On Andre Breton’s “Free Union”

Updated: Jul 16

Free Union (Andre Breton)

My wife with the wood-burning hair Whose thoughts are summer lightning Whose waist is the size of an hourglass Like an otter in the teeth of a tiger My wife with a mouth of cockade-ribbons And a bouquet of brightest stars Whose teeth are the footprints of a white mouse on snow Whose tongue is amber and polished glass My wife whose tongue is a stabbed wafer The tongue of a doll that opens and closes its eyes With an incredible stone language My wife whose eyelashes are stick-figures drawn by children Whose eyebrows are the nests of swallows My wife whose temples are the slate color of greenhouse roofs When the windows are completely fogged-up My wife with the champagne shoulders And dolphin head fountains under ice My wife with match-stick wrists My wife with fingers of chance and the ace of hearts With fingers of cut hay My wife with armpits of marten and beechnut And St. John’s Eve Of privet and nests of angelfish With arms of sea foam and river locks And a mix of wheat and the mill My wife with rocket legs With movements of clockwork and despair My wife with the marrow of elder calves My wife whose feet are initials Whose feet are key-rings and the feet of drunk steeplejacks My wife whose neck is unpearled barley Whose throat is a Valley of Gold Whose bed-time encounters are torrents Whose breasts are of the night My wife whose breasts are molehills under the sea My wife whose breasts are ​​crucibles of rubies Are ghost breasts of roses under dew My wife whose belly is an unfolding fan of days Whose belly is a giant claw belly My wife with the back of a bird fleeing vertically With a back of quicksilver At the other side of the light With a neck of worn stone and wet chalk And of a broken glass from which we have just drunk My wife with basket hips Hips of luster and arrowheads And the stems of white peacock feathers And of insensitive scales My wife with a backside of sandstone and asbestos My wife with a back of swans My wife with the buttocks of spring With the sex of brilliant iris My wife with the Sex of Place and Platypus My wife with the sex of seaweed and old-time sweets My wife of the sex of the mirror My wife with eyes full of tears With eyes of a violet panoply and magnetic needles My wife with savanna eyes My wife with eyes of water for prisoners My wife with the eyes of forests falling under the ax My wife with eyes that are the level equal of earth and of water and fire.

—Bob Herz, trans. André Breton, “L’Union libre” (“Free Union”)

Andre Breton (1896-1966), a French writer, poet, and anti-fascist, deeply influenced many other French poets, including Yves Bonnefoy and Louis Aragon. He is known as the founder of surrealism, which he saw as a successor to the revolution launched by Guillaume Apollinaire. He wrote one of the first Surrealist Manifestos in 1924, in which he defined surrealism as

Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

(The larger story in this is that Breton and his group fought for the rights to the term surrealism with another group founded by Yvon Goll. The rivalry was so fierce that at one point the two men physically fought each other. Though the quarrel ended with Breton’s victory, surrealism would always be marked by similar fierce fractures, resignations, and excommunications, with each succeeding surrealist having his or her own view of the issue and goals, though all accepted more or less Breton’s definitions.)