If ever there was a great writer manqué — I am tempted to say génie manqué — it was Catherine Pozzi (1882-1934). In a rather pathetic passage in her Journal towards the end of her life she asks ‘Dieu-Esprit’ to forgive her for not having fulfilled her mission which was to discover and reveal to the world the junction between l’ame et le corps (‘body and soul’) also to forgive her having wasted so much time on ‘trivialities’.
Born into a wealthy and cultivated Parisian family, Catherine Pozzi traversed a series of emotional and religious crises during her adolescence which she describes in detail in her Jourmals. Her marriage to Édouard Bourdet, though it produced a son, did not survive the honeymoom. She believed she had found her soul mate in André Fernet, a young barrister who volunteered for service as an aviator and whose death during WWI she claimed to have foreseen : this platonic rapport left an indelible impression on her. Subsequently, she became involved in a tumultuous liaison with the married Paul Valéry, a poet much better known than herself both at the time and subsequently. In her latter years while she was slowly dying from tuberculosis she pursued serious scientific studies, desperately trying to find some way of combining the discoveries of modern science with her mystical intuitions.
Whereas her contemporary Marcel Proust, also a chronic invalid and insomniac, managed to write the longest novel in the world, Catherine Pozzi left, apart from her Journals, two inconclusive philosophic prose pieces, Agnès and La Peau d’Âme (‘The Skin of the Soul’) and… six poems, only one of which was published in her lifetime.
This poetic œuvre, slight in quantity, is immense in its technical skill and intensity. The six poems, given in the order in which she lists them in an entry in her Journal towards the end of her life, form a sort of spiritual autobiography in miniature, covering the different stages of one person’s ‘intimations of immortality’ by way of love : the last, entitled Nyx (Greek for ‘void’) , was written on her deathbed. To my knowledge they have not been translated into English before. The French originals will be given in a subsequent post. Sebastion Hayes
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.
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,
When all I seem to be falls in decay,
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.
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.
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 !
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.
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