the city's penetrating vibrations.

I walked the boulevards towards the Rhône. 'Oh, river, issuing from the Alps, which rolls along night and day, my desire is where nature leads you, where love leads me,' sang Petrarch. The Rhône is truly powerful, dark and heavy like a buffalo. A bright Provençal night, cool, though conspiring with a hidden heat.

I return to the centre following traces of voices and music. How can I describe a town that is not of stone but of flesh. It has a warm, moist skin and the pulse of a snared animal.

I drink Côte du Rhône at Café de l'Alcazar. Only the colour reproductions above the bar remind me that this was Van Gogh's Le Café de Nuit and that he himself lived here in 1888, having arrived in Provence to seize a blue deeper than the sky and a yellow more dazzling than the sun. Do they remember him? Is ...


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