Étiquette : english

The Mediterranean and Poetry


Today, through all the problems it poses, the Mediterranean finds itself at the centre of the planet’s preoccupations. For a long time people had believed it was dead, having become in the eyes of the more active and dynamic civilisations of the North a Mediterranean-Museum, a monumental space devoted to the great refinements of the most beautiful aesthetic creations of the past, a vast warehouse of the most ingenious inventions, indeed civilisations henceforth collapsed beneath their own prestigious weight: Egypt, Greece, the Roman Empire, Byzantium, Andalusia, the Turkish Empire, Venice, the great Western empires – Spanish, French, English, especially – established via the force of arms, through the power of technique and technology, on the southern and eastern banks of the most fertile of seas. A sea in which were born all the myths that govern us, a sea of the three Abrahamic credos, a sea in which great epic and lyrical poetry came into being, a sea of philosophers, thinkers of the One and the multiple, who have not ceased to nourish, and today still, our thinking in all of its forms.

No, the Mediterranean is not dead and the weight of its distinctive and complementary cultures has not killed it. With the end of colonial authority after the end of the second world war, the Mediterranean wakes up, as do at times its volcanoes, with violence, demanding its place in the new concert of nations, wanting independence, recognition of its multiple identities, justice, equality with Europe, a proud continent laying forth its claim (with all the difficulties we see today) to the reestablishment of its supremacy in a unitedness reconquered. The claims from the other bank often touch on the irrational, in the midst of disorder and blood, everything for a long time being stirred up by the blindness and incompetence of the most powerful (the United States foremost) and by the ineptness of others, the European states in particular. That is what is at the root of the present ‘Arab revolutions’.

How in these conditions are we to resolve the new and often terrible questions that are posed and which have not been finding, for a half-century or decades depending on various factors, any solution. The interminable Israeli-Arab conflict, the rise of fundamentalisms, the break-up of Lebanon, the effects of terrorism in Northern Africa, the instability and impasses of ex-Yugoslavia, Turkey’s desire to become an integral part of Europe… and, close to all of this, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, still not really over, and emerging from a globalisation ill thought out and poorly implemented.

Political analysis is at loggerheads with a poetry thousands of years old from a world to which we owe an essential part of our being-in-the-world, beyond the inimitable history of this human sea, where culture and violence converge, the mother of prophets, poets, philosphers and a few other prodigious visionaries. Such a world positioned at the very source of myths and immemorial principles, henceforth is dreaming and designing the project of a new equilibrium between the northern and southern shores of a sea sharing geography, history, culture and poetry.


Between the Mediterranean and poetry there has always been a kind of pact. Perhaps because the sea, and precisely that sea, sufficiently engaging and familiar for the man of the dawn of time to dare to venture upon it, was the first to open up the space of travel to human reverie. And poetry, above all, is journeying. Perhaps because through the risks journeying entails, and the inevitable disillusionment, that sea also opens up, like a ship’s wake forming, the nostalgic space of a return. And poetry, then, is return.

This, it seems to me, is one of the possible meanings of the dual and contradictory postulation enclosed within humanity’s very first poetical monuments – a humanity that was, firstly and determinedly, Mediterranean -, a joined monument with its two spread wings, one the Iliad, the other the Odyssey.

The placeless place of poetry thus finds itself dangerously defined. At the intersection of forces, it is the confused one, the disconcerted one, that par excellence which is torn asunder, the fevered one, the one knowing no appeasement. And that does not mean that its path does not exist, but that any path it traces out is traversed by a contrary path. So does it move and its intoxication is not a pretence.


But the Mediterranean precisely, the Mediterranean of vines and wine, refuses intoxication. Other regions of the world, with their peoples, will make poetry the occasion for great agitated fervours. Since there is disconcertedness, they will seem to be saying, let it be complete! Mediterranean man, in his confusion, continues to attempt to master his going forth. A navigator, yes, cast, by his own dizziness and that thirst sharpened by salt air, into the uncertainties of the universe, he has very quickly learned, needing salvation, to map out in the teeming enigmaticalness the few firm points on which may be hung all that is visible, and all that is invisible, all that escapes and flees his grasp. And so, out of defiance to the formless anguish of the sea, is born the calm geography of the sky. And so poetry, the poetry, I mean, of Mediterreans, teaches us to contain our doubts to the point of reflecting them via some inversion that, without denaturing them, absorbs and consumes them in the fire of figuration. Such figures, though stable, are nonetheless distant and, hanging over the destiny they inflect and guide, ruggedly maintain, between man and his unalterable star, all of the nocturnal depth, the perillous agitation and the ever changeable substance of such destiny.


