Posted by: Sally Ingraham | May 13, 2010

Wry-Blue Loves

by Tristan Corbiere
translated by Peter Dale

‘Poet, despite his verses’ flop;
Artless artist, – arse over top;
Philosopher bull, – in a china-shop.’
– from Epitaph

‘- And our nights!…Lovely nights for orgy in the tower!…
Romeo’s nights! – Never again will the day glower. –
Nature awaking – awaking again in the wild state –
Shakes its white sheet…damps the fire in my grate.
Here are my night-in-gales…of squalling and of howls –
Blithe as larks – and the long sobs of the screech-owls!
My weathervane, pitched high, derusts its yodeling
And my aeolian door still groans, if anything
Like St Anthony in his temptation… Come!
Come, you pretty imp of seduction, come!’
– from Poet by Default

‘- No six-foot hole for them; no graveyard rats to scratch:
All of them gone to the sharks! A sailor’s soul and pride
Instead of seeping out into the potato patch
Breathes in each tide.’
– from The End

wry-blue lovesI don’t often read whole collections of poetry, especially in the space of a few days. This one sucked me in though. The crazy phrasing and word use, the mad rhymes, the off-kilter topics, the dashes and dots…all compelled me to keep reading. I plummeted through this book.

Written by a French poet who was almost unknown in his short lifetime, these scribblings are unlike anything I’ve encountered before (although they reminded me in an odd way of Ogden Nash!). I would call this my first foray into French poetry, and as such it is a funny introduction I think, although according to the short bio and notes on the translation Corbiere influenced Pound and Eliot, and more directly a writer named Jules Laforgue whom I’m now going to have to seek out.

I really enjoyed the sort of sad humor in these poems, the very ‘wry’ humor, as well as the devilish, somewhat dirty wit. I feel like I couldn’t comprehend what he was getting at sometimes, and from reading the notes on various poems it seems that he liked to poke fun at other writers, especially Hugo, and that kind of went over my head. I’m very satisfied with what I did get out of it though, and am just a bit sorry that in reading this book I’ve covered everything Corbiere ever wrote!

Thanks is due to Amateur Reader, who wrote about this book in March. I rather doubt that I would have ever heard of Corbiere without him, and that would have been regrettable.


  1. What great selections – if anyone is wondering, yes, Corbière is like that, just like that.

    I hope you read Peter Dale’s Laforgue, too! I read a different Laforgue (William Jay Smith), which seemed quite good. But Dale’s Corbière was so much fun that I was sorely tempted by his Laforgue.

    Laforgue insisted that he was not at all influenced by Corbière, that he had never even heard of Corbière when he was writing his Corbière-like verse. Writers always say that.

    • Sweet, I didn’t know that Peter Dale had done a translation of Laforgue as well! I’ll definitely have to look for that. The relationship between Laforgue and Corbiere (or lack thereof) is so classic. The intro to Wry-Blue Loves says that without a doubt they knew each other. Pfff – writers…! 🙂

  2. Haha, Jules Laforgue reminded me of that hilarious line Amateur Reader quoted:

    No one is more frequently mentioned in discussions of modern poetry than Jules Laforgue…

    No one, indeed.

    Excellent post on Corbiere – between you & AR, I’m quite intrigued by him. His translator seems to have really run with the rhythmic qualities of his writing. Wonder if I could find him in French…?

    • The Peter Dale translation came with the French on the facing page! It’s a really nice edition. Hope you do track it down. 🙂

  3. Also intrigued! Loved this post and the possibility it represents. Need that translation with French on opposing page too.

    • I really like it when they have both the original and the translation in a book – especially poetry. Even though I can’t understand French (pooh…someday…!) I sometimes like to read the poems in French to get a sense of the rhythm in the original, and because the flavor of the words are so different. Fun. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: