A Sampling of Surrealist Poetry


by Andre Breton (1920s)

Freedom of Love

(Translated from the French by Edouard Rodti)

My wife with the hair of a wood fire
With the thoughts of heat lightning
With the waist of an hourglass
With the waist of an otter in the teeth of a tiger
My wife with the lips of a cockade and a bunch of stars of the last magnitude
With the teeth of tracks of white mice on the white earth
With the tongue of rubbed amber and glass
My wife with the tongue of a stabbed host
With the tongue of a doll that opens and closes its eyes
With the tongue of an unbelievable stone
My wife with the eyelashes of strokes of a child's writing
With brows of the edge of a swallow's nest
My wife with the brow of slates of a hothouse roof
And of steam on the panes
My wife with shoulders of champagne
And of a fountain with dolphin-heads beneath the ice
My wife with wrists of matches
My wife with fingers of luck and ace of hearts
With fingers of mown hay
My wife with armpits of marten and of beechnut
And of Midsummer Night
Of privet and of an angelfish nest
With arms of seafoam and of riverlocks
And of a mingling of the wheat and the mill
My wife with legs of flares
With the movements of clockwork and despair
My wife with calves of eldertree pith
My wife with feet of initials
With feet of rings of keys and Java sparrows drinking
My wife with a neck of unpearled barley
My wife with a throat of the valley of gold
Of a tryst in the very bed of the torrent
With breasts of night
My wife with breasts of a marine molehill
My wife with breasts of the ruby's crucible
With breasts of the rose's spectre beneath the dew
My wife with the belly of an unfolding of the fan of days
With the belly of a gigantic claw
My wife with the back of a bird fleeing vertically
With a back of quicksilver
With a back of light
With a nape of rolled stone and wet chalk
And of the drop of a glass where one has just been drinking
My wife with hips of a skiff
With hips of a chandelier and of arrow-feathers
And of shafts of white peacock plumes
Of an insensible pendulum
My wife with buttocks of sandstone and asbestos
My wife with buttocks of swans' backs
My wife with buttocks of spring
With the sex of an iris
My wife with the sex of a mining-placer and of a platypus
My wife with a sex of seaweed and ancient sweetmeat
My wife with a sex of mirror
My wife with eyes full of tears
With eyes of purple panoply and of a magnetic needle
My wife with savanna eyes
My wife with eyes of water to he drunk in prison
My wife with eyes of wood always under the axe
My wife with eyes of water-level of level of air earth and fire


Poems by Pablo Neruda (circa 1930s-50s)

Body of a Woman

Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
you are like a world, lying in surrentder.
My rough peasant's body digs in you
and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth.

I was alone like a tunnel.  The birds fled from me,
and night swamped me with its crushing invasion.
To survive myself I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow in my bow, a stone in my sling.

But the hour of vengeance falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of eager and firm milk.
Oh the goblets of the breast!  Oh the eyes of absence!
Oh the roses of the publis!  Oh your voice, slow and sad!

Body of my woman, I will persist in your grace.
My thirst, my boundless desire, my shifting road!
Dark river-beds where the eternal thirst flows
and weariness follows, and the infinite ache.

trans. W.S. Merwin

Walking Around

It so happens I am sick of being a man.
And it happens that I walk into tailorshops and movie houses
dried up, waterproof, like a swan made of felt
steering my way in a water of wombs and ashes.

The smell of barbershops makes me break into hoarse sobs.
The only thing I want is to lie still like stones or wool.
The only thing I want is to see no more stores, no gardens,
no more goods, no spectacles, no elevators.

It so happens I am sick of my feet and my nails
and my hair and my shadow.
It so happens I am sick of being a man.

Still it would be marvelous
to terrify a law clerk with a cut lilly,
or kill a nun with a blow on the ear.
It would be great
to go through the streets with a green knife
letting out yells until I died of the cold.

I don't want to go on being a root in the dark,
insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,
going on down, into the moist guts of the earth,
taking in and thinking, eating every day.

I don't want so much misery.
I don't want to go on as a root and a tomb,
alone under the ground, a warehouse with corpses,
half frozen, dying of grief.

That's why Monday, when it sees me coming
with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the night.

And it pushes me into certain corners, into some moist houses,
into hospitals where the bones fly out the window,
into shoeshops that smell like vinegar,
and certain streets hideous as cracks in the skin.

