Ted Berrigan, 1934–1983
Out of Francis Steegmuller’s Cocteau (1970), Cocteau’s hommage to Apollinaire (“Printed in Vient de Parâitre, No. 24, November 15, 1923. Not reprinted in the “Complete Works.”), a piece Cocteau read at a June 8, 1919 “matinée poétique” in memory of Apollinaire (d. 9 November 1918):
La Mort de Guillaume ApollinaireA piece Ted Berrigan (who probably found it in Steegmuller’s biography) translated thus—initially printed in Iowa City, seemingly, in one of the mimeograph-era numbers of Toothpaste, and, too, in the Ron Padgett-edited “(Translations) issue” of The World, (No. 27, 1973):
Coupe à ta muse les cheveux
Picasso, peintre aux doigts de fée;
Les objets te suivent, Orphée,
Jusqu’à la forme que tu veux.
Mais il est mort, celui qui change
Les mots de forme de couleurs;
Picasso, ta muse est en pleurs.
Amateur de tulipes,
Vous fumez votre pipe
Le petit doigt en l’air.
Vous racontez aux anges
Par exemple que les nègres sont d’anciens Bretons
Ou que Cléopâtre a inventé les oranges.
Ils vous écoutent bouche bée.
Vous parlez, vous riez dans votre main d’abbé,
Vous n’avez plus mal à la tête.
Vous êtes mort un samedi;
Rousseau vous attendait devant le paradis
Avec des œillets du poète.
Le Dimanche déjà vous fondiez l’éternisme
Dans un article de journal;
Étoiles, faux-cols, prismes.
Aussi les gens du ciel aiment beaucoup
Déjeuner et se promener avec vous.
The Death of Guillaume ApollinaireRousseau—the painter Henri (“Le Douanier”)—had died September 2, 1910 and the opening lines of Apollinaire’s “Inscription pour le tombeau du peintre Henri Rousseau, douanier” were cut—by Constantin Brâncuși—into Rousseau’s stone:
Cut the hair of your Muse
Picasso, you nimble-fingered painter
Objects which come after you, Mr. Orpheus
Already have taken shapes you see
But he is dead, the man who changes words
Shapes & colors
Picasso, your Muse is in tears
Connoisseur of tulips
You smoke your tiny pipe
Little finger in the air
You tell the angels stories
For example that blacks are ancient Bretons
That Cleopatra invented oranges
They listen open-mouthed to you
You talk, you laugh behind your hand
like the Pope
Your headache is gone
You are dead on Saturday
Rousseau waits on you with sweet Williams
before the gates of Paradise
By Sunday you have founded a new school,
Launched with an article in the newspaper in the sky
Stars, Horsecollars, Prisms
And the people in the sky really love
To have dinner & to take a walk with you.
Gentil Rousseau tu nous entendsLines Cocteau surely knew. Berrigan’s “sweet Williams”—deftly echoing Apollinaire’s name. (“Horsecollars”—somewhat stretched, a little outré in its reach, for the “fake collars” of “faux-cols.”) “The Death of Guillaume Apollinaire” isn’t included in Berrigan’s 2005 Collected Poems. Though in the “Notes” accompanying the poems, one finds two mentions of it. How both poems “Frank O’Hara” and “The End” contain lines out of “The Death of Guillaume Apollinaire.” “Frank O’Hara” borrows the two final lines. It reads:
Nous te saluons
Delaunay sa femme Monsieur Queval et moi
Laisse passer nos bagages en franchise à la porte du ciel
Nous t’apporterons des pinceaux des couleurs des toiles
Afin que tes loisirs sacrés dans la lumière réelle
Tu les consacres à peindre comme tu tiras mon portrait
La face des étoiles*
Winter in the country, Southampton, pale horse“The End” reads:
as the soot rises, then settles, over the pictures
The birds that were singing this morning have shut up
I thought I saw a couple kissing, but Larry said no
It’s a strange bird. He should know. & I think now
“Grandmother divided by monkey equals outer space.” Ron
put me in that picture. In another picture, a good-
looking poet is thinking it over, nevertheless, he will
never speak of that it. But, his face is open, his eyes
are clear, and, leaning lightly on an elbow, fist below
his ear, he will never be less than perfectly frank,
listening, completely interested in whatever there may
be to hear. Attentive to me alone here. Between friends,
nothing would seem stranger to me than true intimacy.
What seems genuine, truly real, is thinking of you, how
that makes me feel. You are dead. And you’ll never
write again about the country, that’s true.
But the people in the sky really love
to have dinner & to take a walk with you.
Despair farms a curse, slackness(No Cocteau. Seemingly an editing gaffe. In Berrigan’s 2011 Selected Poems, there’s no reference to “The End”’s containing lines out of the Cocteau translation. The note reads simply: “Written in Chicago in 1972. First published in A Feeling for Leaving.” The note for “Frank O’Hara” refers to Berrigan’s translation of Cocteau’s “La Mort de Guillaume Apollinaire” as being “made in March 1970 in New York.”)
In the sleep of animals, with mangled limbs
Dogs, frogs, game elephants, while
There’s your new life, blasted with milk.
It’s the last day of summer, it’s the first
Day of fall: soot sits on Chicago like
A fat head’s hat. The quick abound. Turn
To the left; turn to the right. On Bear’s Head
Two Malted Milk balls. “Through not taking himself
Quietly enough he strained his insides.” He
Encourages criticism, but he never forgives it.
You who are the class in the sky, receive him
Into where you dwell. May he rest long and well.
God help him, he invented us, that is, a future
Open living beneath his spell. One goes not where
One came from. One sitting says, “I stand corrected.”