The Seekers of Lice

Les Chercheuses de poux


When the child’s forehead, full of red torments,

Implores the white swarm of indistinct dreams,

There come near his bed two tall charming sisters

With slim fingers that have silvery nails.


They seat the child in front of a wide open

Window where the blue air bathes a mass of flowers,

And in his heavy hair where the dew falls,

Move their delicate, fearful and enticing fingers.


He listens to the singing of their apprehensive breath

Which smells of long rosy plant honey,

And which at times a hiss interrupts, saliva

Caught on the lip or desire for kisses.


He hears their black eyelashes beating

in the perfumed Silence;

and their gentle electric fingers

Make in his half-drunken indolence the death of the little lice

Crackle under their royal nails.


Then the wine of Sloth rises in him,

The sigh of an harmonica which could bring on delerium;

The child feels, according to the slowness of the caresses,

Surging in him and dying continuously a desire to cry.

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First Communion

Les Premières Communions



Truly, they’re stupid, these village churches
Where fifteen ugly chicks soiling the pillars
Listen, trilling out their divine responses,
To a black freak whose boots stink of cellars:
But the sun wakes now, through the branches,
The irregular stained-glass’s ancient colours.

The stone always smells of its earthly mother.
You’ll see masses of those earthy rocks
In the rutting country that solemnly quivers,
And bears, on ochrous paths, near heavy crops,
Those burnt shrubs where the sloe turns bluer,
Those black mulberries the hedge-roses top.

Once a century, they make the barns respectable
With a wash of curdled milk and blue water:
If grotesque mysteries are viewed as notable,
Near to the straw-stuffed Saint or Madonna,
Flies, that know every inn and every stable,
Gorge on wax there, dotting the sunlit floor.

The child’s duty above all’s to home and family,
Simple cares, honest toil that stupefies;
They go, forgetting how their skin crawls freely
Where the Priest of Christ’s powerful finger lies.
The Priest has a house shaded with hornbeam
So he can loose these tanned brows to the light.

The first black suit, the finest pastries, there,
Beneath the little Drummer or Napoleon
Some plate where Josephs and Marthas stare,
Sticking their tongues out with excess emotion,
Joined, on the day of truth, by maps, a pair,
Are the sole sweet mementoes of Devotion.

The girls always go to church, content forever
To hear themselves called bitches by the sons,
Who put on airs, after Mass or Sung Vespers,
Those who are destined to grace the garrisons,
In cafes taunt the important families, snicker,
Dressed in new jackets, yelling frightful songs.

Meanwhile the Curé for the children’s choosing
Pictures; in his garden, and, when Vespers done,
The air fills with the distant sound of dancing,
He feels, despite all celestial inhibition,
His calves beat time, his toes with joy wriggling;
– Night steps, dark pirate, onto skies all golden.


The Priest has noted among the catechists,
Gathering from the Faubourgs and the Quarters,
This little unknown girl, her eyes pale mist,
Her sallow brow. Her parents humble porters:
‘On the great Day, seeing her among the Catechists,
God will snow down blessings on this daughter.’


On the eve of the great Day, the child feels ill.
Better than in the tall Church’s dismal murmuring,
First a shudder comes – bed’s not uninteresting – still,
The supernatural shudder may return: ‘I’m dying…’

And, like a theft of love from her stupid sisters,
She sees, exhausted and hands on heart, there,
Angels, Jesus, a Holy Virgin that glimmers;
And calmly her whole soul swallows her conqueror.

Adonai! … – In their Latin endings dressed,
Skies shot with green bathe Brows of crimson,
And, stained by pure blood from heavenly breasts,
Across swirling suns, fall great snowy linens!

– For her present and future virginities
She bites on the freshness of your Remission,
But more so than sweetmeats or water-lilies,
Your forgiveness is like ice, O Queen of Zion!


Then the Virgin’s no more than the virgin of the book.
Mystical impulses are often thwarted…
The hideous print and the old woodcut come,
Poverty of images, bronze-sheathed by boredom.

Startled, her dream of chaste blueness,
By vaguely indecent curiosities,
Surprises itself among celestial tunics,
Linen with which Christ veils his nudities.

She yearns, she yearns, still, soul in distress,
Brow on the pillow racked by muffled sounds,
To prolong the supreme flashes of tenderness,
And dribbles – Darkness over house and grounds.

