Home > 20th Century, Desnos Robert, French Literature, Poetry, Prévert Jacques, Vian Boris > Three libertarian poets: Prévert, Vian, Desnos

Three libertarian poets: Prévert, Vian, Desnos

October 10, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

This week-end, I saw Jean-Louis Trintignant on stage, saying poems from Jacques Prévert, Boris Vian and Robert Desnos.

  It was the first time I ever heard poetry in a theatre. An accordionist and a cellist were on stage too, playing after a succession of poems was finished. I didn’t know accordion could be so beautiful and match so perfectly with cello. But I’m really ignorant as far as classical music is concerned.

These poets were all part of or close to the surrealist movement. The selected poems were eclectic, but war was a recurring theme, as they were written in the first half of the 20th century. I can’t talk about the 30 poems Jean-Louis Trintignant has recited for us, it would be too long. I selected a poem from Boris Vian, which touched me particularly. I couldn’t find a translation, so I wrote it. I left the French text for the Francophone readers and for the Anglophones who can read French.


Explaining why a poem reaches something in me is not easy. The words are simple, scarce and yet the images are vivid. He is alive for the love of simple things. There is a lingering sadness behind the words, like in a painting by Edward Hopper.

 The following poem from Robert Desnos was written in a concentration camp, before he died. It was written for his wife Youki.

This short poem is poignant because we know he died shortly after. He also tells in veiled terms how he is affected by his detention. He has become a shadow, and the images of his wife he mentally called to resist are worn out. They don’t work any more. His body is a shadow but so is his mind. The concentration camp is a dark country and his wife lives in the sun, where he hopes to go back. Impressive.

 Jacques Prévert is impossible to translate. There are too many play-on-words and witty use of the French language to satisfactorily translate him.

 The surrealist poets are among my favourite. I wish some poems from Paul Eluard, whom I really like, had been included in the show.

 Jean-Louis Trintignant has a soft voice. He is ageing now – he will turn 80 in December – but his voice is that of a young man. His body is a traitor, as he seemed to struggle to stand up, needing the help of his musicians to take a bow. But he gave life to these poems, including rhythm, breathes, pauses and irony when needed.

 It was a pleasure and an honour to see him.

  1. October 10, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    It must have been marvellous to see Trintignant in this capacity. I can remember how shocked I was by his daughter’s murder.

    Just a comment on the Desnos poem and the wearing out of memories. I recently saw The Secrets in Their Eyes (Argentinean) and the difficulty of memories comes up as a young husband admits that he’s recalled the last morning with his wife so many times, he’s no longer sure if the memory is accurate. He tells another character “all we have are memories,” and advises him to pick one and then think of that. A wonderful scene that came to mind with your comments about Desnos & the poem.


    • October 11, 2010 at 7:09 am

      It was really something to see Trintignant. There has been a standing ovation in the theatre for him at the end.
      His daughter’s murder was a real shock for me too. I remember where I was when I heard the news. The identity of the killer was a shock as well. For French rock fans, it is as if Bono had killed someone.


  2. October 11, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Have you seen Chabrol’s Betty (based on a Simenon novel)?


    • October 11, 2010 at 3:19 pm

      No. But I think I should, it’s the second time you mention it. Marie Trintignant starred in this film, didn’t she ? Perhaps I should read the book first.


  3. October 11, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    She’s amazing in the role. One of those kamikaze women who go down in flames and take others along with her.


  4. October 11, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I’ll see if I can find it at the library. I borrowed Fear and Trembling there, by the way. I haven’t had time to watch it yet.


  5. October 12, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I’m interested to see what you think of them both


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