From the confrontation I have just defined arises the idea, in its high poeticalness, of death. The idea of death, like that of salvation, perhaps owes its most rigorous contours to the Mediterranean. All things considered, statuary, whether Egyptian or Greek, is one of the most intrinsically Mediterranean inventions, and a statue always speaks the language of death[1]. A Mediterranean invention, the column is equally a statue. What do raised marbles and basalts tell us? That there is no salvation for man, made of perishable matter, except in stone, which is the flesh of the gods. And so, by dint of the invisible, Mediterraneans discovered the weight and price of the visible, but only immediately to recharge the particles of the concrete, of matter, with all the powers of the invisible. After place in proximity to the sea, stone in turn is transmuted into a place of ambiguousness. Mediterranean poetry I see as a stone raised upon a shore, a forgotten column. Between the column and the wave, an elemental dialogue is instituted. The one that is form and definedness seems to deny the reign of the other, which is merely the formless infinitude of breathing things in time. But, looking more closely upon all of this, via the ambiguity I have stated and which runs through stone and sea, via the simultaneous and reciprocal action of forward and backward movement, by intuiting the god that gives life to the statue which, in turn, rules the god, the column and the wave open in deep ways one upon the other, and both, over and above their apparent conflict, fashion the same spiritual sign. Mediterranean poetry, which, more than any other, loves the world’s surface, loves playing with the brilliance of contrast, is in its silent slow ways of being, upon the banks of some mental Styx, inhabited by some unique ghost. The fertileness of appearances, their happy variety, and the song that makes them quiver and shimmer like the leaves of the tree covered in olives, have as their counterpart a burnt soil. Poetry, I mean the greatest poetry, delights in the benefits of intensity: let appearance reach its maximal point, fully vibrant and a miracle of prestige, but, too, well drawn, powerfully struck in the world’s metal, let it be finally denounced as ash and dust, and poured back into nothingness! There lies, it seems to me, the moral, in the poetical sense of the word, of Valéry’s most beautiful poem – one of the most beautiful poems in French –, Le Cimetière marin, a closed space wherein we discover that at once tangled and clear exchange of sea and stone, under the aegis of death, an exchange wherein I think I may detect that mysteriously traversed and contradictory movement which, from the contemplation of things in their calm and serene figuration, leads man to the awful enigma of his silence. And when man has exhausted the powers of his melancholia, at the very moment such melancholia may have thought to have won the game played against human livingness-absence, the latter suddenly will invoke the reign of wind, and will shake himself, admirably feeling the cold, in the foam of a new beginning… Le Cimetière marin appears to my mind to trace out a path essentially contrary to the journey of Euridice: Orpheus, in a special place of reflection, in the moment of surrendering visibleness to the funereal sun – dispossessed stanza upon stanza of the many things he had thought to accumulate – suddenly is struck with illumination and, spinning about, gazing intently upon the present and the immediate future, frees himself, chains and charms, and, with his foot, kicks away the past (its long and meditative logic) into some vain philosophic tomb.


The wind that gets up in concluding Le Cimetière marin is perhaps the same wind, that other wind, that opposing wind that Agamemnon’s sailors watched for in exasperation at the time of hurling themselves, all banners flying, into the first great Mediterranean poem, beneath the action of their same and triple obsession or mirage: of the sea, of death and – because Helen is definitively the survivor, the triumphant one with her ambiguous smile – of that which subsists and is maintained above ashes after the warring of man, and which, perhaps, is love.

