posted by Greg Baysans


Four Poems by Jacques Prévert

Translated by Michael Benedict. This is the text of a poem that was written in French and first published in 1931 (over twenty years before "Howl" to which it clearly seems a precursor; I think it was William Burroughs who introduced Ginsberg, and probably Kerouac, to the Symbolists, including Prévert and the boy who started it all, Rimbaud). In The Poetry of Surrealism, edited by Michael Benedict, the book I use as a source here, Prévert's dates are given as "1900-___"! The book has a copyright date of 1974. Prévert died of lung cancer in 1977.

by Jacques Prévert

Attempt at a Description of a Supper of Various Heads in Paris, France

Those who piously...

Those who copiously...

Those who wave the flag

Those who inaugurate

Those who believe

Those who believe they believe

Those who when they speak might as well go caw caw caw

Those who dress in fancy feathers without a flaw

Those who spare neither tooth nor claw

Those who orate

Those who gunboatate

Those who punctuate

Those who keep perfect time

Those who polish until whatever it is sparkles and shines

Those who throw out their bellies in their pride

Those who avoid your eyes

Those who are not afraid to take the bull by the balls when he's dead

Those who've grown bald on the inside of their heads

Those who give their blessings to all the churning masses

Those who distribute the kicks in the asses

Those who prop up and stuff up the dead with their great regret

Those who bayonet

Those who let their children play with guns

Those who let guns play with their children

Those who float who refuse ever to sink

Those who believe the best of all mankind though here and there some few may stink

Those whose gigantic wings alone prevent them from superhuman flight

Those whose only dream is sticking pieces of broken bottle on the top of the Great Wall of China at midnight

Those who cover up their faces in wolves'-heads when chewing on a lambchop

Those who make off with the eggs but refuse to take the responsibility for whipping up the omelette

Those who own four thousand eight hundred and ten yards of Mount Blanc, three hundred of the Eiffel Tower, twenty-five centimeters of chest expansion and what's more those who are proud of it

Those who suckle at the bosom of the nation

Those who do the running, the raiding, and the revenging on our behalf, the whole mob of them, and a lot more besides, who proudly enter the President's Residence, crunching along the gravel road, all pushing and shoving, all hurrying each other along, because there is to be a great banquet of heads right now and everyone can choose the head that best fits his taste.

One head the head of a clay pipe, the other the head of an English Admiral; as a side dish there are heads made out of bombs, the heads of Galliffet, the heads of gentle beasts with bad headaches, Auguste Comte-heads, Rouget de Lisle-heads, Saint Theresa-heads, heads made out of heads of headcheese even, heads of feet, heads of men of the cloth, milkmen-heads.

Some of them, just for a laugh, carried on their shoulders delightful little calf-faces, and these faces wre so lovely and so sad -- with little sprigs of parsley sticking out of their ears like seaweed sprouting from reefs deep beneath the seas -- that nobody even noticed them.

A mother, wearing a dead skull's head, smilingly presented her daughter, wearing an orphan's head, to a venerable old diplomat friend of the family who had on the head of Soleilland.

It was truly deliciously charming and all in such perfect taste that when the President arrived wearing an overstuffed Columbus'-egg head everybody went absolutely crazy.

"Actually, the idea was quite simple; the whole trick was in being the first to think of it," announced the President unfolding his napkin; and before the spectacle of so much simplicity and malice the guests could no longer overcome their emotions: through cardboard crocodile-eyes a fat factory-owner let flow a few tears of uncontrollable joy, a slightly smaller industrialist nibbled on the table legs, all the pretty ladies jiggled their tits a bit and the Admiral, carried away by his own enthusiasm, tipped his champagne glass in the wrong direction, broke off the stem in doing so, and died of a ruptured appendix just standing there, feet locked on the arms of his chair, shrieking: "Save the children first!"

By strange coincidence, the seafarer's widow -- on the advice of her maid -- had that very morning concocted a striking war-widow's head, with two long lines of pain running down from either side of the mouth part, and two neat little pockets of grief, touches of gray beneath blue eyes.

Standing on the seat of her chair, she addresses the President, howling at the top of her lungs to demand increases in war-widows' pensions and the right to wear as a brooch, crosswise on the bottom of her evening gown, the deceased's favorite sextant.

Finally, slightly calmer now, she lets her lonely widow's gaze wander over the table, and, spying among the hors d'oeuvres a plate of filets of herring, sobbing, she gobbles down several, one after another, like a machine; then she swallows up the rest, in memor of the Admiral who "seldom indulged himself during his long lifetime," but who "nevertheless did love them so very much." Interruption: The Minister of Protocol is requesting that everyone stop eating, since the President is about to speak.

The President has arisen, you can see that he's just broken the top of his cranial egg with his knife bcause he prefers it a bit less warm, only just a modicum less warm...

Now he is speaking and the silence is suddenly such that you can hear the flies in flight and suddenly such that you can hear them flying so distinctly that you can't even hear the President speaking anymore which i really quite regrettable because it's specifically about flies he's speaking, about flies and their incontestable usefulness in every area of life and in the realm of colonial activities in particular.

"...For, without flies, we would be without fly-swatters, without fly-swatters there would be no Governor-General of Algiers, no French insults to revenge, no olive-trees, in fact no more Algeria, which means no more hot spells, Gentlemen, and those bracing heat waves in the desert, Gentlemen, aren't they the very health of the weary traveler, and besides..."

But when flies become bored they die, and all the stories of past glories, all those statistics of ours fill them with the full weight of sadness, so that first they lower one foot from the ceiling, then the next and then they fall, as flies do, in our dinnerplates...all over our clean white shirt-fronts, dead as the songs say.

"The most noble conquest of man is the horse," the President was announcing, "and were there but one horse left in the entire world, I would want to be him."

The speech is over; and like an overripe orange flung against a wall will all his might by a badly brought-up child, the "Marseillaise" explodes and the entire audience, dazzled by the gradual general growth of moss and spiderwebs over everything, and the stunning brilliance bouncing off the copper band instruments, rises as one to its feet, choked up, drunken, just at the thought of the History of France and that of the illustrious Pontet-Canet.

Everyone is standing, except for the man with the head of Rouget de Lisle* [*Author of "The Marseillaise"-ed.] who takes this in his stride and who is of the opinion that the performance was well executed indeed and then, gradually, the music dies down and then the next thing you know the mother with the corpse-head has taken advantage of this peaceful moment to push her little orphan-headed daughter toward the President's table.

Flowers in her hand, the child begins her memorized speech: "Monsieur President, Sir..." But her emotion, plus the heat, plus the flies are such that she keels over and falls with her face flat in the flowers, teeth snapped tight as the jaws on a pair of nail-clippers.

Continued, click here