There are sulpher-colored birds, and hideous intestines
hanging over the doors of houses that I hate,
and there are false teeth forgotten in a coffeepot,
there are mirrors
that ought to have wept from shame and terror,
there are umbrellas everywhere, and venoms, and umbilical cords.

I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes,
my rage, forgetting everything,
I walk by, going through the office buildings and orthopedic shops,
and courtyards with washing hanging from the line:
underwear, towels and shirts from which slow
dirty tears are falling.

trans. Robert Bly



Poems by W. S. Merwin (1960s and 70s)


Naturally it is night.
Under the overturned lute with its
One string I am going my way
Which as a strange sound.

This way the dust, that way the dust.
I listen to both sides
But I keep right on.
I remember the leaves sitting in judgment
And then winter.

I remember the rain with its bundle of roads.
The rain taking all its roads.

Young as I am, old as I am,

I forget tomorrow, the blind man.
I forget the life among the buried windows.
The eyes in the curtains.
The wall
Growing through the immortelles.
I forget silence
The owner of the smile.

This must be what I wanted to be doing,
Walking at night between the two deserts,

For the Anniversary of My Death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

Some Last Questions

What is the head
                A.  Ash
What are the eyes
               A.  The wells have fallen in and have
What are the feet
               A.  Thumbs left after the auction
No what are the feet
               A.  Under them the impossible road is moving
                     Down which the broken necked mice push
                     Balls of blood with their noses
What is the tongue
               A.  The black coat that fell off the wall
                     With sleeves trying to say something
What are the hands
               A.  Paid
No what are the hands
               A.  Climbing back down the museum wall
                     To their ancestors the extinct shrews that will
                     Have left a message
What is the silence
                A.  As though it had a right to more
Who are the compatriots
               A.  They make the stars of bone


Unable to endure my world and calling the failure God, I will destroy yours.

It Is March

It is March and black dust falls out of the books
Soon I will be gone
The tall spirit who lodged here has
Left already
On the avenues the colorless thread lies under
Old prices

When you look back there is always the past
Even when it has vanished
But when you look forward
With your dirty knuckles and the wingless
Bird on your shoulder
What can you write

The bitterness is still rising in the old mines
The fist is coming out of the egg
The thermometers out of the mouths of the corpses

At a certain height
The tails of the kites for a moment are
Covered with footsteps

Whatever I have to do has not yet begun

Dead Hand

Temptations still nest in it like basilisks.
Hang it up till the rings fall.

December Night

The cold slope is standing in darkness
But the south of the trees is dry to the touch

The heavy limbs climb into the moonlight bearing feathers
I came to watch these
White plants older at night
The oldest
Come first to the ruins

And I hear magpies kept awake by the moon
The water flows through its
Own fingers without end

Tonight once more
I find a single prayer and it is not for men


The star in my
Hand is falling

All the uniforms know what's no use

May I bow to Necessity not
To her hirelings

Whenever I Go There

Whenever I go there everything is changed

The stamps on the bandages the titles
Of the professors of water

The portrait of Glare the reasons for
The white mourning

In new rocks new insects are sitting
With the lights off
And once more I remember that the beginning

Is broken

No wonder the addresses are torn

To which I make my way eating the silence of animals
Offering snow to the darkness

Today belongs to few and tomorrow to no one


The River of Bees

In a dream I returned to the river of bees
Five orange trees by the bridge and
Beside two mills my house
Into whose courtyard a blind man followed
The goats and stood singing
Of what was older

Soon it will be fifteen years

He was old he will have fallen into his eyes

I took my eyes
A long way to the calenders
Room after room asking how shall I live

One of the ends is made of streets
One man processions carry through it
Empty bottles their
Images of hope
It was offered to me by name

Once once and once
In the same city I was born
Asking what shall I say

He will have fallen into his mouth
Men think they are better than grass

I return to his voice rising like a forkful of hay

He was old he is not real nothing is real
Nor the noise of death drawing water

We are the echo of the future

On the door it says what to do to survive
But we were not born to survive
Only to live

When You Go Away

When you go away the wind clicks around to the north
The painters work all day but at sundown the paint falls
Showing the black walls
The clock goes back to striking the same hour
That has no place in the years

And at night wrapped in the bed of ashes
In one breath I wake
It is the time when the beards of the dead get their growth
I remember that I am falling
That I am the reason
And that my words are the garment of what I shall never be
Like the tucked sleeve of a one-armed boy

Poems by Russell Edson (1970-80s)

