Friday, 21 September 2007

Francis Ponge (1899-1988)

Francis Ponge French essayist/poet, who often combined the two forms to create a sort of prose poetry.

Quoting from Wikipaedia:
‘In his most famous work, Le parti pris des choses (Often translated The Voice of Things), he meticulously described common things such as oranges, potatoes and cigarettes in a poetic voice, but with a personal style and paragraph form (prose poem) much like an essay. These poems owe much to the work of the French Renaissance poet Remy Belleau. Ponge avoided appeals to emotion and symbolism, and instead sought to minutely recreate the world of experience of everyday objects. His work is often associated with the philosophy of Phenomenology.
He described his own works as "a description-definition-literary artwork" which avoided both the drabness of a dictionary and the inadequacy of poetry.’

Only one of his works could be discovered on the shelves here: Le Grand Recueil (subtitle Pieces). It is the original Gallimard edition of 1961 and has a soft, foxed paper cover. It is printed on equally soft, thick pages, some of which remain uncut. Sorry to say, my rusty French is no longer up to translating without recourse to a dictionary. Even worse, the On-line French dictionary claims that many of the words in the following ‘Symphonie Pastorale’ do not exist!

Symphonie Pastorale
Aux deux tiers de la hauteur du volet gauche de la fenetre, un nid de chants d’oiseaux, une pelote de cris d’oiseaux, une pelote de pepiments, une glande gargouillante cridoisogene,
Tandis qu’un lamellibranche la barre en tracers,
(Le tout envelope du floconnement adipeux d’un ciel nuageux)
Et que la borborygme des crapauds fait le bruit des entrailles,
Le coucou bat regulierement comme le bruit du coeur dans le lointoin.

Fortunately, has some examples of Ponge’s writings in translation:

I assume we are talking about saving a few young men from suicide. I have in mind those who commit suicide out of disgust, because they find that others own too large a share of them. To them one should say: at least let the minority within you have the right to speak. Be poets. They will answer: but it is especially there, it is always there that I feel others within me; when I try to express myself, I am unable to do so. Words are readymade and express themselves: they do not express me. Once again I find myself suffocating. At that moment, teaching the art of resisting words becomes useful, the art of saying only what one wants to say, the art of doing them violence, of forcing them to submit. In short... Found a rhetoric, or rather, teach everyone the art of founding his own rhetoric. This saves those few, those rare individuals who must be saved: those who are aware, and who are troubled and disgusted by the others within the, those individuals who make the mind progress, and who are, strictly speaking, capable of changing the reality of things.

the pleasures of the door
Kings do not touch doors.
They do not know that happiness: to push before them with kindness or rudeness one of these great familiar panels, to turn around towards it to put it back in place - to hold it in one's arms.
... The happiness of grabbing by the porcelain knot of its belly one of these huge single obstacles; this quick grappling by which, for a moment, progress is hindered, as the eye opens and the entire body fits into its new environment.
With a friendly hand he holds it a while longer before pushing it back decidedly thus shutting himself in - of which, he, by the click of the powerful and well-oiled spring, is pleasantly assured.

On the above website I also find some words of Ponge translated by Peter Riley.



This is a lovely, interested post. I love Ponge and Jean Follain even more.

Here is a drawing I made of Follain:

I am a draughtsman, painter and illustrator.

Thanks for this charming snippet and the bits from Le Parti Pris de Choses.

I shall bookmark your blog.

Very best wishes from



Ben said...


Just a small thing - the first part of the translation of Rhetoric is incomplete. It should read:

"I assume that we are talking about saving a few young men from suicide and a few others from becoming cops or firemen."

(" quelques autres de l'entrée aux flics ou aux pompiers.")

Which I think adds a whole other dimension to it...


Anonymous said...

Hi Celia, looking for info about Ponge, I came upon your blog, so I have added it as a link on my poetry blog