On Poetry

Poetry is a complex whole in which a man’s entire experience and the entirety of a language simultaneously intervene. One must express at the same time feelings, sensations, ideas if needs be, and, equally, bring out the full brilliance of words, even and especially if such words are amongst the simplest, which often is the case with my own poetry. Personally, you may perhaps have noticed, I most frequently have recourse to words that designate permanencies: sky, earth, love, desire, tree, grass, star, sand, death, etc. Perhaps some two thousand words recur in my writing, rather in the manner of the play of an arabesque. There has, moreover, been a thesis on my work on the theme of my ‘aesthetics of the arabesque’. Remark that such words that, as I have said, express permanencies, I use, within the framework of my own vision of life and death, in function of my own experience, my traversal of appearances, and that they are coloured in my own colours, they formulate my most particular itinerary, and that is probably the function of a poet’s words: the expression of self as a particular being whose words are communicable to others within an experience capable of being shareable and shared. Finally, as far as I am concerned, all poetry that matters is shared language.

Of course, my work has changed, for the experience of writing is that of exploration, a forward movement, and so, necessarily, involves transformation and metamorphosis. On the one hand, there is the elucidation of a certain number of questions which, initially, seem obscure, indecipherable, and which, via writing through them, become somewhat clearer or, at least, acquire a certain inner coherency which is not of the order of logic, but rather that of some echoing resonance, the repercussion of one word upon another, one image upon and within another, one feeling upon another, just as in music, for example. Alongside that, such clarifications via the mediation of harmony, there are, in the evolution of a man, a writer, a poet, other areas of his life or his sensitivity to the world that become more obscure, more opaque, as one advances in life. In my poetry I have often used the image of the lamp. I am like a man moving forward in a cave – not Plato’s, but that long, tenebrous corridor in which we all grope our way –, like a lamp-bearer. The regions my lamp reaches into via its luminous radiation emerge from the night in which they are plunged for the time they are lit up by this radiance; the regions behind me return to the darkness which was theirs and, though integrated into writing, one senses they have returned to the mystery of their origin, while the regions before me light up according to the same process: they take up their place in the light of language, which they illuminate from within, even though these same regions will equally plunge back into the great night that is their subtance. I gave, a moment or two ago, a rough definition of poetry. Poetry is not formulatable the way a mathematical theorem is; it is that which engages with all that is physical et all that is metaphysical in a man, with all visibleness and invisibleness of the things, concrete as well as abstract, that make up our environment, surround us and, in their own way, share our destiny. Let me give you another definition: ‘Mystery in full daylight’, Barrès writes.

I shall add to what I have just said that, alongside my work as a poet, I have greatly reflected, too, upon the nature of poetry. It is the subject of some twenty or so essays in which I attempt to define my poetry directly, or understand the poetry of others.

I am a writer astride two conceptions of the world and sensibilities not foreign to one another, but rather and most often complementary beyond their divergencies: East-West, Europe-Arab world, Islam-non-Islam, Arabic originally, French language ultimately, etc. All that I have had to face up to and manage in my work and, also, in my imagination. I have practised, whenever I could, modulations and interferences, I have thrown down bridges, opened up passageways. I have at times been defined as a ‘ferryman’. Do we have the right to quote ourselves? In my little book L’Interdit, published in 1993, I would write the following: ‘How, yes, how, with words, nothing but words, can we manage to say, furiously, that words are yet substance and what proof can we advance whereby substance may be finally proven, confirmed and proven, by words alone? Furiously, I maintain that poetry need supply, of itself, of its essential truth, of its substantial radiating power, only that improble radiance, only the simple and so ever simple light of its vulnerable nakedness. Whereby, perhaps, it thus appears linked to the most feminine part of our being, which, too, is content with nothing but the radiance of its appeased lamp. Beyond or else on this side of all the whirlwinds of life and love, there are, mysteriously tied together, better, mingled one with the other, the two communicating peaces of woman and lamp, which, at a precise point of themselves, woman and lamp, are conjoined. Just as at that place in Upper Egypt, at Abou-Simbel to be precise, converge – beneath the fecund and enriching confluence of the faces of Ramses II and his wife Nefertari finding themselves notionally at the determined point via the encounter of their eternally fixed gazes – the White Nile and the Blue Nile. A dialogue of the liquid element forever transformable, changing, and a figurative absolute, insistant but refusing to dominate: the most vulnerable and, in a sense, the most imperfect part of human truth has to be grasped: it bears the most naked and the most moving part of what we are. Beneath the terrible shower of light, and thus mysteriously, at a point of their pure reciprocity, the two peaces of lamp and woman are but one. Beyond and on this side of all whirlwinds, so is it that, through language, the depth of peace is borne upon us. The most tormented poetry is, without our understanding of either the how or the why of this impossible conversion, a space enflessly extending into the dimensions of its peacefulness. The feeling of peace that settles and prolongs the poem is probably the most inexplicable thing it has to say to us, and we simply have to accept that we shall never be in a position to know more of what it is’.

