Thomas Hibbard




"To seek and to obtain truth is to be in relation...
because in a certain sense one lacks nothing."

-E. Levinas


Surrealism started at least as early as during the time of the Old Testament. The Book of the prophet Ezekiel, written around 600 BCE, contains seven "visions" deriving from the time of the Hebrew people's Babylonian exile. Toward the beginning of the book of Ezekiel are the lines

I looked: a stormy wind blew from the north, a great cloud with light around it,.In the center I saw what seemed four animals. They looked like this: They were of the human form. Each had four faces, each had four wings. Their legs were straight; they had hoofs like oxen, glittering like polished brass. Human hands showed under their wings; the faces of all four were turned to the four quarters..they had human faces, and all four had a lion's face to the right, and all four had a bull's face to the left, and all four had an eagle's face. Their wings were spread upward, each had two wings that touched and two wings that covered its body; and they all went straight forward; they went where the spirit urged them; they did not turn as they moved.

Believing that this writing could only be "divine revelation," which is correct in my opinion but not in terms of the narrow literalism of which modernity is currently attempting to divest itself, the world had no word describing this sort of writing until early in the 20th century. Not surprisingly, in 1917, Guillaume Apollinaire invented the phrase "surrealism" in supplying the program notes for the ballet Parade written for the Ballet Russe by Jean Cocteau, with music by Erik Satie and costumes and set designs by Pablo Picasso. Apollinaire was so moved by the harmony of the costumes and the choreography that he described the effect as "a kind of surrealism."

As long as there have been streets in cities, there have been more or less entertaining and popular traditions of symbolic and allegorical writing and artwork dealing in a fantastical and imaginative way with common and topical problems of human living, from Medieval lyrics in which a rose symbolizes a lover and pelicans symbolize Christ, to folk tales about supernatural creatures and occurrences, to Rabelais to Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain-about a boy and a runaway slave rafting down one of the world's major rivers-to The Shadow and Superman on radio and television.

But in the early 1920s, a group of artists and writers banded together in Paris in an artistic movement they called Surrealism. The movement of Surrealism, whose putative leader was Andre Breton, was different from popular or folk traditions in that it sought to bring together many strands of art and ideas in a much more rigorous and philosophical attempt that would be a part of and would also itself impart a great transformation in European and world culture and society. Surrealism was influenced by Dadaism, Freudian psychology, the carnage of World War I, Cubism, philosophy, the Russian Revolution, science, the extremely heady atmosphere created in France by writers such as Andre Gide, Marcel Proust, Henri Bergson, Tristan Tzara, Sartre, Camus, not to mention American expatriate Modernists, such as Ezra Pound (whose loyalty to the ideas of Modernism led him to describe Surrealism as "Subrealism"), Gertrude Stein, Hemingway and James Joyce, film makers, musicians, composers, dancers, sculptors and painters. As an art movement, the idea of Surrealism, with a capital "S," emphasized the unpremeditated qualities of vision, dreams, unusual and illuminating wonder, disorientating redefinition rather than mere symbolism.

The first piece of writing published according to the principles of the new movement was Magnetic Fields (1920) written by Breton and Philippe Soupault. Magnetic Fields contained writings such as:

About four o'clock that same day a very tall man was crossing the bridge that joins the separate islands. The bells, or perhaps it was the trees, struck the hour. He thought he heard the voices of his friends speaking: "The office of lazy trips is to the right," they called to him, "and on Saturday the painter will write to you. " The neighbors of solitude leaned forward and through the night was heard the whistling of streetlamps.

In the First Surrealist Manifesto (1924), written by Breton, two major aspects of the movement were outlined, namely the use of "automatic writing," that is, free association, as a means of accessing the repressed subconscious of both individuals and society and the sense that the dream state represented an exalted and more fantastical level of consciousness and manner of life.

SURREALISM, noun, masc., Pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express, either verbally or in writing, the true function of thought. Thought dictated in the absence of all control exerted by reason, and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.
ENCYCL. Philos. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of association heretofore neglected, in the omnipotence of the dream, and in the disinterested play of thought. It leads to the permanent destruction of all other psychic mechanisms and to its substitution for them in the solution of the principal problems of life.

The manifesto contained an indictment of post-World War I society as being repressive in every surface aspect.

We are still living under the rule of logic, that, of course, is what I am driving at. But in our day, logical procedures are only applicable in solving problems of secondary interest. The absolute rationalism still in fashion only allows us to consider facts directly related to our own experience. The aims of logic, in contrast, escape us. Pointless to add that our very experience finds itself limited. It paces about in a cage from which it is more and more difficult to free it.

I believe in the future resolution of these two states-outwardly so contradictory-which are dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality, a surreality.

