Romantic Allusions to Mardi-Gras

Max Jacob

(Action, vol. 1, n. 2, March 1920; Le Laboratoire central, 1921)

No, Monsieur Gambetta, Bolivar’s taken his leave
We saw his top hat and his meteorite
Under the jet of the gas lamp’s flare
Pierrot companion and cascade.
His smock at the end of the quay betrayed
I’m dining at home tonight.
The Seine has seen kings roll to the guillotine.
Night’s horrors spy you from gothic dead-end streets.
O bicycle, your saddle is a velvet mask.
Love’s opera boxes shivered in the Eastern breeze.
If we must die, Madame, hear me. Farewell!
Hemlines and hearts plummeted to the ground
And one curled one’s little finger to drink in style.
My life is a tango, my heart a grand-guignol.
Fate! A halo of fear hovers over Notre-Dame!
It’s a whip, you fool, what you took for a fencing foil
Forgive him, Gerald, in the name of our love, forgive
I want no more kisses from you
Ah! When will you escape the penitentiary of love.
Women offered themselves like bitches in heat.
At times, after midnight, the Seine resembles Hell.
Come! Monsieur Beelzebub, I challenge you hard.
I’ll crack you like a soft boiled egg. En garde!
One or the other of us must leave this earth,
He said! And there spread the immense, blank ennui of a moonless night.

Max Jacob

Max Jacob (1876-1944) was a French poet, novelist, playwright, and painter, close companion to Picasso. He helped to create Modernist poetry in France, and his most famous book is the collection of radical prose poems. A Jewish convert to Roman Catholicism, Jacob died in the Nazi transit camp of Drancy outside of Paris in March 1944. This poem was translated by Rosanna Warren, who is a poet, translator, and professor of Comparative Literature in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Her most recent collection of poems is Ghost in a Red Hat (2011). Published with thanks to Mme Sylvia Lorant-Colle and Éditions Gallimard.


(Action, vol. 1, n. 2, March 1920; Le Laboratoire central, 1921) No, Monsieur Gambetta, Bolivar’s taken his leave We saw his top hat and his meteorite Under the jet of the gas lamp’s flare Pierrot companion and cascade. His smock at the end of the quay betrayed I’m dining at home tonight. The Seine has …

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