With respect to this peacefulness that comes to us from poetry, and the mystery residing in this peacefulness, which is as obvious as it is incomprehensible, I should like to appeal to the testimony of another poet, Jalal-ad-Din Rumi, a twelfth-century mystic, the founder of the Order of the Dancing Dervishes, one of my principal referents, a ‘substantial ally’, as Char called them, if ever there was one. He jots down in his Maktubat, his ‘Writings’, under the title of ‘The Shadow of the unknown tree’, this lovely, simple tale: ‘One day, a man stopped under a tree. He saw leaves, branches, strange fruit. Of everyone he asked what such a tree and such fruit were. No gardener could answer; no one knew their name or their origin. The man said to himself: ‘I do not know this tree, nor do I understand it; and yet I know that from the moment I caught sight of it, my heart and my soul became fresh and green. Let us then go beneath it shade’. We have there, we realise, the language of alliance with the world, indicative of a form of cosmic tenderness.

Yes, the tenderness of poetry’s language. Antonin Artaud, for example, the most absolute of negators, – even he remains, whether he wants to or not, one through whom the poor heart of men formulates, with, as we know, such lost bewilderment, its long, long dirge. Before the universe with its many fangs and hang-ups, Artaud’s terrible cry ends up in a whisper. Artaud weeps half-inaudibly, weeping in his evocation of Van Gogh, ‘society’s suicide’. Listen, yes, listen, beneath the crying out, to the whispering: then only are you dwelling, lodged, in poetry: then only do you justify Hölderlin’s claim that it is poetically that man lives. Then do you render justice to the Arab language where, forever, verse is called bayt: ‘house’, ‘home’. It is poetically, Hölderlin tells us, that man ‘inhabits the earth’, thus giving just weight to the substance of living which, inevitably, is of the here and now, just weight to the poor, glorious things of the here and now issued from such substance – black but solar –, things that, all around us, around our hearts, spin their spider webs, poor things finding refuge in our words and getting caught in the nets of our poem, which, alone, in proving who we are, proves what they are. Beneath the whispering, the cry, beneath the cry, the whispering: another episode of the living ambiguousness that stretches the poem’s bow via the attentiveness and the temptation of the arrow – whereby no one any longer knows, as the arrow leaves the bow, to whom the bow belongs  nor whose is the arrow: ‘If your friend is suffering from an arrow wound – a zen aphorism states – don’t wait to stretch the bow, shoot the arrow’. Ambiguity, then, and paradox, in the striking contraction of time-space, which makes the poem a true ontological datum.

And so, for me, poetry is fundamentally peace, ontological peacefulness, salam. It is ideology that is war. One of my compatriots, the poet Nadia Tueni, has put it admirably, and terribly, when Lebanon was still fire and blood: ‘People shoot at an idea – she writes – and kill a man’. Poetry, contrary to ideology, is what refuses to kill and which, humbly, marvellously, helps life to be, to be better, helps it to be lived in plenitude. ‘Great events – Nietzsche writes – come upon us like doves’. And poetry, colombe aquiline, ‘the eagle dove’, as I have had occasion to call it – poetry is a great event.

I shall have finished once I have told you of my testament. It is short, and merely a post-scriptum to my life. In effect, the equation Life equals Poetry has always been mine. That is, I do not wish to oppose life to poetry, the former seeming to me to offer a nest to the latter, poetry then giving wings to life. Wings, ie a space, that is, a direction (all directions at the same time), that is, a meaning (all possible meanings). But, and it is perhaps the main argument in favour of poetry, it, poetry, manages to gather all directions into one, all meanings deployed to the only worthwhile meaning. It is a matter of going, via the totality of offerings life hands us, some happy, others grievous or unhappy – a matter of going to the place where language lights a lamp and, all about this lamp that pulls us away from universal confusion, a matter of seeing, for the little time we dwell in it, a bending of the power of our violent cosmic chamber. A poet is he or she who sees double: who sees things and, simultaneously, sees their limpid shadow in the darkest of paradoxical mirrors. I have written somewhere (: you will forgive me for once again quoting myself): ‘For lack of obscurity, a good deal of what is written lacks language, much of what is written lacks the darkness of night’. It is at the place where language and such benightedness meet that the poem takes root. And there, probably, in such an isthmus, that life, to manage its passage, becomes the most intense, the most delicate, the strongest and the most vulnerable. ‘A rose in its own fatiguedness’, I have also written.

