Life is a hospital where each patient is possessed by the desire to change beds. This one would like to suffer facing the stove, that one believes that he would be cured next to the window.
– Stephen Mallarme
The youngest poet in the anthology was born in 1900 and none is still living. “Modern” does not mean contemporary or even recent, really. They were modern for their time, right? And, as Moderns, they were all about the new, breaking with tradition, ensuring art resonates with the times. Shocking stuff like that. Editor Louis Simpson’s Moderns include Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Stephane Mallarme, Pierre Reverdy, Tristan Tzara, and Andre Breton. As I am not fluent in a language other than English, I cannot vouch for the word-for-word accuracy of these translations, I can only say whether the results are poems in this language. Louis Simpson, a poet himself, has crafted poems that bring new styles into English and poems that show to advantage his own sense of the language. With lines like “Night is at hand, the criminal’s ally, / Entering with a wolfish step. The sky / Closes slowly like the door in a wall,” one can be intrigued by Charles Baudelaire. Paul Verlaine says, identifying with night’s abashment before a beautiful woman, “Evening fell, equivocal, dissembling.” And the poetic prodigy Arthur Rimbaud, speaking as for a boat, enjoys the ravages of the sea, “I stood my night watches blessed by tempests … Without needing a lighthouse’s silly lights!” If you want to know why Patti Smith and Jim Morrison worshiped Rimbaud or wish to mark dreamtime with the original Surrealists, you’ll get a good start here. The French originals appear opposite Simpson’s English versions.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: Modern Poets of France