And the child can bear it no longer, she stirs,
Arches her back, opens the blue bed-hangings,
To draw the coolness of the room towards her,
Beneath the sheet, to breasts’ and belly’s burning.


Waking – at midnight – the window-panes were
White. Past the blue sleep of moonlit hangings,
The vision of Sunday candours captured her;
She’d dreamed of red. Her nose was bleeding,

And, feeling quite chaste and full of weakness,
Savouring love’s return to a God once known,
She thirsted for night when the heart may guess
At soft skies where it worships and bows down;

For night, impalpable Virgin-Mother, that bathes
All youthful emotion in its shadowy silences;
Thirsted for deep night where the heart, blood-stained,
Pours out without cries rebellion without witnesses.

And playing the Victim and the little bride,
Her star saw her, a candle between her fingers,
Descend to the courtyard where clothes dried,
White spectre raising the roofs’ black spectres.


She passed her holy night in the latrine,
To the candle, from roof-holes, white air flowed,
And full of purplish blackness a wild vine,
Skirting the next-door yard hung down below.

The skylight made a heart of living brightness,
In the yard where the low sky, with its red-gold,
Plated the panes; cobbles, stinking with excess
Wet filth, sulphured the sleep-dark wall-shadows.


Who’ll speak of that languor, those unclean pities,
And what hatred will fall on her, O you filthy
Lunatics, whose divine work still warps destinies,
When leprosy finally devours that sweet body?


And when, having swallowed all her hysterias,
She sees, in the melancholy born of happiness,
Her lover dreaming of the white million Marys
In the dawn of the night of love, her distress:

‘Do you know I killed you? Took your mouth,
Your heart, all that one has, all you possess;
And I, I am ill: Oh, I wish that I were drowned
With the Dead, drenched by nocturnal waters!

I was a child, and Christ has soiled my breath.
Filled me with loathing, through and through!
You kissed my hair thick as a fleece, and yes,
I allowed it….Oh, there, it’s all fine for you,

Men! Who don’t see that the most loving woman
Is, behind conscience full of ignoble terror,
The most prostituted and the most saddened,
That our every impulse towards You is error!

For my first Communion is long past.
I have no power ever to know your kisses:
And my heart and flesh, your flesh has clasped,
Seethe with the rotten kisses of Jesus!’


Then, the desolate soul, and the soul that’s putrid,
Both will feel the stream of your maledictions.
– They’ll be at rest in your inviolate Hatred,
Freed, for death’s sake, from honest passions,

Christ! O Christ, the eternal thief of vigour,
God who, for two millennia, bowed to your pallor,
Nailed to the earth, in shame and mental horror,
Or overwhelmed, the brows of women of sorrow.

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The Just Man

L’Homme juste




Ah! Away with him, that one, with his throat that wears the necktie of shame, ruminating always on my boredom, as sweet as sugar on a bad tooth – like the bitch after the assault of the fine bow-wow, licking her flank from which the torn gut hangs.


O just men, we’ll shit in your stone[-jug] stomachs!


  The Just Man sat straight on his solid buttocks: a ray of light gilded his shoulder; sweats took hold of me: ‘Do you want to see the meteros glowing red? To stand and hear the hum of the influence of the milky stars and the swarms of asteroids?

   ‘Nocturnal pranks have ruffled your head, O Just Man! A roof must be found. Say your prayer with your mouth in your sheet, having undergone easy atonement; and if some lost wanderer knocks against your ossuary, say” “Brother, try elsewhere, I am crippled!”‘

   And the Just Man stood still, in the bluish terror of lawns after the sun is dead: “Well then! would you put up your kneelers for sale, O Aged One? Holy Pilgrim! bard of Armorica! weeper of the Olives! hand gloved with pity!

   ‘Beard of the family and fist of the city, very gentle believer: O heart fallen among the chalices, majesties and virtues, love and blindness, Just Man! stupider and more disgusting than hound bitches! I am he who suffers and who has risen up in revolt!

   ‘And it makes me weep on my belly, oh fool, and laugh loudly, the famous hope of your pardon! I am accursed, you know! I am drunk, mad, livid, whatever you like! But go and lie down; go on, Just Man! I want nothing from your sluggish brain.

