Excerpts from Nioqueby Francis Ponge, translated from the French by JD Larson | forthcoming from Red Dust, 2017
Les Fleurys, Sunday April 2 1950.
Country house, one long single ground floor, facing the south. Preserved by some outbuilding forming perpendicular garlic, to the right.
From the west, that’s to say the right, ranging from close to the ground to very high in the air, often blowing hailstones, the real concerns, the darkening blue coming in gusts.
Savage and enthusiastic mood around ten in the morning, held under the glimmer of sunlight as under a frosted headlamp, very high to the left, that accentuates the festoons of cloud and then suddenly discovers itself happy along the façades.
They lean over the vegetation, letting drops of water onto the grass and into the branches.
There we have one of the pastorals of the western septentrion, all swept by water, always under the polar rag, the atlantic floor wipe.
… The storms a little colder than they are dry.
The woods pushing well that way, so it’s necessary to cut and dry the logs – they’ll then become pinkish – to have a little fire in the chimney on the ground floor of the house, – a little of this live coal’s warmth coming from wood lit by human industry to offset the head colds and rheumatisms.
But underneath, the elongated body, nourished by the brown earth.
It’s on us to say November again as one opens a drawer (full of pearls and old scarves), that spills itself (and pours out its excess).
March has made its way as one shakes the rags out a last time, as one applies the floorcloth a last time.
But the broideries quickly take their place again – the canvas fills up at full speed.
Starting with the old canvas, the broideries that grow out of the earth, the threads that grow out of the earth and knot themselves and (spread) (advance) (course) unravel themselves and spinning and weaving themselves, knitting themselves,
form fringes, tassels, bobbles, braidlets.
Always too much (cherries in bloom), for the wind to dig up and disperse. And enough needs to remain so that seeds are formed, the seeds,
the little bobbins that bury themselves to be unraveled next spring.
But it also forms the bread for the new canvas.
The animals are detached from this knot, spared, vagabonds (birds, insects, mammals, rodents and others).
The body of carbon variations, OUR body, from black to brown, to green, on to all the colors unto white flowers, these diamonds.
Flowers also imitating crystals of other rocks (all the colors imitate precious stones), and the flesh tones (of animals), and blood.
Meanwhile the (sweet) women traffic in tepid water, soups, lye; wash; heat the soup to nourish the warm bodies of whom they have the charge.
And there’s a music of the wash. Timbales of basins and pans, triangles of utensils.
And the big blue and white earthenware bowl of the skies finds itself all washed, all rinsed, all clean.
and the looks turn blue, light up.
Smiling at oneself.
However the pendulum or the clock beats the measures of the heart and of time (of the grave, of the hopeless passing of time).
All comes to pass (we age), but the children climb the steps (of the staircase) of time to come laughing into the dining room.
Music of kisses. Birdsongs. Repopulation.
Music of the kettle, of frying.
Music of fires. Crackling of braising and logs.
Pair of bellows, streams of smoke.
Mirrors and windows cleaned, rubbed. Smiling at oneself.
PROÊME OF THE SAME DAY
Les Fleury, Sunday April 2 1950.
At every instant to have lost, having to find one’s vocabulary, having to start over from the most common vocabulary, crude, earth to earth, from the nearly total lack of peasants’ vocabulary, of workers, of their badges, dirty, earthly clumsiness : look at what’s good! Good sign. A chance.
(Not the vocabulary of the hay dock, but the lack of vocabulary.)
Like never-ending rain, inclement weather brings decay, it deteriorates old houses, there’s the need to redress (repair) this or next suffer collapse. Look at what’s good. Good sign. This struggle, this elementary inclement weather. Rain, it damages, it brings walls to collapse, it rots the wood but it washes, it’s healthy. Struggling with this, that’s good. There’s a need for a constant reinvention; of the solid, of the good, of the roughly formed.
So one leaves again by clearing the throat or gullet, pebbles, piles of pebbles in the road, of the earth and the water of the streams (that comes from the rain).
Like there are piles of pebbles collected in some places to re-gravel the roads, surely there are words. There’s the need to go search for them. In the gullet, in the gullet of others, in books, dictionaries. By the shovelful, while scraping the gravel.
Countryside, crowded solitude. There’s the need to say that I sleep a lot, don’t talk much, am rather grumbly, surly. No ideas, no readings, a real wild child. And that I crowd my body like an old tree-trunk of gnarled meat, of indigestible things at times, that I have plenty of mucus, catarrh, not the body that’s too free, the spirit numb enough and misty and streaming that suns itself suddenly. That’s good.
And the idea of death, the possibility of dying (from a gust of wind) every instant that crosses me. That also is good.
I like these large sooted knots, these expressions of knotted trunks, bundles of wet (soaked) firewood, large sooted knots under a grey silken sky (a little blue, made blue), and this untidying, these face-slaps of inclement weather (by the elements) in solitude.
The bistre darkens more and more, almost to black, from where tender green suddenly emerges (and even, at first, for the hawthorns, white), then all the colors in imitation of mineral.
