The first collection of Breton’s poetry in English translation, published by New Editions, New York, 1946
Archive for the Poetry Category
Looking yesterday at these images of Syrian Kurds attempting to flee the ongoing catastrophe in that country I recalled the late Christopher Hitchens’ advocacy of Kurdish liberty. As he never tired of repeating, the Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world to have no state of their own. I also remembered an anonymous fragment of Kurdish poetry that I translated many years ago, via an Italian intermediary. Apart from its approximate age I have no further details of the poem nor of its Italian translator. It was written in the 7th or 8th century and shows that persecution is far from being a new experience for the Kurdish people.
The places of prayer are destroyed
The fires spent
The greatest men hidden
Cruel Arabs raze
the peasant villages as far as Sharazar
Enslaved are wives and daughters
Brave men are rolled in blood
The rites of Zarathustra are no more
The Wise Lord has no pity on us
A beautiful and iconic image of seventeen year old Vladimir Mayakovsky, whose sultry charms remind me of Gram Parsons.
Perhaps my young friend would never under any circumstances have become a good poet. Perhaps he should have had the drive and persistence to master those forms which have defeated him–I myself think he should. But I wonder whether it was ever made clear to him that all poetic forms have derived from practice; that in the very act of writing poetry he was, however crudely, beginning to create form. I wonder whether it was pointed out to him that form is an instrument, not a tyrant; that whatever measures, rhythms, rhymes or groupings of sounds best suited his own expressive purpose could be turned to form–possibly just his own personal form, but form; and that it too might in time take its place in the awesome hierarchy of poetic devices.
But teaching itself is so largely a verbal, a classifying, process that the merely intuitive kinds of knowing, the sensing of things which escape classification, the self-identification with great moods and movements in life and art and letters may be lost or obliterated by academic routine. They are not to be taught but rather absorbed through a way of life in which intensively developed arts play an easy and familiar part. For it is just such inexact knowing that is implicit in the arts.
It is this kind of knowing also–the perceptive and intuitive–that is the very essence of an advanced culture. The dactyl and the spondee, the heroic couplet, the strophe and the antistrophe may be valuable and useful forms to the poet; but the meaning of the poem and its intention greatly transcend any such mechanics.
Do not speak of guilt, do not speak of responsibility. When the Regiment of Pleasure passes by, with music and flags; when the senses quiver and tremble, whoever stands apart is foolish and impertinent: whoever does not rush to join the good crusade, to the conquest of pleasures and of passions.
All the laws of morals — as ill-considered as they are ill-constructed — are naught and cannot stand fast even for a moment, when the Regiment of Pleasure passes by accompanied by music and by flags.
Do not let a single shadowy virtue stop you. Do not believe that a single commitment binds you. Your duty is to give in, give in always to your longings, which are the most perfect creations of perfect gods. Your duty is to fall in, a faithful soldier, with simplicity of heart, when the Regiment of Pleasure passes by accompanied by music and by flags.
Do not shut yourself inside your house and deceive yourself with theories of justice, with the superstitions about reward held by ill-made societies. Do not say, My toil is worth so much, and so much I’m due to enjoy. Since life is an inheritance and you had nothing to do to earn it, so an inheritance, too, must Pleasure necessarily be. Do not shut yourself inside your house; but keep the window open, completely open, so that you might hear the first sounds of the passing of the soldiers, when there arrives the Regiment of Pleasure accompanied by music and by flags.
Do no be deceived by the blasphemers who tell you that this service is risky and toilsome. Service to Pleasure is a constant joy. It exhausts you, but it exhausts you with heavenly intoxications. And when at last you fall down in the street, even then your fate is to be envied. When your funeral procession passes by, the Shapes that your longings fashioned will cast tulips and white roses on your coffin, and onto their shoulders the youthful Gods of Olympus will lift you, and they will entomb you in the Cemetery of the Ideal where the mausoleums of poetry gleam white.