Catherine Pozzi : Immortal Longings

born into a very select Parisian family during the latter nineteenth century — her father was a fashionable surgeon and a Senator while her mother presided over a salon patronised by Sarah Bernhardt and Leconte de l’Isle — ‘Karin’ developed into a withdrawn, very intense young woman “tall, gracious and ugly” as Jean Paulhan describes her cattily. She traversed various emotional and religious crises, which she recounts in her voluminous Journals, before making a disastrous marriage which never survived the honeymoon. Not that she was frigid: a few years on, already suffering from the tubercular complaint which eventually killed her, she embarked on a tempestuous affair with Paul Valéry and committed the unforgivable faux-pas, not of having an affair with a married man, but of openly avowing the liaison.

If ever there was a poète manqué(e) — I am tempted to say génie manqué — it was Catherine Pozzi. In a rather pathetic passage from her Journals, she asks ‘Dieu Esprit’ to forgive her for not having fulfilled her sacred mission and having wasted too much time on trivialities. While her contemporary, Marcel Proust, also a chronic invalid and insomniac, managed to write the longest novel in the world, Catherine Pozzi left us only her Journals, one or two inconclusive philosophical prose pieces and….six poems. Out of these six, only one was published during her lifetime — though this was according to her own wishes.

Like the English Romantic poet Beddoes, Catherine Pozzi spent much of her life vainly searching for some faculty or lost sense, which would enable humanity to overcome the dreadful duality matter/spirit. To this end, she undertook serious studies in biology and physics during her maturer years, and, piecing together scattered passages from her Journals and prose pieces, it would seem that she was groping towards a theory similar to that of ‘morphic resonance’ currently advanced by Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, whereby each of our sensations, and ultimately the whole of our lives, is a sort of recapitulation of what has already been : “Je sens ce que j’ai déjà senti” as she puts it. More’s the pity she did not leave us a body of work as substantial as that of, say, Blake.

 Sebastian Hayes
                                                          Vale

That peerless love that was your gift to me,
The wind of days has rent beyond repair,
High burned the flame, strong was our destiny,
As hand in hand we stood in unity
Together there ;

Orb that for us was single and entire,
Our sun, its flaming splendour was our thought,
The second sky of a divided fire,
And double exile by division bought ;

These scenes for you evoke ashes and dread,
Places that you refuse to recognize
And the enchanted star above our head
That lit the perilous moment our embracing shed,
Gone from your eyes…..

The future days on which your hopes depend
Are less immediate than what’s left behind;
Take what you have, each harvest has an end,
You’ll not be drunk however much you spend
On scattered wine.

I have retrieved those wild celestial days,
The vanished paradise where anguish was desire ;
What we were once revives in unexpected ways,
It is my flesh and blood and will, after death’s blaze,
Be my attire ;

Your name acts like a spell, lost bliss I knew,
Takes shape, becomes my heart; I live again
That golden era memory makes new,
That peerless love that I once gave to you,
And lived in pain.

Ave

Love of my life, my fear is I may die
Not knowing who you are or whence you came,
Within what world you lived, beneath what sky,
What age or time forged your identity,
Love beyond blame,

Love of my life, outstripping memory,
O fire without a hearth lighting my days,
At fate’s command you wrote my history,
By night your glory showed itself to me,
My resting-place…

When all I seem to be falls in decay,
Divided infinitesimally
An infinite number of times, all I survey
Is lost, and the apparel of today
Is stripped from me,

Broken by life into a thousand shreds,
A thousand disconnected moments — swirl
Of ashes that the pitiless wind outspreads,
You will remake from what my spirit sheds
A single pearl.

Yes, from the shattered debris of my days,
You will remake a shape for me, remake a name,
A living unity transcending time and space,
Heart of my spirit, centre of life’s maze,
Love beyond blame.

Maya
Descending layer by layer the silt of centuries,
Each desperate moment always takes me back to you,
Country of sun-drenched temples and Atlantic seas,
Legends come true.

Soul ! word adored by me, by destiny made black,
What is it but the body when the flame has fled ?
O time, stand still ! O tightened weft of life, grow slack !
A child again, the trail toward the dark I tread.

Birds mass, confront the sea-wind blowing from the West,
Fly, happiness, towards the summer-time of long ago,
The final bank once gained, all is by sleep possessed,
Song, monarch, rocks, the ancient tree cradled below,
Stars that from old my original face have blessed,

A sun all on its own and crowned with perfect rest.

Nova

Far in the future is a world that  knows not me,
It has not taken shape beneath the present sky,
Its space and time not ours, its customs all awry,
Point in the lifespan of the very star I flee,
There you will live, my glory and my ruin — I
Will live in you, my blood your heart will fructify,
Your breathing, eyesight, mine, while everything of me
That is terrestrial will be lost, and lost eternally !

Image that I pursue, forestall what is to be !
(Acts I once cherished, you have wrought this agony)
Undo, unmake yourself, dissolve, refuse to be,
Denounce what was desired but not chosen by me.

Let me not see this day, fruit of insanity,
I am not done — let fall the spool of destiny !

Scopolamine

The wine that courses through my vein
Has drowned my heart and in its train
I navigate the endless blueI am a ship without a crew
Forgetfulness descends like rain.

I am a just discovered star
That floats across the empyrean —
How new and strange its contours are!
O voyage taken to the sunAn unfamiliar yet persistent hum
The background to my night’s become.

My heart has left my life behind,
The world of Shape and Form I’ve crossed,
I am saved   I am lostInto the unknown am tossed,
A name without a past to find.

Nyx
A Louise aussi de Lyon et d’Italie

O you my nights  O long-awaited dark
O noble land   O  secrets that endure
O lingering glances    lightning-broken space
O flights approved beyond shut skies

O deep desire  amazement spread abroad
O splendid journey of the spellstruck mind
O worst mishap O grace descended from above
O open door through which not one has passed

I know not why I sink, expire
Before the eternal place is mine
I know not who made me his prey
Nor who it was made me his love

Catherine Pozzi

Translation Sebastian Hayes

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