A Poem by Robert Desnos
Film by Man Ray
Translation into the Portugese unknown
Robert Desnos 1900-1945 was appreciated among the surrealists for his spontaneous oral poems which he performed in a trance at gatherings and for his richly lyrical written poems. His best known poem from his early period is "I have Dreamed of You So Much: written for his girlfriend, Yvonne Georges after her death, probably from a heroin overdose. After six years, he left Andre Breton's surrealist group in Paris over artistic and political differences with Breton. Breton was a strict communist and wanted Desnos to quit his job as a journalist because it was supposedly bourgeois. After leaving the group, Desnos continued his career in journalism and professional writing while also publishing poems in a journal edited by Georges Batailles. During World War II, while most in his circle emigrated, he stayed in Paris with his wife, Yuki who could not bear to leave. He worked for a newspaper that was taken over by Nazi occupiers; nevertheless, he continued to write columns that encouraged freedom and resistance, under several different pseudonyms. Mainly, he admonished his countrymen and women not to denounce one another to the Germans. Threats of denunciation were used to collect debts, force concessions in disputes with neighbors etc... In addition, he had secretly joined the underground French resistance which plotted against the Nazi occupiers. Near the end of World War II he was deported and imprisoned because he had given insult to a writer who was collaborating with the Vichy government. The writer denounced him for "disloyal" writings. Fortunately, his underground activities were never discovered he would likely have been summarily executed. He was deported to Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Flossenberg. After liberation, he was taken to Terezin in Czechoslovakia which was being used as a refugee center. When he arrived he was emaciated and suffering from Typhus. One of the nurses recognized him as the poet, Robert Desnos. She gave him a red rose. He clutched it for several days as he lay dying. When it had shriveled, she went to take it from him and he begged, "please, no." He was still clutching it when he died a few days later. One of his friends from Paris looked for him at Terezin. He was shown his friend's body. With sadness, he went to a government office where funeral urns were being sold, but they were rationed and he was not permitted one. He bought a martini shaker and returned Robert Desnos's ashes inside it to Yuki in Paris. She placed the impromptu urn on her mantle.
I Have Dreamed of You so Much by Robert Desnos
I have dreamed of you so much that you are no longer real.
Is there still time for me to reach your breathing body, to kiss your mouth
and make your dear voice come alive again?
I have dreamed of you so much that my arms,
grown used to being crossed on my chest as I hugged your shadow,
would perhaps not bend to the shape of your body.
For faced with the real form of what has haunted me
and governed me for so many days and years,
I would surely become a shadow.
O scales of feeling.
I have dreamed of you so much
that surely there is no more time for me to wake up.
I sleep on my feet prey to all the forms of life and love,
and you, the only one who counts for me today,
I can no more touch your face and lips
than touch the lips and face of some passerby.
I have dreamed of you so much, have walked so much, talked so much,
slept so much with your phantom,
that perhaps the only thing left for me is to become a phantom among phantoms,
a shadow a hundred times more shadow
than the shadow that moves and goes on moving, brightly, over the sundial of your life.
translated from the French by Paul Auster (line breaks approx.)
This poem's meaning undergoes transitions in its interpretation, one might even say application, to Robert Desnos' life. First, it is a poem longing for one who has died and is no longer present physically and who seems to dissolve the speaker in her ineffability. Later, the poem maybe understood as his country, France, disappearing, shattering... the speaker tries to hold onto her meanings, her liberty, her independence, her sensuality in the face of philosophical and violent assault. Last, it is the spirit of the speaker, speaking to us from beyond the grave, leaving behind words as physical residues when he can no longer touch a human face and loses all his physical being.