   ‘It’s you who are the Just One, after all! The Just Man! It’s enough! It’s true that your serene tender feelings and reason blow like whales in the night; that you get yourself ostracized and spout funeral laments on ugly, smashed up door handles!

   ‘And it’s you who are the eye of God! a coward! Though the cold soles of the divine feet were treading my neck, you’re a coward! Oh! your head seething with nits!Socrates and Jesus, holy and just, what disgust! Have some respect for the supreme Accursed One of the bloodstained nights!’

   Thus I cried on earth, and the calm white night filled the skies during my fever. I raised my head: the phantom had fled, taking with him the terrible irony of my tongue… – O winds of night, come to the accursed one! Speak to him,

   while silently under the pillars of blue, past comets and the interstices of the universe, enormous stirring without disasters, Order, the eternal watchman, rows through the luminous heavens and from his flaming dragnet lets fall the shooting star!

[July 1871]

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To the Poet on the Subject of Flowers

Ce qu’on dit au poète à propos de fleurs


To Monsieur Théodore de Banville


Thus continually towards the dark azure,
Where the sea of topazes shimmers,
Will function in your evening
The Lilies, those pessaries of ectasy!

In our own age sago,
When Plants work for their living,
The Lily will dring blue loathings
From you religious Proses!

– Monsieur de Kerdrel’s fleur-de-lys,
The Sonnet of eighteen-thirty,
The Lily they bestow on the Bard
Together with the pink and the amaranth!

Lilies! lilies! None to be seen!
Yet in your Verse, like the sleeves
Of the soft-footed Women of Sin,
Always these white flowers shiver!

Always, Dear Man, when you bathe,
Your shirt with yellow oxters
Swells in the morning breezes
Above the muddy forget-menots!

Love get through your customs
Only Lilacs, – o eye-wash!
And the Wild Violets,
Sugary spittle of the dark Nymphs!…


O Poets, if you had
Roses, blown Roses,
Red upon laurel stems,
And swollen with a thousand octaves!

If Banville would make them snow down,
Blood-tinged, whirling,
Blacking the wild eye of the stranger
With his ill-disposed interpretations!

In your forests and in your meadows,
O very peaceful photographers!
The Flora is more or less diverse
Like the stoppers on decanters!

Always those French vegetables,
Cross-gained, phthisical, absurd,
Navigated by the peaceful bellies
Of basset-hounds in twilight;

Always, after frightful drawings
Of blue Lotuses or Sunflowers,
Pink prints, holy pictures
For young girls making their communion!

The Asoka Ode agrees with the
Loretto window stanza form;
And heavy vivid butterflies
Are dunging on the Daisy.

Old greenery, and old galloons!
O vegetable fancy biscuits!
fancy-flowers of old Drawing-rooms!
– For cockchafers, not rattlesnakes,

The pulling vegetable baby dolls
Which Grandville would have put round the margins,
And which sucked in their colours
From ill-natured stars with eyeshades!

Yes, the drooling from your shepherd’s pipes
Make some priceless glucoses!
– Pile of fried eggs in hold hats,
Lilies, Asokas, Lilacs and Roses!…


O white Hunter, running sockingless
Across the panic Pastures,
Can you not, ought you not
To know your botany a little?

I’m afraid you’d make succeed,
To russet Crickets, Cantharides,
And Rio golds to blues of Rhine, –
In short, to Norways, Floridas:

But, My dear Chap, Art does not consist now,
– it’s the truth, – in allowing
To the astonishing Eucalyptus
boa-constrictors a hexameter long;

There now!… As if Mahogany
Served only, even in our Guianas,
As helter-skelters for monkeys,
Among the heavy vertigo of the lianas!

– In short, is a Flower, Rosemary
Or Lily, dead or alive, worth
The excrement of one sea-bird?
Is it worth a solitary candle-drip?

– And I mean what I say!
You, even sitting over there, in a
Bamboo hut, – with the shutters
Closed, and brown Persian rugs for hangings, –

You would scrawl blossoms
Worthy of extravagant Oise!…
– Poet ! these are reasonnings
No less absurd than arrogant!…


Speak, not of pampas in the spring
Black with terrible revolts,
But of tobacco and cotton trees!
Speak of exotic harvests!