No, I am not for the reclusive life in poetry. I am for the opening of doors and windows, so that the thousands of presences of the world may attack language. I am even for the burning down of the house, for what remains when fire and flame have not devoured it entirely and reduced it to the state of ashes. ‘Poetry is the conflagration of appearances’, it has been said.

… And now the poet has grown old. Did he speak of lamps? ‘The end of life brings with it its own lamp’, Joubert writes.

A Question upon a very old Shore

Does the Mediterranean exist?

On the map, the Mediterranean is that kind of false blue rectangle which pretends to jealously close in upon itself, but, if one looks closely, is seen to open up via three gates, narrow ones, it is true, onto the vast and multiple universe; mingling its waters at Gibraltar with those of the western Atlantic; cautiously greeting via the Suez Canal the enigmatic world and the gods of the South and the East; holding out, between the shores of the Bosphorus, what we so nicely call, in French, ‘an arm of the sea’, towards the gods, ancient and modern, of the North and the North-East. And so, via three gates only, the Mediterranean manages to look towards the four cardinal points. In this improbable process of three becoming four, I like to see a symbol of the Mediterranean’s singular destiny; whereby the most precise measurements are bent through the intervention of the miraculous; whereby inspiration, which is, moreover, but the response to aspiration, comes along to shatter the reign of rules.


Now, what I mean is that these rules have been invented by we Mediterraneans. The liking for and the meaning of definitions, written law, codification, are specifically Mediterranean creations. We have imagined division, and then choice; separation, and then construction. We have endeavoured to retain in our choices – it will often be held against us, moreover – just those elements capable of making the universe a livable place. In order to guarantee our victories over incoherence and tumultuousness, we have had the courage to do violence to nature: we have invented the straight line: the column, the sphere – and the hemi-sphere: the cupola. We are the fathers of syllogism, of the golden section, and of the syllogism disguised as arabesque: such signs of our culture have in common a desire to integrate the other by bringing it back to the same so that, through and beyond the illusory diversity of appearances, they might reach a place of identity. At the time when tenebrous Masters of deep Asia required man to vanish and melt into the obscure breathing of the Cosmos, we conjured and adopted that assembly of happy and light gods whose ruined temples continue to raise, upon the shores of a shared sea, their smiling challenge. And so, anthropomorphism is, too, a particularly Mediterranean philosophy. At the frontier of the logical and the less logical, the clear and the less clear, we have harnessed the most tenuous and fluid relationships whereby mind reflects world, a world returning the favour, enabling eternal and harmonious exchanges. An old image: Orpheus singing, and cities rising up.


But here is the drama, here the heart-wrenching, terrible moment when the Mediterranean, having reached one of the extremities of itself, opens up and bursts forth. Orpheus, the architect, the builder in the full sun of cities and order, falls prey to a secret infirmity. Within him there rises up, more and more urgently, the call of a lost black Euridice. And this voice of the beautiful black bride, this deep song, this cante jondo as Spain says,  how could Orpheus, bewitched by song as he is, escape its fascination? He must, following the inflection of his personal curve oriented by the magnet of a vocation, discover the threshold of hell and undertake the perillous journey on the other side of things which offers, without any possible doubt – perhaps simply because he seizes upon a new unforeseeble direction of being – the road leading to a truth.

This reevaluation of the surface order of things at the very moment it seems to be rising up in the time of some definitive glory – this is what is Mediterranean. It explains perhaps, in part, that the immense and complex machine of the Roman Empire came to a full stop one day, disconcerted before the quiet words of a poor Nazarean. And look: Christianity, like Judaism before it and Islam later, all religions born in this region of the world one must deem inspired, all, instead of biting into Asia, east of their place of birth – Asia to which belong, geographically, both Palestinia and the Arab peninsula – all such religions initially went, as if via some ineluctable accomplishment of an inner requirement – towards the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean whose surrounding region, via diverse itineraries and in differing seasons, such religions spiritually colonised.


