A Postcard from Paris


To Wallace Stevens

"And for what, except for you, do I feel love?
Do I press the extremest book of the wisest man
Close to me, hidden in me day and night?
In the uncertain light of single, certain truth,
Equal in living changingness to the light
In which I meet you, in which we sit at rest,
For a moment in the central of our being,
The vivid transparence that you bring is peace."
It should be being home, being in this now world,
Being a now person in this single here world,
Partaking of what is as a guest partakes in
The welcome which he attends as most precious one,
The moment's diamond and pontifex summus.
It should be being home, being that which is here
In the here of the now, in the wind and the place
Of the place of the wind.  It should be.  It is not.
It is being the word the keenest realist
Looked for in reality's corniest corners
To describe that which was not exactly here now,
That which was halfway here, yet conceived, and, conceived,
Halfway nowhere, except on the realist's tongue
Where it was absence and mosquito bite, a tip
On the tip of the tongue, marking its own raging
With syllabic ribbons and ruffles, and with void -
But a word he did not find, for the word was part
Of the realist's sense, not of reality,
Of the realist's version of reality:
A word and not a thing, a word gulping after
The thing which it might call by the name it picked up
Among many in its withered literacy,
That which would gorge the word with sensuous replicas,
With the breath of the wind upon the synonyms
Of the grass and the ground and the inquiring tongue
To refurbish the realist's sense of the real
Out of all the already published lexicons.
Realism defeats its followers.  The real
Is the most unreal part of the reality,
A home yet not our home, a yes without a no,
An opposite without antagonist, a the
Without regard to the a and an we may proffer.
It should be being home, being home.  It is not.
It is being outside of the outside, outside
Of the very outside without which an inside
Cannot be.  This is why we send postcards, Paris
Or Bangalore.  These banks basking in bulk beauty,
These sculptures and thresholds to Gods' abodes stand
As proofs of the possibility of a place in which
We could have felt at home, could have been home and been
The genius of the place, its compass and compound,
Its composers, the intrinsic ur-architects,
The tuners of the local harmoniums, the tune
The harmoniums did hum under banana trees
Or the bateaux-mouches' half English, half French drone.
We send postcards to make sure of a real that be
Our friend and not an indifferent foe, as one walks
Into a cathedral, not to be in belief
But to find oneself in a place where a belief
Has been conceived of, as highest reality
To the evil of an unreal world, where evil
Disqualified the earth as palace of the real;
To savor there a pattern of peace, even cold,
An ardor for order, however spent and past,
A passion for the here and now so absolute,
For the intricacies and the delicacies
Of the real, that it repeated them time and time,
Magnified, vilified, but spied on with passion,
Spelling out heavens' hymns with earthly, muddy words,
Painting Eden's gazons as it would human lawns,
And even setting on the big toe of its god
The green laziness of a lozenge-skinned lizard.
There the lizard prays for us, and calls for a world
Where there would be no inside to any outside.
It prays; yet at the same moment, it feels and basks
In the heat of the here sun which caparisons
Its bifid tonguèd now, swathing it with a warmth
We do not share, but the image of which we will
Buy postcards of, with a pang of pleased jealousy.
We send postcards and as we send them, nostalgia
Settles in. 
                         The faucet is dripping
In the ocher hotel's  russet room lined with blue,
Blue sea under blue sky caught in the bluer blue
Of the window frame obsessed with whooping swallows.
Its drops drip nostalgic; red geraniums grow red,
As if it were a task, a calling, a passion,
Their duty to the complementary color
In a universe ruled by rigid Matisses;
Facades look pensive and purple, in whose streets brews
A decoction of tumefied lilac-like light;
The bed sheets travel under the bright suns' guidance
From sand bars to glaring icebergs to dusk's sawdust;
By the opened window, the terrace flaps and slaps
The landscape by ten millions pieces of laundry
And, at night, when night lifts its anchor from the ground
To sail, dark prow plowing the milky sea of stars,
It leaves somber, scintillating scars on the sleep
Of the tourists who sleep their sightseeing slumber
In the recalled cackle of their cameras' clic-clac
Among the ruins-in-progress of their past day
And who wander through the Berlitz schools of their dreams,
Looking for the word, the one word which would express
That which they saw and felt, that which touched them and left
Them speechless, geraniums red beyond redemption,
Redder sun sunk in ruby-rouged rendering sea,
And blue blotted-skin sky bottled in absolute.
But our here and our now lives outside, and swallows
Are birds, as geraniums are flowers and no more -
And the Italian room is empty sink, in which
Drips the same faucet which echoes in any room,
And only the same sea which purrs on any shore
And the same sky which sneers over each horizon
Are actors on the stage by which we are seated.
So we buy postcards and scribble "Wish you were here"
To insure that, back home, back where we do not look
At the real for it feels too protean for us
To follow every quirk of its changing presence,
Preferring to live in a world of permanence,
Of catachreses and paltry stock sentences,
A memorial will be built on the nostalgia
Of people we left behind us as witnesses,
Of selves we left behind as guardians of our real.
Under the colonnade of his father's hotel
Where roses bloom not as roses but as whispers
Of a season to come after July's triumph,
The Italian child weeps, because he is aware
He will not be remembered, save as adjunction
To his father's yarns and everyone's nostalgia
For a truer meeting in a more genuine place.
The sea sneezes and the sky snorts.  Present becomes
Its past, the figure of which can be assembled
From postcards sent and received, Ravenna's decay.
This is the world we live in but try to turn to
Our world, our home, our life, our friend without blemish,
Colonnade of crystal poles which would circle round
The palace of the place and the time of being,
Supporting the balcony from which we 'd attend
The pageantry of the real with a cousin's eye.
But we fail - and since we have to live, we accept
To live in a real which only postcards depict,
A real unreal, a dump brimming with clichés' clash,
A collection of notions, exiled man's decor
Who never left his home, save to go walk the dog.
Italy...  There is no such place, for, if they were,
Everyone would live there and it would become here,
Say, sad Saint Ouen or melancholy Manchester
A place within a place within a life within,
Without any without.  Postcards are just like stamps:
One collects them; one hangs them pretty pictures round
One's typewriter and then forgets them.  One's hands are
Full enough as they are, without having to think
About all them places.  So, we fail, never reach