There were several writers and artists considered direct forbearers of Surrealism, such as Hieronymus Bosch, Isidore Ducasse (Comte de Lautreamont) author of The Songs of Maldoror and, imported from America, Edgar Allen Poe. Among well-known artists and writers that emerged from the Surrealist movement were Jean Cocteau (films Blood of the Poet, 1932, and Beauty and the Beast, 1946), Spanish film maker Louis Bunuel (The Age of Gold, 1930, Belle De Jour, 1967), Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Man Ray, Hans Arp, Hans Richter, Yves Tanguy, Giorgio de Chirico, Francis Picabia, Rene Claire, Hugo Ball, Alberto Giacometti and many others. Among the well-known Surrealist poets not translated here were Rene Daumal , Benjamin Péret, René Crevel, Robert Desnos. In the U.S., probably the best known Surrealist was San Francisco poet, Philip Lamantia.

The writers whose work is translated here were considered Surrealist poets most of their lives, despite the fact that several of them, including Soupault, were officially expelled from the movement by Breton (whom some considered something of a tyrant and charlatan). Breton expelled Salvador Dali from the movement. In Breton's defense, the qualifications that those he expelled were accused of lacking were the fervor and daring of "the Surrealist endeavor" rather than any aesthetic criteria to which they failed to conform. The most haunting and successful efforts of the Surrealist writers were perhaps exhibited in works written up to the end of World War II. Though all of these writers wrote excellent poetry until the end of their lives, certain other qualities along with Surrealism appeared in the later writing. Among those qualities, in my opinion, is a strong sense of compassion and humanism. I find the later Surrealist writings to be among the most even-tempered, tolerant, amiable, warm-hearted and insightful that I have ever read. Surrealist poetry is, in fact, somewhat different from Surrealist art in visual media in this respect. The writers all alike suffered greatly during World War II. Aragon, Eluard and Char, in the "Southern Zone," were members of the French Resistance (Maquis). All of the Surrealists faced the prospect of imprisonment. Several sought refuge in insane asylums. Some fled France itself. Breton spent the war in New York City. This was a time of great output for them and produced some of the best writing that they did, such as Aragon's poem The Lilacs and The Roses. Thousands of copies of Eluard's poem Liberty were dropped from British airplanes on occupied France.

Though the Surrealist movement seems today to have ended, its ideas and its intense forward movement live on. Despite its emphasis on positivity and reconciling divergent feelings and images, Surrealism could be considered a deconstructive art because of its desire to get beyond appearance. It definitely is a precursor of art and science that strives to establish contexts in which objects and "things" lose their primacy and a different sort of "entity" is put in their place as a created reality dependent on imagination and virtue of humanity. The playfulness and iconoclasm of Surrealism reappear in the speculative and unusual undertakings of Structuralism, such as Michel Foucault's histories of sex and of madness. All of the founding Surrealists have left us. They were the original ambassadors of exhilarating pale full moons and prophets of incongruous protest and communal zero tolerance. As Breton wrote in 1950.

At that time, the surrealist refusal was total.All the institutions upon which the modern world rested-and which had just shown their worth in the First World War-were considered aberrant and scandalous to us. To begin with, it was the entire defense apparatus of society that we were attacking: the army, "justice," the police, religion, psychiatric and legal medicine, and schooling.

I haven't used the term "French" Surrealists; that is because, though most but not all of the Surrealist poets were French, certainly the movement carried in it the roots of a global perspective. In most instances the departures of the Surrealists were noted with outward and widespread sadness. Using Deleuze's word (and Reverdy's), the Surrealists were "nomads," whose status in life was categorically somewhat difficult and make-shift. They were perhaps unsuccessful in the world's materialist eyes or as conventional family men and women, acting instead as outcasts, writing great oceans of poetic odes to love and romanticism and loneliness. They were formally and clandestinely married to life, and, as we all know the Bible teaches, those not married to life are worshipers of idols and adulterers and those that turn their back on life and divorce themselves from reality are something much worse-no matter what degree of success they may seem to achieve in the world.

Previously, a large selection of these Surrealist translations was published by Barry Silesky in Another Chicago Magazine. Several have also appeared in Willow Springs and online at Milk Magazine, Galatea Resurrects, Shampoo, Drunken Boat, and in various chapbooks. (Artwork, Portrait of Valentine, 1937, Roland Penrose.)

-T. Hibbard / Hartland WI

            Black Garden

But they have bloomed from the ground of the dead
These flowers that one slow effort of dreaming has issued
With cinders and irrelevant smoke
From a flower-bed of Iris that lose their petals at night
One after another like the hours of gloom
In the current of a terrible and crowning season
Of black water  The slow diamonds of the
Luminous hour shine brightly
Strange light of the unusual sun
The lilies have dispersed the somber gathering
Of the beautiful garden on which the tide breaks
And the forged metal of your holy columns
O shaken stalks  This is the night that gives
The universal key of these doors of the horn
To the examinations of living souls

                                                     -1921 (Antonin Artaud)