Certainly, this did not happen so simply. Men of the Mediterranean, we are, as I have said, men of a certain order. And that is why we begin by violently rejecting Jesus Christ; we denature Al-Hallâj; we persecute Galileo. ‘And yet…’, the latter insisted, in the urgency of being accused of impiety. And we end up admitting he was right, and we raise a tomb in the very bosom of the Church of Santa Croce.


Men of a certain order, but an order without certainty, sureness. Our truth, acquired at some expense, was paid for by such hesitation, the permanent refuting of the pros by the cons, the cons by the pros. It is because we endlessly rectify one thing by another that we appear, perhaps, today, to be advancing slowly, more timidly than other peoples having been able to reach satisfaction more rapidly than we ourselves, deliberately borrowing from us one or the other term of our rich ambiguousness. One day, we are told, the Spanish painter Juan Gris said to Braque: ‘I love the rule that corrects emotion’. And Braque – so often Mediterranean by the desire and affinities of his work – answered: ‘I love the emotion that corrects the rule’. And so, between rule and emotion – which is, is it not, the lesser name of passion – our destiny acts itself out.


This is what I was seeking to get to. I was wondering, at the outset of this reverie, whether the Mediterranean existed. It could, I maintain, be and continue to develop only as a final conjunction of what we bring to it and our most contradictory signs; it could establish itself really, before the vast elementary empires that were built up by bearing to their ultime end, and to the point of caricature, one or the other profile of our definition of freedom and justice, only via a new, more vibrant, more inclusive sythesis of justice and freedom. The gestation, in the Mediterranean, of this new freedom, this new justice, is perhaps what we are witnessing today: and this birthing, as we can see, is bloody and tragical. But for we ancient Mediterranean peoples, the main thing is that in the hour in which a blind and stupid challenge  may well disarticulate and reduce the primordial rhythm of our national histories, of our common history, in the hour in which so many dark quarrels – throughout the last fifty years – have so often seemed monstrously to turn to scorn – the main thing is that those for whom, in the universe, the Mediterranean is a burning call to unite, strongly desire, contrary to all imposed formulas and all ‘given’ policies, to question the undesirable order of things and set off, alone if necessary, in search of lost Euridice. ‘The world, Gide argued, will be saved by a few’. Our Mediterranean will, too.


And here I stand still, anxiously questioning myself, and sad not to have found an answer to the question that is perhaps the only one I want to ask at the end of all others I have asked: today, in a time of war and injustice, does the Mediterranean truly yet exist? Yes, I believe it exists and that it is, all considered, merely our trembling questioning as to its reality.

The Burnt other side of the most Pure


The rose of burning and the spirit’s wind
Have bartered snow
Dove in the distance is this flake of light
Which becomes tear or dream
This side of day where she who sleeps
Awakes a bride to fire

And all these woods of long desire their backs to rain
Our shaping tears –
This country has in me its lamp of shade
In the heart’s labyrinths a going to sleep
As a tear is child to another tear
At the end, the unheard of, a pure dragonfly
Escapes at the point of being, trembling there

Keep me by air bound to the edge of trees
And the spirit’s blue
Where suffering is naked in its nails
For a real morning of unnatural dew
The country red and clear
And broken up beneath the doves of clouds

Ah ! Kill then these doves
On the anvil beating out their shadow
She who desires with the geraniums
White the knots leave by night
To set up snares in the invisible

Keep me by claws and roses
Within the water’s arms
My slow garden, my rose garden, my rose
Where soon the fruit shall form
Under the mothering cloud
In this clear country
Doomed to dragonflies
Keep me within the star’s geometries .

