Robert Desnos /// Second Book of Prophecies
Over the course of two days in July, 1925, Robert Desnos drafted his Three Books of Prophecies, perhaps in a café as described above, more likely in the apartment of André Breton, surrounded by fellow Surrealists ready to have their fortunes told. For this Second Book, Desnos turned away from the future of the wider world to focus on that of his artist-friends. What fates then were laid for Raymond Roussel, or Man Ray, or Michel Leiris, or Juan Miró, who had yet to become immortals? Desnos’s pronouncements were not especially prescient—they were too precise to land with any accuracy in the real future—but the strange and extensive power of simple declarations is very much in evidence here, demonstrating on the one hand the self-fulfilling nature of all prophecy and, on the other, the profound unknowability of what’s to come (no less unknowable, it might not hurt to remind ourselves, now than it was then).
Without neglecting the inevitable dark, the poet serves up generous dreams for his compatriots—generous above all in their particularity. Does it matter, then, that Georges Limbour didn’t actually die beside a bale of hay in 1943, but would instead drown swimming off a beach in Spain, in 1970? The latter eventuality would not be out of place among these lines, nor would André Masson’s assessment, later, that his friend had been killed by the sun and the sea, “the two forces he venerated above all others.” Desnos himself by then had long since vanished.
For a translation of the First Book of Prophecies and a brief introduction to Desnos, see here. For facsimiles of the original manuscript and other digital artifacts of Surrealism, visit andrebreton.fr.2
SECOND BOOK OF PROPHECIES I see you on a fine May morning André Breton on a road that crosses a plain in Burgundy. To your right along the horizon, a pine forest; to your left an old chapel. The seven-o’clock-in-the-morning sun. Then a few days later, from the other direction, in the same place. The seven-o’clock-in-the-evening sun. And the double threat of one storm in the sky behind you, another in your soul. In 1932. Then a midnight banquet and naked women and coming home at six in the morning—in June, Rue Laffitte, in 1934. And finally you board a vessel bound for the headwaters of the Amazon or the Rio Tinto. October 1936. And our meeting at Fontainebleu in 1949 after 20 years of separation. It is October. The day around you fades to black.
x x xYou Aragon. Great stooped old man. It’s 1964. Glory seems vain to you, and thinking of some lost souls you wander across Montparnasse cemetery seven days before your death. A few minutes before closing x x xYou Georges Malkine in a sitting room. 1946. Springtime, about to have dinner. I had a friend once, you say… A phonograph plays a sad tune. A little girl comes in with flowers And you talk of ships x x xLimbour you’re thirsty this afternoon of 1929, but not so thirsty as in the afternoon of 1942. And you die beside a bale of hay, in France, jaws clenched. 194(3) x x xCharles Baron your cellar is well stocked this year—1968. You consult a brochure from the Undertaker, for suicide is near x x xDead in 1949 Jacques Baron, gives up in 1941 loves in 1938 Your duel in 1936 Your long illness of 1931-35 x x xde Massot death prevents you from seeing the year 32 x x xSoupault the official world welcomes you in 1940 and casts you out in 1947. Thirteen years later you will die x x xÉluard You will not see the Fifties in 33 the Great social catastrophe in 38 poetic salvation x x xLa Rivière you work in the mines before becoming a smuggler but 1931 will see you married. Your three sons look just like you. Your memoirs about a famous shipwreck will be published and mourning will swoop down upon you in 1935 x x xPicabia is this world to your liking? 1933 I hardly dare write the year Nor 1929 but you are still my friend x x xA great silence envelops you from 1930 to 34 Duchamp Then mysterious old white-haired man you [illegible] Gatekeeper. And the world will wait for your death 19 years from now to disturb the silence you’ve been seeking x x xThis April of 1937 you return from your travels Pierre-Quint. Your dwelling near the Parc Monceau is overflowing with crates and trunks. Birds sing. You are weary Draw a box of mourning around your name in 59. x x xWhy does Sunbeam disappear in 1929 or 1931? x x xFrancis Gérard before 4 years have passed I’ll see you no more x x xBoiffard you love life in the colonies. The sea separates us in 1934 are you a colonist or a convict? x x xLeiris crossing paths with other people will be fatal for you. But I run into you again in 1939 But you don’t see me. Whom are you bringing these roses to, 2 years later? x x xMorise you’re living like a pauper 3 years from now and a rich man in 7. You won’t live through the 40s x x xThere are pine trees between Noll me. 2 months to spend together in 1930. And it’s over x x xTake advantage of the next ten years Péret despite prison and misery x x xAnd you Jeanson better greet the summer of 1929 with a humble bow for it will mean either your death or restoration. Helichrysums grow in your garden no later than 1937 x x xMasson erases the next three years of his story in a single stroke but apparently quiet paths will lead him from the thorns of 1930 to the abyss of 1936 x x xArtaud fades away before my eyes. I move along and that’s the end of it. The years will only widen the gulf, save the bridge of 1947. But whoever sees or speaks to him later is clever indeed. Crime in 1932 Love in 1941 Departure in 37 Return in 39
|Horses||for Raymond Roussel||1931|
7.29.25Théodore Fraenkel the experience of being a dueler’s second will lead you by the end of November 1933 to seek actual solitude in the wake of spiritual solitude. 1938 will be a year of miseries for you, also a year of laurels. Many shall be the hearses you march behind in the 40s. And the field of marble statues and cypress trees for 58. This automobile wreck in 1951—how handsomely it crowns the loveliest of your silent birds Tual: the Sahara again the Sahara and the spring of bitterness 1937 and 1950
Translated from the French by Louis Cancelmi.
Tags: André Breton, André Masson, Antonin Artaud, Benjamin Péret, Charles Baron, Dédé Sunbeam, Francis Gérard, Francis Picabia, Georges Limbour, Georges Malkine, Giorgio de Chirico, Jacques Baron, Jacques-André Boiffard, Juan Miró, Léon Pierre-Quint, Louis Aragon, Louis Cancelmi, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Marcel Noll, Max Ernst, Max Morise, Michel Leiris, Pablo Picasso, Pierre de Massot, Prophecy, Raymond Roussel, Robert Desnos, Roland Tual, Surrealism, Théodore Fraenkel, Translations