Week 549: Le Dernier Poème, by Robert Desnos

Robert Desnos (1900-1945) was a French poet who began his poetic career as a surrealist, associated with such poets as Louis Aragon and Paul Éluard, but in his later work evolved a plainer, more direct style. In the Second World War he was much involved with the French Resistance, and was eventually arrested by the Gestapo and sent first to Auschwitz, and then transferred to a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. He survived long enough to be liberated, but had contracted typhoid and died shortly afterwards.

This poem, though one of his most famous and best-loved, is a bit of an oddity in that it never actually existed as such. It began life as the last stanza of a longer poem, ‘A La Mystérieuse’, written about the singer Yvonne George, for whom he nursed an unrequited passion. When he died, the lines were quoted in a Czech obituary, which was then mistranslated back into French in a way that gave rise to the belief that this was a poem in its own right, and the last one Desnos wrote as a farewell to his wife Youki.

I am not sure how proper it is to override authorial intent, but the fact is that these detached lines work better for me as a poem without the more florid preceding stanzas of the original, so I present them here without too much compunction.

The translation that follows is my own.

Le Dernier Poème

J’ai rêvé tellement fort de toi,
J’ai tellement marché, tellement parlé,
Tellement aimé ton ombre,
Qu’il ne me reste plus rien de toi.

Il me reste d’être l’ombre parmi les ombres,
D’être cent fois plus ombre que l’ombre,
D’être l’ombre qui viendra et reviendra
Dans ta vie ensoleillée.

Robert Desnos

The Last Poem

I have so dreamed of you,
I have so walked, so talked with you,
So greatly loved your shadow,
That there is nothing left to me of you.

And what is left to me
Is to be a shadow among shades,
A hundred times more shadow than the shade,
To be the shadow that will come and come
Into your sunlit life.

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