Review: The Collected Poems of Proust

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.

My Review:
Proust PoemsThese 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.

About The Author:
ProustMarcel Proust is a French novelist best known for his 3000 page masterpiece À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time), a pseudo-autobiographical novel told mostly in a stream-of-consciousness style. Born in the first year of the Third Republic, the young Marcel, like his narrator, was a delicate child from a bourgeois family. He was active in Parisian high society during the 80s and 90s, welcomed in the most fashionable and exclusive salons of his day. However, his position there was also one of an outsider, due to his Jewishness and homosexuality. Towards the end of 1890s Proust began to withdraw more and more from society, and although he was never entirely reclusive, as is sometimes made out, he lapsed more completely into his lifelong tendency to sleep during the day and work at night. He was also plagued with severe asthma, which had troubled him intermittently since childhood, and a terror of his own death, especially in case it should come before his novel had been completed. The first volume, after some difficulty finding a publisher, came out in 1913, and Proust continued to work with an almost inhuman dedication on his masterpiece right up until his death in 1922, at the age of 51. Today he is widely recognised as one of the greatest authors of the 20th Century, and À la recherche du temps perdu as one of the most dazzling and significant works of literature to be written in modern times.

6 Comments

Filed under Literature in Translation, Poetry

6 responses to “Review: The Collected Poems of Proust

  1. Jonathan

    I’ve read ISOLT and his short stories, I’m currently reading a biography of him and I plan to read ‘Jean Santeuil’ this year so I should probably also read his poetry at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know if I will tackle ISOLT any time soon, but I would love to read his short stories ant Jean Santeuil as well! I’ll look out for your review!

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      • Jonathan

        I’m not sure if I’d advise reading the stories & JS instead of ISOLT. It might be best to commit to just vol1 (Swann’s Way). After all JS was abandoned by Proust and the stories were written when young and trying to prove that he could write.

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  2. That’s a great point. Maybe I will do that instead. Thanks for the suggestion!

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  3. Did not know Marcel Proust was a poet also. You quote interesting examples.

    Liked by 1 person

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