As the dune’s angel keeps his wing
Between the sky and the sky’s emptying
Thanks to my friend the archer breathing in
The smell of water

Soon the fruit
In the bowl ofthis eye-lash garden
Where is undone before the marble wind
His living love

Above the rose-bushes falling to the sea
In their salt dream
Dark and wind-golden is the dead child
Ô pierced by a sword
His tree-tear eyes
His eyes of nesting tears
Purer was his death than tender life
In the burning of the star-spirit
Purer was his death than life
Like a dew-statue that became a flame
And what a life or lamp that of the sleeper ?
The heart, the heart gathers about its crystal
In the perfection of this nocturnal garden
Of finger-nails together with the moon

This spirit child
I wanted him more naked than the river
In which the lovers sleep
Among the dewy grasses of their limbs
To where beyond the river – a red place
Their exiled colour pure and alone
Sheds light on all
A pair of lovers that the clouds desire
That wait as matter till it is their hour

This spirit child
His coming to us here and then again
Amidst a sun of tears
Behind the trees one sees him then he’s lost then he returns and dies
Then comes again through by – ways of the heart
Even to where as here we ‘re held by drought
Our fingers’ crumbling rains
The face’s ship sailing before childhood
The heart circumcised, at a fasting table

Keep me within the circus of the leaves
In that invisible
Where the hand touches the cold lamp
In naïve surprise
At its own shining

Keep me through the wily foxes
That sleep among the roses
For here come the rousing angels
Frightening the clouds
In this country where the light is judge
And traces the dove’s dark sign
On the women’s eyes

The rain is mixed in with the ivy ‘s substance
Caught under beauty’s being and the rain
Loved country of the image’s still life
In which the spirit on the snows’ network
Watches its own unease

Ô pure country
Such depths, left with the trees
Gone to the territories of fire
So beautiful, great trees in their green cry
Purer than pure, their cry, a snow poppy
By nightly vigil beside the snow water
A flare-path in the spirit’s burning day

To every mother must be given a silence
Within the golden fingers of her sons
In ellipse and lightening
The moon having banished sight
Stitching the eye-lids once and then again

To every mother grasses and a lyre
Through prophecy and the face’s cry
Which shines again with a near childhood water
In hidden hollows where the dove will drink
A passing vision with a naked breast

Behind the curtain of trees
There is a lamp’s load
Borne by fragility

And the men of dream
Carry the lamp tressed with their tears
Into a dusty wood
Their fingers suddenly prudent
About a star of shade
Where falls a dry fountain

The trees in the trees in the trees
Under the cold clouds
Suspended lovingly in the word
Like a chandelier of tears
The wing at one with its shining
In the reality of real night
By transparency obscurely obscure

The stenciled moon
Like a balcony of black water
Above the lovers and their limpid angels
With the hunt ail around
In the dark country where the rose is sick
Ah ! ail gone under the snow, horses and time…
Sword in our hearts and the cupped blood
Gave light to the lamps’ beauty

The tears’ sword burns in the spirit
Like a live pearl
In the nuptial castle of its burning
A burning it is, a castle
To burn man in his ropes of living water

The lamp is there : is it
A black prophet to speak a black language
When the fruit is rotting
And out of enigma the heart makes itself
Clear to be dowsed in quick lime
Where mumbling – barely asleep – death
Is disturbed by a torrid sky ?

In this country of unshed tears
Is the beauty of the dead, their eye-lashes
Are a lamp of sharp cold and live
Is the tear torn from their body

A burning tear alive
In the sleepless night ô tear
Thinking of the body so black and pure
That there comes another tear in transparency
The idea still obscure, the earth
Dreaming this and its white river

The field with its curling corn stalks
Flows to the clear house
That sleeps in snow
For there the snow grape has fallen
Offered in secret to the nightingale
Who drinks the summer wine
And speaks with the lion

In the dear wood of summer’s nightingales

Because of the snow
The dark woman in her shawl of water
Has gone deprived of death
With at her throat the clear sword of tears

… and all was of earth here and of trees
In the light with its elusive name
On this side of day that’s near to death
With, so fresh, the river calling her name
On this side of day newly asleep
Who wakes and her face is dark
And her hair is a woman’s and they sleep
And his face is dark and he smiles

Then we have been seized by images
Then left the seized again
Near the great throbbing trees so pure of earth
That the night – alive only in them
Round itself living to a living source
As a rose is lost with the wind

It is again snow summer and it is
The bare grapes’cold sorrow

translated by Heather Dohollau


Stangers chatting without words
on all the balconies of night
Death waits in every needle’s eye
But the cautious roses withdrew
from this circus act
In their long lasting truth
Thoughts without angels
Here I am with my pierced back
screwed onto chairs
The sharpened eye in my burst head
Face and body
under the harsh dictations of rain

Traduction de Carina Barone

Publications en anglais

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Herve Allet « a poet of the essence of things »

Salah Stetie is a poet of the essence of things

Born in Beirut in 1929, he has published more than forty collections of poetry both in French and Arabic, in which, as Yves Bonnefoy points out in his inspired préface to Fièvre et Guérison de l’Icône, the poet ventures onto the risky and breathtaking bridge that separates the two languages.