These branchlets, nearly black reglets that emerge green and white.
Electricity : the reddening filaments.
Les Fleurys, Thursday April 6 1950
After a cold and cloudy morning, and, as for my head, a violent migraine…
All that cleared up around noon (as for me by an aspirin reduction) (The sun played the aspirin reductions for the sky, for nature),
Look here towards 17 h 30 the sky completely cleared, but the sun already low to the left barely giving off warmth,
I REREAD (and title) the Pastoral of the Early-Spring and I write that which follows, as preface-reflection :
«I can’t say, write (or think) anything else except that the season inspires me.»
(These days here : pastorals, nioque, proêmes, notes of the early-spring.)
The need to gather all of this, and to say it in less words.
In a manner more concisely concrete, and so nearly abstract (for the future).
Noting that only several degrees of heat are lacking.
Hands almost cold. Sheets of fresh wind in places that are modeled in several weeks by light. Patches of strong winds in places that the light will shape in several weeks.
Even more than light, it’s patches of cold wind that shape the body.
Here where we are, the features of the season, the early-spring :
Between the need to make fire
(red fireplace in the hearth or the stove)
—and the possibility, thanks to certain sunny clearings (but due to a still cold wind), to not do anything and play in the sun.
In several days it will be too late, we’ll be at ease, the comfort of real spring (sunny. Fire’s useless). We’ll have forgotten this sensation (emotion). We can no longer say anything about it.
Is it necessary to wait for next year to retake these notes and complete the picture?
No, it’s necessary to complete it (as it gains momentum) immediately.
But the courage? The contention of spirit (while the migraine…)? … and the happiness of expression…?
Don’t have except what’s to do! and lots of energy! of power of exertion. That’s what’s needed.
To start up again from a jolt of energy right in the center of the sod and to shape it.
The sod of primary elements, passions, eternal :
Rain, squirting, stinging, oblique features, damp, a destruction by unsolid features, lizards, damaging the walls.
The cold rain of winter signifies sharp wet stings, a healthy nastiness, struggle against it.
Sooted knots, knotted sticks in the smoke, concerns, bluish overclouding
Sun (faint light under frosted ceiling, skylight)
Threads unwind from underground and broider quickly (budding and blossoming flowers), the apple trees, pear trees, etc., the hawthorns.
COLD WINTER RAIN
Les Fleurys, April 7 1950.
Adversity, oblique elementary meanness pierces with little liquid stingers even more supple than whip-strands (the rain, the whips), raining down from above, and healthy (unburdening, unbridling, releasing, satisfying dire concerns; releasing ample concerns coming generally from the west).
The cold adversity, the elemental meanness remade from sand, from gravel, from the bed of the brook with the walls of houses and with the walls of enclosures, also healthy by the struggle it’s bound to lead against it, cooling; refreshing and reinvigorating at the same time.
One doesn’t die from it. It’s nothing but a benign meteor; however it could cause illnesses, even serious ones.
To hollow out a cupule and at times pierce and damage, creating miniscule scree.
This cold rain, it’s good. It’s good that this elementary degradation comes about, these little elementary depredations, this degradation of walls. To render back to the earth that which comes from it, that which had been taken from it, and requires to rebuilding, sealing; to give us enjoyment from this bit of gravel, this gravelle.
To fill the cisterns.
To remoisten the fields, the labors.
It’s a good deal for feet of the trees. Instillations at the feet of the trees and the grass, like an eye-drop at the corner of the eye.
Rendering the earth synthetic (made of mud).
Laying out underground spreads; streams (streaming), Douix, rivers, vauclusian fountains.
All this comes from a tartness, from a little (bad weather) passing meanness (passage of ample corner, coming first from ecstasy, from the evaporation of the sea).
Whips, arrows, stingers, swords, javelins, thorns of which nothing will remain! Slaps, choleric throws, spit of which nothing remains! Healthy displeasures, adversity, disagreements of which nothing remains! Bars, gates, cages, damp prisons of which nothing remains!
What are you talking to us about then, of humans, and do you believe that that interests us, so that it’s on us to say April again, so that all of nature says it over and again (so that there’s more seas than earth and still more fields than cities, than roads)
…that all of mute nature (interested and disinterested) says April again.
Editions Gallimard © 1983.
FRANCIS PONGE (1899-1988) spent his early years in Avignon. He attended school in Caen, later studied both law and Philosophy before taking up a variety of editorial and teaching jobs. Le parti pris des choses (Taking the Side of Things) Gallimard 1942, caught the attention of prominent writers and artists. Wider recognition came in the sixties when Gallimard published several large collections of his poetry and essays. Describing his approach to writing in The Making of the Pré as, "things are already as much as words as things and...words...are as much things as words. It is their copulation that writing realizes."JD Larson
JD LARSON is a poet and translator living in Brooklyn. His published and ongoing translations are principally of the Austrian writer Friederike Mayrocker, author of études. Selections have appeared in Asymptote Journal, iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, and Kadar Koli, He teaches in the German Department at NYU.