In the salon of the madam of ricochets
The mirrors are drops of fresh squeezed dew
The table is made from an arm in a vine
And the carpet crashes like waves
In the salon of the madam of ricochets
The tea of the moon is served in eggs of a night-jar
The curtains start the melting of snows
And the piano that looks lost is completely sunk in mother-of-pearl
In the salon of the madam of ricochets
Dim lamps beneath the aspen leaves
Tickle the chimney made of scales of an anteater
When the madam of ricochets rings
The swinging door opens for all the servants to pass

                                                    -1940 (Andre Breton)

          Tapestry of the Grand Fear

The landscape child of the modern terror
Has flying fish mermaids saw-fish
That write something white on blue in that sky
Hydra-bird reminiscent of the Hydra of Lerna
Pirate of the land rock-bird that sews
The air of houses strident-bird comet-bird
Giant wasp acrobat match
That put on the flaming walls bouquets of cowslips
Or perhaps this red is the flight of flamingos
O Flemish carousel of the ancient sabbath
On a broomstick the Messerschmitt swoops down
It is the Night in broad daylight of new Walpurgis
Apocalyptic Space Age where fear passes
With its large freight of tears and pallor
Do you recognize the fields of the village and the hawks
The bell will never ring the hour again
The gaudy carriages of bedclothes
A bear  A shawl  A corpse like a lost shoe
The two captured hands on your stomach  A pendulum
The scattered herds  The carcasses  The cries
Of the bronze artworks of the earth  Where will you sleep tonight
And of the children perched on shoulders of weird marchers
Of people who go one does not know where  All the gold of the barns
Of hair  The ditches where dread comes to sit
The dying whom one carries and who ask for
A beating and who complain because they sweat
A party gown on an arm  A hunchback
The cage of the canary that crossed the flames
A sewing machine  An old man  This is too heavy
One more step I go to die are you coming Marie
The beauty of nights falls and its sail marries
This Breughel of Hell a Breughel of Velvet

                                                       -1940 (Louis Aragon)


Dead or living 
little importance 
one does not even have the time to wait 
the cadaverous rigidity 

One petrifies 
day and night 
the littles the bigs the infants 
the soldiers and the monks for sixteen years 

Statues of bronze and of salt 
of rock and of lead 
of wood and of paper mache 
and thirteen is a dozen 

Here is the alley of heroes 
of pets in sandals 
of merchants of snails 
and her of those who no longer have a name 

So much removing the wind from it 
the rain the storm and the wind 
Our memory is a mass grave 
Go then and rediscover yourself there 

                                                             -1953 (Philippe Soupault)

           Nocturnal Festival 

This festival connects ponds 
To the flashing chariots of the stars 
With their horns of abundance 
Where our brilliant thinkers roll 

Somewhere between earth and sky 
It dumps the refuse of souls 
That no one in the night of flames 
Takes for soaring swans 

And we paternal assistants 
Of the transfusion of our marrows 
Are able to view the stars 
Of our exhilarating dreams 

                                             -1928 (Antonin Artaud)

            The Just Nights 

With a wind more strong 
A light less obscure 
We must find the stopping place 
Where the night will say "Pass" 
And we will know that it is true 
When the water glass fades 

O earth become tender! 
O branch where my joy ripens! 
The mouth of the sky is white 
That which listens, there, it is you 
My downfall, my love, my ruin 

                                          -1949 (Rene Char)

          You Have Left Me

You have left me by all the doors 
You have abandoned me in all the deserts 
I have looked for the dawn and I have lost you to noon 
You could not be found where I arrived 
Who would know the Sahara is not a room without you 

The Sunday crowd where nothing resembles you 
A day more empty than near the sea the jetty 
The silence where I call and you do not answer 

You have left me listening unable to move 
You have left me completely you have left my eyes 
A heart full of dreams 
You have left me like an unfinished sentence 
An object of chance a thing a chair 
A holiday at the end of the summer 
A postcard in a drawer 
I am fallen from you for all my life with the least gesture 

You have never seen me cry because your head is turned 
You look at the devil I am 
A sign from which I was absent 

Have you never had mercy on the ghosts of your feet 

                                                           -1966 (Louis Aragon)


It is necessary to pass in front of 
               Words that the wind brings 
How much time do we have 
Just a moment and I am there 
               I remain alone outside a door 
The trees will shudder 
               If a heavy cloud stops 
In front of the door re-closed 
And under the sky 
               The hours pass 
On the sidewalk where they are born 
               I would forget even my name 
The birds cry 
               Of someone whose voice rolls on 
The bell begins to ring 
                       And every head it turns 
Goes away from my words 

                                                     -1918 (Pierre Reverdy)

           Proper Justice 

It is the hot law of men 
Out of reason they make wine 
Out of coal they make fire 
Out of kisses they make life 

It is the hard law of men 
To keep intact in spite of 
Wars and misery 
In spite of the threat of death 

It is the soft law of men 
To make light from water 
Reality from dreams 
And friends from enemies 

A law old and new 
That goes toward perfection 
From the bottom of the heart of a child 
All the way to Supreme Reason 

                                                  -1951 (Paul Eluard)