Poetry by Pierre Reverdy

Locked Away

I’m so far away from people’s voices
from the party’s din
the foamy waterwheel spins backwards
the sobbing springs go quiet
an hour has limped painfully by
along the moon’s vast beaches
and inside this tight, half-heated space I fall
unfailingly asleep, my head on my elbow
upon the placid desert of the lamp’s aureole
a terrible era, an inhuman era
driven onto the muddy sidewalks
far from the innocent circus that declines a drink
far from the decanted song born of sloth
in a bitter free-for-all of mischievous cackling
a fading pain that trembles your roots
I prefer death, there’s dignity to oblivion


Pierre Reverdy

Pierre Reverdy (1889–1960) was a widely influential French poet and critic. Born in Narbonne, he moved to Paris in 1910 and began his life as a working poet, publishing his first book, Poems en prose, five years later. His subsequent works included La Lucarne ovale (1916), Les Jockeys camoufles (1918), La Guitare endormie (1919), Coeur de chene (1921), and Cravates de chanvre (1922), but it was his 1924 collection Les Epaves du ciel that brought him greater recognition. During this time he was a key figure in the avant-garde circles that developed Surrealism, Cubism, and Dada, and that included writers and artists such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Louis Aragon, André Breton, Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, and Georges Braque. With Jacob, Apollinaire, and Vicente Huidobro, he founded the journal Nord-Sud in 1917.

Over time his writing became more mystical, and in 1926 he converted to Catholicism and retreated with his wife to a house near a Benedictine monastery in Solesmes. He lived there for the remainder of this life, writing poetry and criticism, and participating in the French resistance during the German occupation.

André Naffis-Sahely

André Naffis-Sahely is the author of the collection The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life (Penguin, 2017) and the pamphlet The Other Side of Nowhere (Rough Trade Books, 2019). He is also the editor of The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature (Pushkin Press, 2020). He has translated over twenty titles of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, including works by Honoré de Balzac, Émile Zola, Abdellatif Laâbi, Tahar Ben Jelloun, and Frankétienne.

Copyright (c) Estate of Pierre Reverdy, 1948. English translation copyright (c) André Naffis-Sahely, 2020.