Say, white face which Phoebus has tanned,
How many dollars
Pedro Velasquez of Habana ;
Cover with excrement the sea of Sorrento

Where the Swans go in thousands;
Let your lines campaign
For the clearing of the mangrove swamps
Riddled with pools and water-snakes!

Your quatrain plunges into the bloody thickets
And come back to offer to Humanity
Various subjects: white sugar,
Bronchial lozenges, and rubbers!

Let us know though You wheter the yellownesses
Of snow Peaks, near the Tropics,
Are insects which lay many eggs
Or microscopic lichens!

Find, o Hunter, we desire it,
One or two scented madder plants
Which Nature in trousers
May cause to bloom! – fr our Armies!

Find, on the outskirts of the Sleeping Wood,
Flowers, whick look like snouts,
Out of which drip golden pomades
On to the dark hair of buffaloes!

Find, in wild meadows, where on the Blue Grass
Shivers the silver of downy gowths,
Calyxex full of fiery Eggs
Cooking among the essential oils!

Find downy Thistles
Whose wool ten asses with glaring eyes
Labour to spin!
Find Flowers which are chairs!

Yes, find in the heart of coal-black seams
Flowers that are almost stones, – marvellous ones! –
Which, close to their hard pale ovaries
Bear gemlike tonsils!

Serve us, o Stuffer, this you can do,
On a splendid vermilion plate
Stews of syrupy Lilies
To corrode our German-silver spoons!


Someone will speak about great Love,
The thief of black Indulgences:
But neither Renan, nor Murr the cat
Have seen the immense Blue Thyrsuses!

You, quicken in our sluggishness,
By means of scents, hysteria;
Exalt us towards purities
Whiter than the Marys…

Tradesman! colonial! Medium!
Your Rhyme will well up, pink or white,
Like a blaze of sodium,
Like a bleeding rubber-tree!

But from your dark Poems, – Juggler!
dioptric white and green and red,
Let strange flowers burst out
And electric butterflies!

See! it’s the Century of hell!
And the telegraph poles
Are going to adorn, – the iron-voiced lyre,
Your magnificent shoulder blades!

Above all, give us a rhymed account
Of the potato blight!
– And, in order to compose
Poems full of mystery

Intended to be read from Tréguier
To Paramaribo, go and buy
A few volumes by Monsieur Figuier,
– Illustrated! – at Hachette’s !

Alcide Bava
A. R.
14 July 1871

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The Drunken Boat

Le Bateau ivre


As I was floating down unconcerned Rivers,

I no longer felt myself steered by the haulers:

gaudy Redskins had taken them for targets,

nailing them naked to coloured stakes.


I cared nothing for all my crews,

carrying Flemish wheat or English cottons.

When, along with my haulers,

those uproars were done with,

the Rivers let me sail downstream where I pleased.


Into the ferocious tide-rips, last winter,

more absorbed than the minds of children,

I ran! And the unmoored Peninsulas

never endured more triumphant clamourings.


The storm made bliss of my sea-borne awakenings.

Lighter than a cork, I danced on the waves

which men call eternal rollers of victims,

for ten nights, without once missing

the foolish eye of the harbor lights!


Sweeter than the flesh of sour apples to children,

the green water penetrated my pinewood hull

and washed me clean of the bluish wine-stains and the splashes of vomit,

carring away both rudder and anchor.


And from that time on I bathed in the Poem

O of the Sea, star-infused and churned into milk,

devouring the green azures; where, entranced in pallid flotsam,

a dreaming drowned man sometimes goes down;


Where, suddenly dyeing the bluenesses-

deliriums and slow rhythms

under the gleams of the daylight, stronger than alcohol,

vaster than music-ferment the bitter rednesses of love!


I have come to know the skies splitting with lightnings,

and the waterspouts, and the breakers and currents;

I know the evening, and Dawn rising up like a flock of doves,

and sometimes I have seen what men have imagined they saw!


I have seen the low-hanging sun speckled with mystic horrors

lighting up long violet coagulations

like the performers in antique dramas;

waves rolling back into the distances their shiverings of venetian blinds!


I have dreamed of the green night of the dazzled snows,

the kiss rising slowly to the eyes of the seas,

the circulation of undreamed-of saps,

and the yellow-blue awakenings of singing phosphorus!


I have followed, for whole months on end,

the swells battering the reefs like hysterical herds of cows,

-never dreaming that the luminous feet of the Marys

could muzzle by force the snorting Oceans!


I have struck, do you realize, incredible Floridas,

where mingle with flowers the eyes of panthers in human skins!

Rainbows stretched like bridles

under the seas-horizon to glaucous herds!


I have seen the enormous swamps seething,

traps where a whole leviathan rots in the reeds!

Downfalls of waters in the midst of the calm,

and distances cataracting down into abysses!


Glaciers, suns of silver, waves of pearl, skies of red-hot coals!

Hideous wrecks at the bottom of brown gulfs

where the giant snakes, devoured by vermin,

fall from the twisted trees with black odours!


I should have liked to show to children those dolphins

of the blue wave, those golden, those singing fishes.-

Foam of flowers rocked my driftings,

and at times ineffable winds would lend me wings.


Sometimes, a martyr weary of poles and zones,

the sea whose sobs sweetened my rollings lifted my shadow-

flowers with their yellow sucking disks toward me,

and I hung there like a kneeling woman…


[I was] almost an island, tossing on my beaches the brawls

and droppings of pale-eyed, clamouring birds.

And I was scudding along when across my frayed cordage

drowned men sank backwards into sleep!…


But now I, a boat lost under the hair of coves,

hurled by the hurricane into the birdless ether;

I, whose wreck, dead-drunk and sodden with water,

neither Monitor nor Hanse ships would have fished up;


Free, smoking, risen from violet fogs,

I who bored through the wall of the reddening sky

which bears a sweetmeat good poets find delicious:

lichens of sunlight [mixed] with azure snot;


Who ran, speckled with lunula of electricity,

a crazy plank with black sea-horses for escort,

when Julys were crushing with cudgel blows skies

of ultramarine into burning funnels;


I who trembled to feel at fifty league’s distance

the groans of Behemoth’s rutting, and of the dense Maelstroms;

eternal spinner of blue immobilities,

I long for Europe with it’s age-old parapets!


I have seen archipelagos of stars!

and islands whose delirious skies are open to sailers: –

Do you sleep, are you exiled in those bottomless nights,

O million golden birds, Life Force of the future?


But, truly, I have wept too much! The Dawns are heartbreaking.

Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter:

sharp love has swollen me up with heady langours.

O let my keel split! O let me sink to the bottom!


If there is one water in Europe I want, it is the

black cold pool where into the scented twilight

a child squatting full of sadness launches

a boat as fragile as a butterfly in May.


I can no more, bathed in your langours, O waves,

sail in the wake of the carriers of cottons;

nor undergo the pride of the flags and pennants;

nor pull past the horrible eyes of the hulks.

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A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue:

vowels, I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:

A, black velvety jacket brilliant flies which buzz around cruel smells,
gulfs of shadows;

E, whiteness of vapours and of tents, lances of proud glaciers, white
kings, shivers of cow-parsley;

I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips in anger or in the raptures
of penitence;

U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas, the peace of pastures dotted
with animals,

the peace of the furrows whch alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;

O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds, silences crossed by
Angels and by Worlds –

O the Omega! The violet ray of Her Eyes! ———-

The star has wept rose-colour in the heart of your ears,

the infinite rolled white from your nape to the small of your back;

the sea has broken russet at your vermilion nipples,

and Man bled black at your royal side.

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The Rooks

Les Corbeaux



when the meadowland is cold,

and when in the downcast hamlets the long Angeluses are silent..

down on Nature barren of flowers let

them sweep from the wide skies, the dear delightful rooks.


Strange army with your stern cries,

the cold winds are assaulting your nests!

You – along yellowed rivers, over the roads with their old Calvarys,

over ditches, over holes – disperse! And rally!


In your thousands, over the fields of France

where the day before yesterday’s dead are sleeping,

wheel in the wintertime, won’t you,

so that each traveler may remember!

Be, then, the one who calls men to duty,

O funeral black bird of ours!


But, ye saints of the sky,

at the oak tree top, the masthead lost in the enchanted twilight,

leave alone the warblers of May, for the sake of those whom,

in the depths of the wood,

in the undergrowth from which there is no escaping,

defeat without a future has enslaved.

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