Home, a place that be home, camping instead in lots
Or projects - and when, at night, the night falls among
Our exhausted bodies sizzling in fatigue's oil,
It smashes into sliver-splinters of darkness
Which we construe as sleep, restful sleep, companion
And bedfellow, for we have no room in our real
For a reality of the most obscure kind,
A soot-shush-domed Italy, where velvet hooded streets
Follow streets hooded with voluptuous moonlight,
Like a lizard follows its lizards's laziness
To the most heated, most sun-specked here and now spot,
Where landscapes are notions evading from the mind
Of landscapes seen before, and sea and sky are hues
On the rich palette of the imagination,
And things are, could be, might have been, shall come to be
But converge all as one under the window where
The scholar of the real, bent on the darkest book,
Spells out the newest name of the geranium.
Postcard from Paris.
                                       The poet looks at it.
Morning Connecticut and Hartford's half there dawn
Gleam about among the forsythias of next day.
Last Monday snow still hangs in mid air, souvenir
Of an attitude of displeased Polish princess.
From the anteroom on the threshold of which stands
The poet, scents of mangoes and pineapples waft
Idly, like so many letters thought of, composed
In the mind, but never quite actually sent,
Letters like acts of the mind, brave one, in a world
Where happiness can exist only as poem.
The poet drinks his cup of Ceylon tea.  Outside,
The rhapsody of the world composes itself
In iambic blank meters.  This is home to him.
The poet looks at the postcard (some benign view
Of a benign Paris scene caught in tourist gray)
And says "This is my home.  This here place in now time.
This is that which is home, true home, by a far cry
Neither the home I want nor the home I live in
At every moment, but the home I go back to
In order to come from.  The place where a Ceylon
Or a Paris can stem and bloom, bear fruit and die
And be once again radiantly born in the light
Of the ever brooding eye, the chiaroscuro
Of the inventive mind as it spells out its world
With a foreigner's lexicon, and feels at peace,
And finds a peace, its own, the only one, sapphire,
Because it had to be here so it could say there.
I live on postcards sent from Europe, but I live
Here, with the companionship of roots and exiles,
Mingling on my bedside, windowsills and bookshelves,
Out of which, as I walk across the snow and hear
The creaking and cracking of frosted, spruced spruces,
The uncicada-like crows clawing the day white,
I compose and obtain a world that I call mine,
A reality larger than taxonomies,
A thing-that-is-a-word-that-is-a-thing, poem
Not of me or from me or my dreamed of countries,
But of the here and now of the here and now cold
Out of which the warmest reality evolves,
Precious crystal, in which Italy does take place
As Italy, becomes the terrace of what is,
Russet, ocher expanse for the now eye to see
Not its poverty, but its poverty's riches
In the deafening statement of its misery."
The poet walks away in winter's global glare.
The words of the poet become voices in air
Soon gone, save for the squishing, irritating sound
Of soles crushing snow with silly, silky noises,
Spelling, or trying to spell out Connecticut's
Italian name, Connecticut as geranium.
Unchange prevails and the world is left as it was
For the speechless under February's X-rays,
Home, our home, where the wind flares and rails and rambles,
In cold, raging, geometrical bouts of scratches,
Single actor of the one act play of the day
On the single stage, lit by a snow-snuffed up sun,
Where cypresses shadows fall like clanking arrows,
Making his with fury the curse from Elsinore:
Word, words, words, words! while fair Italy writhes
In the hearth of the mind like a faded postcard
Burning up with a quick puff, a strange colored flame,
And all is done and gone in a breath of ashes
Which the wind catches and disperses to the wind...
Our here and now live outside, outside in the wind -
So we close the window, draw the curtains and crawl
To our beds, where we lay in the transient warmth
Of our curled up bodies and idle thoughts and dreams.
A spear of winter's light falls on the eiderdown,
Unreal ambassador of a much too real world,
Clear light without a source, bright beam without its lamp
From which we soon devise another here and now,
The room's, our very own, most supreme interior,
Devoid of what is not part of it, most untouched,
Most delicate pagoda, the mind's porcelain
Where the nightingale of the imagination
Lilts indefinitely against this day of gales;
Lilts, oh so preciously, its indefinite songs
About the Chinese sign of the moon hung above
The chiming sun of noon hung above the chimney,
Son of boon, hung above - 
                                       This plainly cannot do.
The nightingale repeats but a then and a there.
It does not know nor find nor propound nor explain.
It sings without regard for the cold stab of light
In which its sees a branch, porcelain bough, a part
Of the world of its songs, not the beam in our eyes.
Our thirst stems from the real as it is, not the thirst
For a frills and furbelows real, a thirst from here
And a hunger for now, a fierce famine for both;
If it is Italy, then Italy should smell
Of its Italian sweat, mingling with its sweetness,
And we should be a part thereof, not mere postcards
Collectors.  The room collapses.  Back to winter.
The wound down nightingale warbles, wobbles, then stops,
Having said all it could, all it knew of.  The world
Turns to empty seashell put to a deafman's ear.
          No more postcards.
                                     Just Paris as it is.
Paris, or Italy, or the realms of the mind.
Just these countries, set in their obtuse obviousness,
Caught in winter like tufts of hair on greasy combs.
From these we must evolve the only here and now
We know of and live in.  End of all evasions.
This is the here now world of our now here living.
Period.  Nothing beyond, beneath.  Nothing added,
Nothing subtracted.  The word stet across the page
In large, forceful letters.  It is here or nowhere.
It is now or never.  The eye must be opened.
The mind must be cleaned up.  The imagination
Must cut its garb out of these drab landscapes, wear it
As a queen of highest lineage, and in her wake
Must all men look down, not out of fear, but of love,
But of rapture over her resplendent attire,
Over the portly air of her kind countenance,
The fire azure of her benevolent eyes,
Over the promised lands she, with a finger's flick,
Dispenses to her suite, her subjects, her people,
As famished, bony, Paris pigeons, paramours, 
Bear her train in their beaks with a majestic strut.
Paris.  Or Italy.  The wind blows in the place
Where the mind dwells, and slaps it most vigorously.
Yes.  For the mind is poor; it lives in a poor house.
Yes.  For the now is poor; it lives in its here house.
Yes.  Leaves fall and rot; fruit fall and rot; and men fall
Among them while the rain falls and beats them to rot.
Yes.  But a word is said, may be said, will be said,
Or has been said, perhaps, time and time; any word
Which called this world good world, this winter good winter,
Which called this world poem of our here and now lives.

