Jean Cocteau

(5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963 / Maisons-Laffitte, Yvelines)

Preamble (A Rough Draft For An Ars Poetica)


A rough draft
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  • Martin Turner (10/15/2006 4:49:00 AM)

    This poem is wholly rebarbative in its present form. I love Cocteau dearly, and have done since my teens, but he seems to be a poet at all times except when writing poetry.

    I have wrestled with these unpromising materials in what follows. Have I tamed the poem yet?


    Preamble A rough draft for an ars poetica.

    Let's get our dreams unstuck. The grain of rye free from the prattle of grass
    and far from the speechifying trees. I plant it – it will sprout.
    But forget about the rustic festivities. For the explosive word
    falls harmlessly eternal through the compact generations
    and except for you nothing denotes its sweet-scented dynamite.

    Greetings: I discard eloquence, the empty sail and the swollen sail
    which cause the ship to lose her course.
    My ink nicks; and there and there, and there and there, sleeps deep poetry:
    the mirror-panelled wardrobe washing down ice-floes,
    the little Eskimo girl dreaming in a heap of moist negroes,
    her nose flattened against the window-pane of dreary Christmases,
    a white bear adorned with chromatic moiré dries himself in the midnight sun.

    Liners. The huge luxury item slowly founders, all its lights aglow.
    And so sinks the evening-dress ball into the thousand mirrors of the palace hotel.
    And now it is I, the thin Columbus of phenomena, alone in the front
    of a mirror-panelled wardrobe full of linen and locked with a key.
    The obstinate miner of the void exploits his fertile mine –
    the potential in the rough glitters there mingling with its white rock.

    Oh princess of the mad sleep, listen to my horn and my pack of hounds.
    I deliver you from the forest where we came upon the spell.
    Here we are, by the pen, one with the other wedded on the page.
    Isles, sobs of Ariadne, Ariadnes dragging along Ariadnes, seals,
    for I betray you, my fair stanzas, to run and awaken elsewhere.
    I plan no architecture. Simply deaf like you, Beethoven,
    blind like you, Homer, numberless old men born everywhere,

    I elaborate in the prairies of inner silence and the work of the mission
    and the poem of the work and the stanza of the poem and the group of the stanza
    and the words of the group and the letters of the word and the least loop of the letters.
    It's your foot of attentive satin that I place in position,
    pink tightrope walker, sucked up by the void, to the left, to the right.
    The god gives a shake and I walk towards the other side with infinite precaution.

    Jean Cocteau. (Report) Reply

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