The Secret of Blue (Jean Cocteau)

May 18, 2009

    The secret of blue is well kept. Blue comes from
far away. On its way, it hardens and changes into a
mountain. The cicada works at it. The birds assist.
In reality, one doesn’t know. One speaks of Prussian
blue. In Naples, the virgin stays in the cracks of
walls when the sky recedes.
    But it’s all a mystery. The mystery of sapphire,
mystery of Sainte Vierge, mystery of the siphon,
mystery of the sailor’s collar, mystery of the blue
rays that blind and your blue eye which goes
through my heart.


Jean Cocteau was a twentieth century French poet, playwright, artist, and film maker. Last year I read his adaptation of the Oedipus myth, La Machine Infernal, but have only recently begun to read his poems. “The Secret of Blue” comes from a selection of poems translated by Jeremy Reed called Tempest of Stars. It feels a little overwhelming to approach Cocteau, of whose work Auden said: “To enclose the collected works of Cocteau one would need not a bookshelf, but a warehouse…”

Reed’s translations were originally published in loose folios with lithographs by David Austin. The version now in print contains reproductions of Austin’s work–marvelous stuff.

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