Selected Poems of René Char by René Char
Review by S. D. Stewart
The world, these days, is hostile to the Transparents.
Experiencing failure to explicate feelings for Char’s poetry. Wishing for ability to read it in French, but satisfied for the moment with the translations, which (having no point of reference) seem adequate, even good or possibly great, based on the fascinating phrasings and word pairings as appearing in English. And in fact these translations are not the work of one person but many, including noted poet-writers such as Paul Auster, William Carlos Williams, W.S. Merwin, and even good ol’ Sam Beckett. The volume is split about 50/50 between lined and prose poetry, all of which deserves multiple readings to discern and separate the individual living layers, which peel back and twist away as if to resist interpretation.
Themes of separation (physical and emotional), shifting psychic states and during them what passes into and out of us, life’s inevitable cyclic renewal in nature, emotions inherent in seasonal change, all permeated by a sort of exultant darkness flowing from tacit acceptance of ‘the void’. Char presents in his poetry as uncompromising, as a resister, and in fact he joined the French Resistance during WWII, and later the movement against storage of atomic weapons in Provence.
There is a title of one poem, ‘Remanence’, which is a physics term referring to the magnetic induction remaining in a material after a magnetizing force has been removed from it. This is a good way to characterize Char’s poetry…a reader may feel uncertain of what is being described yet still feels the effects lingering inside for some time afterwards, pulling the reader back to the source, and with the ghostly magnetic remains, also pulling in like-minded others.
Char was close to Maurice Blanchot, even dedicating one of these poems to him, and one can see some common ground in the prose work of these two philosopher-writers.
To Friend-Tree of Counted Days
Brief harp of the larches
On mossy spur of stone crop
—Façade of the forest,
Against which mists are shattered—
Counterpoint of the void in which
Go on, we endure together; and together, although separate, we bound over the tremor of supreme deception to shatter the ice of quick waters and recognize ourselves there.