 Stétié is also a remarkable essayist and a poet-ambassador in the tradition of Paul Claudel, Saint-John Perse, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz. Fièvre marks only the second time, after the poetic anthology of Aimé Césaire, that Les Editions de l’Imprimerie Nationale have published an author during his lifetime.

 photo-7Stétié’s poetry encompasses two levels of reality. Ordinary language names the objects, places, and situations that obsessively structure the whole collection as an incantation would: the cool and pure houses of things, the lamp, grapes, our dogs, our books, male and female organs, blood, burning legs, the death of the mother. Then, the disturbing and unexpected layout of words in the poet hints at « l’inconnaissance », a reality that exceeds both language and human perceptions and upsets our systems of representation.

 Incompleteness and iteration characterize Stétié’s poetry. Things are incompletely represented, says Yves Bonnefoy, and therefore they are substituted for an essence. The materiality of the word unveils a network of obscure relationships that echoes the lovers’ fingers weaving the world and contains the memory of a lost primeval unity.

 Iterations delineate the elusive space that lies between the contingent and the immaterial. An extreme pattern of imagery opposes snow and burnimg fire, it unfolds, intertwines, and neutralizes itself through the crystal image of an everchanging light. The lamp, like language, is successively theatrical, rainy, burst out, girl-like, bedazzled, indestructible, undivided, homeless, absolute. A  » great trans-parency  » illuminates golden children and written characters of the poet’s metaphysical insights. The context constantly changes, but iteration  » weakens the context of meanings « , says Bonnefoy. An apparent tautology disintegrates any glimpse of memory and even undermines the notion:  » l’image est endormie dans le feu de l’image « ,  » l’attente de la neige est pure attente pure « ,  » nous avons déplié nos plis « ,  » avec leurs clés dormantes qui dorment « ,  » c’est l’écriture qui écrit « . The balanced architecture of the collection contains a deconstruction of representation which, from images seen and remembered to forces unseen, evokes notions that disintegrate like the broken mirror of a hologram, only to reappear in full on one of the broken pieces.

 A dormant kind of eroticism smolders under the dominant imagery of the burning fire that illuminates the evanescent unity of the collection:  » Elle écarte les jambes… A la fin morte sous le poids de sa lumière / Comme une femme absolue par le sang « . A dreamlike but violent sexuality permeates the text of the painful images of wound, blood, shame, and circumcision. Salah Stétié’s poetry weaves an esoteric network of signs that give shape and reach to the mysteries of existence and rnake of earthly things a prison of blood and sand for the soul :  » Et tout le sable et le sable du sable « .

Hervé Allet. Vanderbilt University

Biography (English)

Salah STÉTIÉ is a French Lebanese poet and essayist of international renown. In his exquisite, soberly beautiful poems, Western culture merges with Oriental and Arabic traditions. His writing has a swirling metaphysical dimension while never ceasing to root itself in earthy, sensuous experience. His poems evoke a deep, half-questioning, half-serene meditation of all that is  » hanging on the other side of being  » –  » the great soft lion’s track in the invisible  » – while still capturing the swarming particularities of our daily presence in the world.

Salah Stétié was born in Beirut in 1929. After studies in Lebanon and France, he turned his attention towards the problems of contemporary poetry, establishing exchanges and friendships with writers such as Jouve, Mandiargues, Ungaretti, Bonnefoy, Du Bouchet and David Gascoyne. After launching the cultural weekly L’Orient littéraire in Beirut, he developed two parallel careers, as a writer and as a distinguished diplomat, in Paris, Morocco, The Hague and elsewhere.
He has published 40 books, and was awarded Le Grand Prix de la Francophonie de l’Académie Française en 1995.


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