The Wounded Breakfast

    A huge shoe mounts up from the horizon, squealing and grinding forward on small wheels, even as a man sitting to breakfast on his veranda is suddenly engulfed in a great shadow almost the size of the night.
    He looks up and sees a huge shoe ponderously mounting out of the earth.  Up in the unlaced ankle-part an old woman stands at a helm behind the great tongue curled forward; the thick laces dragging like ships' rope on the ground as the huge thing squeals and grinds forward; children everywhere, they look from the shoelace holes, they crowd about the old woman, even as she pilots this huge shoe over the earth. . .
    Soon the huge shoe is descending the opposite horizon, a monstrous snail squealing and grinding into the earth. . .
    The man turns to his breakfast again, but sees it's been wounded, the yolk of one of his eggs is bleeding. . .

The Automobile

A man had just married an automobile.

    But I mean to say, said his father, that the automobile is not a person because it is something different.

    For instance, compare it to your mother.  Do you see how it is different from your mother?  Somehow it seems wider, doesn't it?  And besides, your mother wears her hair differently.

    You ought to try to find something in the world that looks like mother.

    I have mother, isn't that enough that looks like mother?  Do I have to gather more mothers?

    They are all old ladies who do not in the least excite any wish to procreate, said the son.

    But you cannot procreate with an automobile, said father.

    The son shows father an ignition key.  See, here is a special penis which does with the automobile as the man with the woman; and the automobile gives birth to a place far from this place, dropping its puppy miles as it goes.

    Does that make me a grandfather? said father.

    That makes you where you are when I am far away, said the son.

    Father and mother watch an automobile with a just married sign on it growing smaller in a road.


The Fall

    There was a man who found two leaves and came indoors holding them out saying to his parents that he was a tree.

    To which they said then go into the yard and do not grow in the living-room as your roots may ruin the carpet.

    He said I was fooling I am not a tree and he dropped his leaves.

    But his parents said look it is fall.

A Cottage in the Wood

    He has built himself a cottage in a wood, near where the insect rubs its wings in song.
    Yet, without measure, or proper sense of scale, he has made the cottage too small.  He realizes this when only his hand will fit through the door.  He tries the stairs to the second floor with his fingers, but his arm wedges in the entrance.  He wonders how he will cook his dinner.  He might get his hands through the kitchen window.  But even so, he will not be able to cook enough on such a tiny stove.
    He shall also lie unsheltered in the night, even though a bed with its covers turned down waits for him in the cottage.
    He lies down and curls himself around the cottage, listening to the insect that rubs its wings in song.


The Broken Daughter

    His daughter had broken.  He took her to be repaired. . .If you'll just pump-up her backside, and rewire her hair. . .

    This girl needs a whole new set of valves, and look at all those collision marks around her face, said the mechanic.

    I just want her fixed-up enough to use around the house; for longer trips I have my wife.

Cinderella's Life at the Castle

    After Cinderella married the prince she turned her attention to minutiae, using her glass slipper as a magnifying lens.
    When at court she would wear orange peels and fish tins, and other decorous rubbish as found in back of the castle.

    You are making me very nervous, said the prince.
    But Cinderella continued to look at something through her glass slipper.
    Did you hear me? said the prince.
    Cinderella's mouth hung open as she continued to look at something through her glass slipper.
    Did you hear me, did you hear me, did you hear me? screamed the prince.

A Journey Through the Moonlight

    In sleep when an old man's body is no longer aware of its boundaries, and lies flattened by gravity like a mere of wax in its bed. . .It drips down to the floor and moves there like a tear down a cheek. . .Under the back door  into the silver meadow, like a pool of sperm, frosty under the moon, as if in his first nature, boneless and absurd.

    The moon lifts him up into its white field, a cloud shaped like an old man, porous with stars.
    He floats through high dark branches, a corpse tangled in a tree on a river.

Summer, Forty Years Later

    He struggles out of a closet where his mother had hung him forty years ago.
    She didn't understand children; she probably thought he was something made of cloth.
    He thinks he as waited long enough for her to understand children, even though he is no longer a child.
    After forty years a man has a right to seek the hallway; after all, he might even hope for the front door--and who knows, perhaps even a Nobel Prize for patience!

    From the front porch he sees that the midday sky is darker than he remembered it; the green of the lawn and trees has also darkened:  too many nights, too many coats of varnish. . . .
    This is not the same summer, the color is gone. . .

    . . . That little boy who is always passing the house with his wagon has turned into a little old man collecting garbage. . .

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