I somehow missed wood s lot yesterday, and now I find that he consecrated the day in large measure to one of my favorite modernist poets, Blaise Cendrars (self-chosen name; he was born Frédéric-Louis Sauser). He wrote quite a bit, but the poem you need to know (if you don’t already) is Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France (“Trans-Siberian Prose and Little Jeanne from France”), which reflects his trip across Russia during the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905) and the Russian Revolution of 1905; a full translation by Ekaterina Likhtik is online here, beginning:
I was in my adolescence at the time
Scarcely sixteen and already I no longer remembered my childhood
I was 16,000 leagues from my birthplace
I was in Moscow, in the city of a thousand and three belfries and seven railroad stations
And they weren’t enough for me, the seven railroad stations and the thousand and three towers
For my adolescence was so blazing and so mad
That my heart burned in turns as the temple of Epheseus, or as Red Square in Moscow
When the sun sinks.
And my eyes shone upon the ancient routes
And I was already such a bad poet
That I didn’t know how to go all the way to the end.
The Kremlin was like an immense Tatar cake
Crusted with gold,
With great almonds of cathedrals all done in white
And the honeyed gold of the bells…
An old monk was reading to me the legend of Novgorod
I was thirsty
And I was deciphering cuneiform characters
Then, suddenly, the pigeons of the Holy Spirit soared above the square…
The original French is here, and you
can [used to be able to] see an image of the exceedingly rare first edition (multicolored, printed on a single sheet of paper that unfolded is two meters long) here. The whole last century is contained therein. All aboard!