Light in a storm

PIERRE Reverdy was a poet who had been a workingman. Born in 1889, he moved to Paris in 1910 and worked there for 16 years. Today, one might think that a such a man might not have had the time or inclination for poetry (seeing poetry perhaps as an external luxury or simple hobby). For those who love poetry -- the conciseness of ideas and the interactions of thoughts with thoughts -- poetry is a pattern in the fabric of daily life. Poetry isn't something to be ``taken up''; the sense of poetry in life takes us up.

For Pierre Reverdy, to be indifferent to the poetry of life was to betray life. Reverdy's poems show that he believed in the simple illuminations that change our point of view and our vision, right in the midst of a workaday world. He had the idea that the impressions of the senses are false guides to our experience of reality and that the poem was a fragment that could enlighten thought.

He believed in the effects of light, also. Many images and changes of light flicker across the words in his poems.

The other evening, I ran out to get the clothes off the line as a storm was rolling in. I had left the clothes outside through the day and they smelled like a sunny, windy, fresh day.

As I stood there in the moonlight, I was oddly reminded of a snatch of a poem by Reverdy: something about an open window and a ray of sunshine on the green plain. It was a bizarre image to come to mind in the midst of flapping clothes and dark, cloud-blown skies, but I sensed the logic of it. I was really feeling and smelling sunshine! I felt, too, in this moment the importance of a a simple yet loving act for my family -- whatever form it might take.

I stood out there, engrossed in the ideas that were products of that poem, until I felt raindrops. After I had gathered all the clothes inside, I searched for the volume of Reverdy's poetry and finally found it pushed away on a shelf with other old textbooks. The images of half-remembered ideas poured out into my hands: the clarity of the moon flowing sweetly in an eye; a square of light, a door of clouds . . . ideas that lighten repetitive work like an empty wash bas ket shining with raindrops in the moonlight.

When I chose French as my undergraduate degree, I was surrounded by doubtful voices asking, ``What're you gonna do with a degree in French?'' and ``Why ever would you want to study French poetry?'' The study of poetry in any language has many intangibles associated with it -- I agree. But it allows the opening of doors of thought -- often in the strangest ways and at the oddest times. That's one of the advantages! Where else might one find a poignancy in the simple act of removing washing from the line on a windy evening? In the whiteness of arms against paler sheets? In the play of light on a mental plain -- while in the midst of storm?

Un nuage passe trop bas A cloud passes too low Le chemin s''eclaire The way is illumined Le ruisseau rampe et s'en va The brook meanders and flows on Sous le bois d'o`u sort la nuit Through the wood from which night creeps out La ronce et le lierre The bramble and the ivy Le soleil accroch'e The sun caught Aux plis In the cracks Du vieux mur de pierres Of the old stone wall Et le pas de l'homme suivi d'une ombre fid`ele And the steps of the man followed by a faithful shadow Le bruit qui vient The noise that comes L'aile qui passe The wing that passes Tout est r'ep'et'e dans cette eau Everything is reflected in this water La peau qui tremble The surface that trembles Et la glace And the mirror Qu'a brisee l''echo That the echo has broken C'est un oiseau qui sort It's a bird that takes off Une main qui se l`eve A hand that goes up La voix qui crie plus fort The voice that cries louder Et la t^ete qui r^eve And the head that dreams.

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