The ‘facts’, inasmuch as I have been able to ascertain them, are as follows. In January 1909 Catherine Pozzi married a young stockbroker with literary interests, Édouard Bourdet, and in October of the same year their only child, Claude Bourdet, was born. It is usually stated in biographical notices that this marriage “did not survive the honeymoon”. Quite what one is to understand by this is not clear : presumably it means that the young married couple soon ceased to have sexual relations, though they only divorced in 1921.
In the summer of 1912 Catherine Pozzi contracted tuberculosis which was, at the time, incurable though she only died of it 1934. In 1913, she met a young magistrate, André Fernet, who had published a novel significantly entitled L’Ascète. He was quite well connected and was a personal friend of the well-known author, Roger Martin du Gard. His psychology (and perhaps sexual orientation) remains obscure but what is certain is that he persuaded Catherine Pozzi that their relation should remain strictly ‘platonic’ : “A deux, ils conçoivent une quete de l’absolu qui passe par une conception de l’amour dans laquelle le plaisir du corps est méprisé” as Anne Malaprade puts it (“Together, they conceived the idea of a [joint] quest of the absolute by way of love but a love in which sensual pleasure would have no part”). That very year, 1913, Catherine Pozzi started writing a Journal, that she would continue right up to her death, and there are many passages in it relating to the spiritual union of kindred spirits in it.
After the outbreak of the Great War, André Fernet volunteered for service, was sent to the Front and eventually trained as an aviator. He wrote several letters to Catherine Pozzi in which he emphasized the notion of personal sacrifice for a greater cause which were all the more convincing because he was actually practising what he preached. According to a note in the excellent Gallimard edition of Catherine Pozzi’s Complete Works, edited by Claire Paulhan and Laurence Joseph, one night in July, 1915, Catherine Pozzi heard a voice dictate a poem that she noted down immediately word for word and sent to André Fernet shortly afterwards. The poem, entitled Orgeval, is not of particular interest in my opinion and was not approved for posthumous publication by the author. However, it contains the stanza
” Si tu veux
Nous irons ensemble
Tous les deux
Vers le vieux figuier.
Des fruits noirs qui tremblent
Sous le vent
Qui vient d’Orvillers.”
The following year André Fernet was killed in an aerial duel over Villers in Lorraine. I leave it to the reader to decide whether this should be considered evidence of a genuine premonition, or dismissed as a coincidence. (Catherine Pozzi also claimed to have seen a childhood friend, Audrey Deacon, appear to her in a vision before the latter’s death.)
However one interprets the above, there can be no doubt that this relation with its tragic end had a profound effect on Catherine Pozzi, though it did not prevent her embarking on a tempestuous affair with the married poet Paul Valéry in 1920. At the beginning of 1916, when André Fernet was still alive, Catherine Pozzi wrote a sort of ‘prayer’ in her Journal seemingly addressed to André Fernet and which was repeated with slight alterations every year (except 1927) right up to her death in 1934. In the original 1916 version it runs
“Ma vie, mon esprit,
Je suis la même chose que vous pour l’éternité. A travers vous, je vais vers Dieu. A cause de vous, j’exige de moi ma difficile réalité.
Nous serons mêlés parce qu’il le faut, dans un soleil qui n’est point encore, et que nous aidons à créer par la peine infinie et la volonté de notre amour qui ne se connaít pas, et pourtant trouve.”
A literal translation is :
“My life, my spirit, I am the same thing as you for all eternity. Through you, I go towards God. Because of you, I require myself [to live] my difficult reality.
We are mingled together because this is how it has to be, in a sun that does not yet exist and which we will help to create by our infinite suffering and by the will of our love that knows not what it is, and yet finds itself.”
The idea of the love between herself and André Fernet helping to create a new star is developed in the poem Nova :
“Dans un monde au futur du temps dont j’ai la vie
Qui ne s’est pas formé dans le ciel d’aujourd’hui,
Au plus nouvel espace où le vouloir dévie
Au plus nouveau moment de l’astre que je fuis
Tu vivras, ma splendeur, mon malheur, ma survie
Mon plus extrême cœur fait du sang que je suis,
Mon souffle, mon toucher, mon regard, mon envie,
Mon plus terrestre bien perdu pour l’infini.”
In my verse translation I render this as :
“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 !”
I have, as it happens, written a poem in French (based on one by Roger Hunt Carroll) to commemorate the love between Catherine Pozzi and André Fernet — though, oddly enough, André Fernet disappears in the final version and Catherine Pozzi is alone, which is doubtless how it should be :
À CATHERINE POZZI
(d’après un poème de Roger Hunt Carroll)
Après tant d’épreuves, votre âme s’est volatilisée :
Elle s’est enfin dégagée de l’argile humaine ;
Là-haut, dans un ciel clair, plus sujette à la pesanteur,
Elle voltige avec ses égaux, loin de ces corps inutiles.
Nous ressentons votre joie et aimerions vous suivre,
Mais, pour nous, évidemment, c’est un voyage interdit,
Surchargés comme nous sommes de toute cette chair lourde.
Toutefois, par moments il nous arrive à vous apercevoir:
Grand faucon lumineux contre un ciel bleu-gris,
Tourbillonnant à tout jamais dans un vol sans retour.