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Last Poems of Jules LaForgue

Last Poems of Jules LaForgue

Praise for LaForgue


“He is an exquisite poet, a deliverer of nations … a father of light” — Ezra Pound


“…he was a liberating force, in style and form and subject matter... he encouraged a number of American poets to speak with greater freedom, in voices that later proved to be their own.” — Malcolm Cowley 


If a poet can be judged by the breadth of his influence, Jules Laforgue (1860 – 1887) has done well, despite his death at the early age of 27. He inspired musical composers, including Arnold Schoenberg, Arthur Honegger, and Darius Milhaud, and stimulated a legion of writers. In France these writers include Alain-Fournier and Jules Supervielle, and in English they include James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Allen Tate, and Hart Crane, among many others. 

In the words of his friend Gustave Kahn, he became gradually more determined to free his poetry from “every literary artifice of presentation” so as “to reproduce thought, to catch the heartbeat without ever sacrificing anything to symmetry or verbal redundancy.” This desire, as Laforgue put it, to “break everything” is most fully realised in what became his last book, Derniers Vers, published posthumously. 


Sample of the poetry


I. The Coming Of Winter


Sentimental blockade! Steamships from the East!

Rain! Downpour of night!

And wind!...

All Saints, Christmas and New Year’s, all of them passing,

And in the drizzle, my chimneys of home!…

My factory chimneys….


There’s nowhere to sit, all the benches are wet;

Listen, it’s all over till next year,

All the benches are wet, the woods are rust-colored,

The hunting-horns are lost to long sad songs.


You storms in from the channel,

You've spoiled our last Sunday.


The drizzle continues;

In the forests, the spiderwebs

Fall under the rain, they're ruined.

You plenipotentiary suns that have swollen

The gold rivers of our great country fairs,

Where are you buried now?

Tonight I see one of you, a spent sun dying

Helpless at the top of the hill,

He lies on his side, among the flowers,

His great-cloak under him like a litter,

He’s white as spit on a barroom floor,

And he lies there as on the litter of a yellow broom,

On the yellow broom of autumn.

While the horns call to him,

They want him to return!….

To return to himself!

But listen! Listen! It's the death-call!

O sad anthem, won’t you just play and be done with!...

O music, all gone crazy!

And he lies there like a gland ripped out of a throat,

And he shivers, without friends!....


Hurry, hurry, for it is the death-call!

It’s this winter we know so well that is coming now;

On the turnings of the high roads,

That’s no sweet innocence there,

No Little Red Riding Hood coming there!...

The rut-marks from last months’ carts are still in the road,

Rising up like rails, dream-like, quixotic,

Toward the fleeing patrols of the storm-clouds

That go where the wind drives them,

To sheepfolds above the Atlantic!....


Hurry, hurry, for we know this season so well, too well.

For tonight the wind has made such beautiful clouds!

O wreckage, O nests, O modest little gardens!


O my heart and my sleep: O echoes of hatchets!....

Green leaves still on the branches,

The underbrush no more than a heap of dead leaves;

Leaves, leaflets, let us pray that a good wind carries you

Swarming toward the pond,

Or to the fire of the gamekeeper,

Or into the mattresses of ambulances

For soldiers far from France.


It’s the season, the season, rust invades the masses,

Rust torments their little kilometric spleens,

The telegraph wires on the high roads where no one goes.

The horns, the horns—so sad!...

It is so sad!...

They are going, they are changing tone as they go,

They are changing their tone and their music,

The long sounds changing now,

The horns, the horns,

Voices gone on the North Wind.


But I cannot leave them, this poem, these sounds, these


It's the season, my season, good-bye grape-harvests,

Here come the rains with the vast patience of angels,

Goodbye grape-harvests, and good-bye baskets of the harvesters,

Goodbye lovely Watteau-like baskets

And skirts of the dancers under the chestnut trees,

Now is the time of coughing in high-school dormitories,

The time of medicinal tea before no familiar hearth,

Pulmonary consumption saddening the neighborhood,

The misery of all places where people live close together.


You, woolens, rubbers, medicine, dreams,

Parted curtains on balconies above the strand

Facing the ocean of roofs of the working-class suburbs,

Lamps, prints, tea, petits-four,

You will be my only loves!....

(O, and have you seen these, here beside the piano,

The sober and church-like mysteries

Of the sanitation statistics from our weekly journals?)


No! No! It is the season and the strange planet.

May the storm, the storm

Unravel Time’s shoddy knit slippers!

It is the season, O tearing! O heartbreak, the season!

Every year for all my years,

Let me try to give its true choruses, and its rightful voice.

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