Sunday, July 1, 2012

Lady Love

By Paul Eluard

Translated by Samuel Beckett

She is standing on my lids
And her hair is in my hair
She has the colour of my eye
She has the body of my hand
In my shade she is engulfed
As a stone against the sky

She will never close her eyes
And she does not let me sleep
And her dreams in the bright day
Make the suns evaporate
And me laugh cry and laugh
Speak when I have nothing to say

"Lady Love" was written by the French poet Paul Eluard.  Born in 1895 at Saint Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, Eluard is probably best known for his surrealist aphorism "Elephants are contagious."  He published his first book of poetry at eighteen, when confined to a Swiss sanatorium for tuberculosis. There he met Gala, a Russian woman he would marry in the midst of the war, four years later.  Capital of Pain, comprising many of the poems written between 1921 and 1926, is widely considered Eluard's finest surrealist achievement. The collection was acclaimed as the unified exponent of Surrealism's creative intentions.  Eluard died in 1952.

The above exemplifies the radiant presence that seems to flood the fulfilled (and the fulfilling) love poem. That flooding is a possession so overwhelming that it must occasion a change - a metamorphosis-in the speaker. Such transformation cries out to be voiced, and it motivates the poem in the direction of pure song. Note the progression in Eduard’s lyric from love is ("She is standing on my lids") to love has ("She has the colour of my eye") to love does ("And she does not let me sleep") to love makes ("And her dreams in the bright day/Make the suns evaporate"). That making - that visionary obliteration of the daylight world, the daylight mind - completely undoes the speaker and occasions a stunning joy, a giddy breakdown: "And me laugh cry and laugh.... "I delight in the last line - "Speak when I have nothing to say" - that shows an interior restraint giving way. The speaker is so deliciously amazed, so awestruck, by what has happened to him that he breaks into involuntary speech. He bursts into song. And song is praise.

There seems to be a shadow of desire, a shadow of the beloved, hovering behind (or over) every successful love poem. Love crops up so often in lyric poetry because it is the soul's primary way of going out to another, of freeing itself through another from the pressures and distractions of ordinary existence.  It is the soul’s  preferred mode of attainment.

From :  Love, Poetry (Translation Series) [Paperback] Paul Eluard (Author), Stuart Kendall (Translator)

How to read a poem:  Edward Hirsch

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