Over the gloomy Seine, the sun sinks.  The Seine stinks.
It stinks bluish green.  Dusk falls apart on the Quais
In masses of blemish purple, quicker than rats.
Steeples in the distance.  The wind, always so near,
Always so eagerly near, has nothing to say.
The air moves to and fro, unable to make up
Its mind as to Montmartre or La Samaritaine.
It merely moves.  Cafés' terraces, like blisters
On the easily bruised skin of the coming night
Shine with the languid sheen of glasses of stale beer.
Haussman hollers his name along his boulevard,
Banging his stony fists against Saint Augustin.
Another day withers.  The moon has gone abroad,
Zanzibar, Batavia, some exotic places
Over which it will complacently hang and gleam.
The heart is a rodent, always hungry, anxious:
Whence shall its sustenance for the morrow appear?
The mind is a beast which will never know repose...
It would be so easy to live a ruined life,
So easy to hear in the wind one's own sad voice,
To be the beggar of one's own niggardliness,
And yet -
               and yet, as the sun sinks over each bridge,
One after the other, its very wreck provides
To this wretched day of blue and slush and solitude
The complimentary red of a geranium.
And the mind feels a peace, knows of peace, is a peace
Larger, more intricate than Bangalore's temples,
The mind sighs and suddenly comes upon the word
It looked for in the farthest reaches of its known
And says it, or does not, keeping it in its heart,
Keeping it like a flame by which to be at home,
Like a dried-up flower found in some Baedeker;
And I turn round and do not see you, but I turn
Round again and then I see you, dearest poet,
Silhouetted against the day's destitution,
Holding your face in the face of the snow, dreaming
Of redder, ruddier, more Italian flowers.



  Retour à la page  Wallace Stevens
  Retour à la page Lettres


Commentaires? Suggestions? Cliquez ici