The Road to San Romano (André Breton)

July 21, 2008

[Version 2]

Poetry like love is made in a bed.
In her messed-up sheets the sun rises.
Poetry lives in deep woods.

She has all the rooms she needs.

One whole side of the universe

     Is ruled by a hawk’s gaze,
     By the dewdrop of a furled fern,
     By the memory of a sweating bottle of Fume Blanc on a silver tray,
     By a thin bue vein down an obelisk poised over the sea.
     And the road of mental adventure, which peaks abruptly–
     One pause and it’s weeded over.

No need to spread this around.
Wouldn’t want to frighten the horses.

      Shoals of salmon, hedges of songbirds,
      Rail-flanks opening before the approach of a railhead.
      Reflections from two banks of a river,
      The valleys baked into a loaf,
      The odd and even days of the calendar.

The act of love and the act of poetry
Are incompatible
With reading the news at the top of one’s voice.

      The way the sun shines,
      The blue blur that binds the arc of the woodman’s axe–
      The reach of a kite string,
      The measured beating of a beaver’s tail,
      The diligence of lightning,
      Someone tossing candies down from the top of an old staircase.

A good address is not necessarily part of the action–
Nor a corner office.
No, gentlemen–nor gin, leather, and cigar smoke.

      Dance steps footed on a summer’s night,
      The shape of a woman’s body delineated by throwing-knives,
      Blown ephemeral smoke-rings,
      The curls of your hair,
      Slippery flutters of wettest flesh,
      Ivy slithering into ruins.

The embrace of poetry,
Like love’s impossible, perfect fit,
Defends while it lasts
Against all the misery of the world.

* * *
This poem comes at the end of Breton’s last major poetic contribution, a book called Poèmes, and could serve as a coda to his life’s work in poetry. While he is perhaps more notorious as art theorist, cultural and political agitator, and Surrealist impresario, Breton’s poems–the best ones anyway–echo something he said once about poetry that I really like: “Poetry, which is all I have ever appreciated in literature, emanates more from the lives of human beings–whether writers or not–than from what they have written or from what we might imagine they could write.” Breton was less interested, it seems, in a writer’s work than in the life driving it. Interested too in the kind of unwritten poetry that is everywhere present in the world, as this poem seems to attest. In an earlier poem he writes of achieving “the overwhelming poetry of staircase landings.” Perhaps it is here, upon the forgotten in-betweenness of a staircase landing (or of any place, one place or thing or vision as good as the next) that poetry makes its defense against the misery of the world.

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