Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday's poems: Robert Desnos

Robert Desnos

"The track I'm running on
Won't be the same when I turn back
It's useless to follow it straight
I'll return to another place
I circle around but the sky changes
Yesterday I was a child
I'm a man now
The world's a strange thing
And the rose among the roses
Doesn't resemble another rose."

translated by Amy Levin

Robert Desnos

"I lived in these times. For a thousand years
I have been dead. Not fallen, but hunted;
When all human decency was imprisoned,
I was free amongst the masked slaves

I lived in these times, yet I was free
I watched the river, the earth, the sky,
Turning around me, keeping their balance,
The seasons provided their birds and their honey

You who live, what have you made of your luck?
Do you regret the time when I struggled?
Have you cultivated for the common harvest?
Have you enriched the town I lived in?

Living men, think nothing of me when I am dead
Nothing survives of my spirit and my body."

Robert Desnos (1900-1945) was a French surrealist poet.
Desnos was the son of a café owner. He attended commercial college, and worked as a clerk before becoming a literary columnist. He first published poems in 1919 and in 1922 published his first book. He was associated with the Surrealist poets during the 1920's and in the decade between 1920 and 1930 published eight books of poetry.
During the 1930's he took on more commercial writing assignments for French radio and television. His poems became more direct and musical, though still maintaining some of their earlier adventurous style. Desnos continued to write throughout the decade and in 1936 he wrote a poem per day for the entire year.
During WW2 he was a member of the French Resistance and write anti Nazi poems  During the German occupation he published articles, under pseudonyms, mocking the Nazis. The articles combined with his work for the French Resistance led to his arrest. He was arrested by the Nazis in 1944 and interrogated under torture. He was imprisoned in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Flossenburg and Terezin concentration camps. He died in 1945 of typhus, two weeks after the liberation of Terezin.
An anecdote about Desnos's last days before his death while being tended to by a young Czech medical student was published in The Last Album: Eyes from the Ashes of Auschwitz, edited by Ann Weiss.

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