For my next installment of reviews for poetry month I decided to tackle this dual-language edition of the collection poems of Proust. It was published in 2013 by Penguin and I bought a copy of it myself.
These poems are a glimpse into Proust as a human being and not Proust the serious novelist. The poems were collected from a wide variety of places, including letters to his friends, journals and notes, and some were even scrawled on scraps of paper or envelopes. We often envision Proust as the asthmatic, shut away from society as he labored over his major work. But these poems reveal to us a funny, playful, intelligent man who fully engaged in life and embraced all of its wonders.
It is rumored even when Proust was alive that he was homosexual. The poems reveal a man who was definitely struggling with his sexuality in a time period in which homosexuality was completely unacceptable. In the poem that opens the collection he writes to Daniel Halvey:
For what is manly mockery to me?
Let Sodom’s apples burn, acre by acre,
I’d savor still the sweat of those sweet limbs!
Behold a solar gold, a lunar nacre,
I’d…languish (an ars moriendi of my own),
deaf to the knell of dreary Decency!
There are also amorous poems in the collection written to women, such as “Lines to Laure Hayman” in which he recollects her beautiful form. Another poem is written to an actress whom he saw play the role of Cleopatra. These lines imply an admiration of the woman that goes beyond friendly recognition of her performance:
You have surely dethroned the Egyptian Queen
You are at once artist and work of art
Your spirit is deep as is your regard,
‘Though no beauty like hers was never seen.
The sentiments in the poems jump from love and friendship, “Love draws from the heart a scent of roses,” to loss and agony, “So tired of having suffered, more tired of having loved.” These lines represent the waves of emotions Proust rides and jots down as he is living his everyday life.
Proust is also petty, bawdy and even vulgar. In one poem he writes:
They say a Russian, may God preserve his soul,
Managed to rouse a flutter of sensation
In Ferdinand’s leathery, tanned, and well-worked hole
By slipping in up to the hilt his brave baton.
In a few of the poems written to his friends his instructs them to burn the poems after they have been read because the poems contains some unflattering verses about aristocrats within their social circle.
There are 104 poems in the collection in total. None of them are very long which is appropriate as they are meant as little messages to friends in letters and oftentimes casually written on scraps of paper. The notes in the back of the book are very helpful in understanding to whom the poems are written and what their relationships were to Proust. For a amusing glimpse into the candid world of this famous poet I highly recommend perusing this dual-language edition.
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