Robert Desnos was in many ways the archetypal surrealist spirit. Involved in Paris Dada he was in the literary vanguard of Surrealism and possessed an extra-ordinary talent for automatic writing during the Trance Period, rivalled only by Rene Crevel. Desnos, like many others, fell out with Andre Breton and joined the group centred around Georges Bataille and his magazine Documents and he was one of the signers of the anti-Breton polemic Un Cadavre.
During WWII Desnos was an active member of the French Resistance and he was captured by the Gestapo in 1944. He was deported to Auschwitz, then Buchenwald and finally Theresienstadt where he would die a few weeks after the camp’s liberation from typhoid.
I Have So Often Dreamed Of You
I have so often dreamed of you that you become unreal.
Is it still time enough to reach that living body and to kiss
on that mouth the birth of the voice so dear to me?
I have so often dreamed of you that my arms used as they are
to meet on my breast in embracing your shadow would
perhaps not fit the contour of your body.
And, before the real appearance of what has haunted and ruled
me for days and years, I might become only a shadow.
Oh the weighing of sentiment,
I have so often dreamed of you that there is probably no time
now to waken. I sleep standing, my body exposed to all the
appearances of life and love and you, who alone still
matter to me, I could less easily touch your forehead and
your lips than the first lips and the first forehead I
might meet by chance.
I have so often dreamed of you, walked, spoken, slept with your
phantom that perhaps I can be nothing any longer than a
phantom among phantoms and a hundred times more shadow
than the shadow which walks and will walk joyously over
the sundial of your life.
My room is strewn with the detritus
Of my attempted past lives:
The deadmens suits of discarded personas,
Soiled with sweat and stained at the crotch;
On the floor lie at succession of cracked masks,
Obscuring chalk drawings of circles and pentagrams,
The walls are lined with shattered mirrors
A procession of refracted images
Which if superimposed would reveal
To everyone interested a detailed confession
Of my life as a Gothic novel:
The sad eyes heavy with unquiet sleep
Stare back at me unfocused,
People used to say I was bleakly handsome
And though I couldn’t quite see it myself
I took them at their word,
Ran with this perception and granted it half a reality
But is this any excuse for such overweening vanity,
Because looks are always waving goodbye
In the darkening glass as the autumnal light fades.
The rain is soon to set in,
I doubt it will stop until after journey’s end.
Watching from the balcony of the hotel room
as the heavens are roused from the operating table
after a long coma induced by a junkie anaesthetist
the wild eyed planets are out of sync, unaligned
dying stars radiate their baleful influence
motionless waves frozen smooth as panes of glass
we intuitively understand what this stillness signifies
so let’s down this bottle, the last of the champagne
negligently toss the empties onto the street
step inside, close the curtains, turn off the lights
hastily fumble with underclothes and clasps
you’re needling kisses are more suggestive
of bite marks and deep wounding scratches
that infect immediately with a vivid fighting fever
hopefully there is time enough left to stake
out exclusive territories of mutual antagonism
time enough for you to taunt me with infidelities
for me to tease you with my wanton indifference
to tie each other up in exquisitely painful knots
bound together by our hatred occasioned by passion
that exhilarates to the point of total exhaustion
let the world go to its doom, why pretend to care
about some misty future when we have this moment
a moment of sleek skins pressing each other slickly
a moment of merging mouths breathing in fumes
why lose this moment stretching towards eternity
when before we were alone on separate islands
calling out to each other as we stumbled and fell
over roots hidden in the treacherous undergrowth
this moment when we have discovered each other
if you move over a little and lie back I will continue
we still have time enough for one last big fight
before we fuck again, die a little death before
the grand operatic finale scored by some bombast
and as I repose supine I see you as Venus descending
with a movement fluid yet infinitely heart breaking
flaring up with a sudden intensity that I cannot contain
even as I hold down your head and grab the rope
of your tangled unruly tresses flowing over my thighs
and at long last I let the universe and everything
dissolve in the flash of illuminating blinding white light.
Now that I am older the sound
Of the drumbeats grows louder,
Though the source becomes forever
Fainter, filtered by vague remorse,
Impossible longing for a home
That I have only visited in dreams.
I am a child again in these dreams
Attracted by the source of sound,
A woman calling me to go home:
At my silence she calls out louder
I stay still, filled with a sullen remorse
I could stand there like a stature forever.
If only we could build up bridges forever;
Break it on down like we do in dreams,
Then drop deeper without any remorse
To caverns filled with reverberating sound
Booming like my echoing heart louder
As it realises you can never go home.
For that is where the hatred lies, at home,
The source of afflictions that fester forever,
Over the years voices raised louder,
The only peace found in feverish dreams
With swirling fragments of whispered sound,
In the morning glare a cause of distinct remorse.
Though being human is cause enough for remorse,
For we are restless, searching for a lost home
And every time we speak or utter a sound
Lies the possibility of doing damage forever;
With no resolution to be found even in dreams
Drowning out soothing voices with noises louder.
The din and banging grows ever louder,
Deadening the heart with poisonous remorse,
Seeping even into the sanctuary of dreams:
So I pray for a solitary glimpse of a home
Where I can find comfort and rest forever
Show me a symbol, give me a sign or a sound
Quieter rather than louder, pointing to a reposeful home
Where I banish remorse, to which I say goodbye forever
And let wash over me dreams, that lull with a sea sound.