The Deserts of Love
Translated by Holly Tannen
These are the writings of a young, very young man, whose life unfolded no matter where; without mother, without country... fleeing all moral authority, as many other pitiful young men before him have already done. But he, so anxious and so troubled, set his course toward death as toward a terrible and fatal shame: Never having loved women, -- full-blooded though he was! -- his soul and his heart, all his strength, were taken up in strange and sad aberrations. Of the following dreams, -- his loves! -- which came to him in his bed or in the streets, and of their sequence and their consequences, sweet religious considerations may arise... this bizarre suffering possessing a disquieting authority, it is sincerely to be hoped that this Soul, wandering among us all, and who, it seems, desires death, shall meet in that moment genuine consolation and be worthy!
It is certainly the same countryside. The same rustic house of my parents: the same room with faded russet country scenes above the door, with lions and coats of arms. At dinner, there's a salon with candles and wines and old woodwork. The dining room table is very large. The servants! There were several of them, as far as I can remember. There was one of my former young friends, a priest and dressed as a priest ... I remember his purple room with windows of yellow paper: and his hidden books that had soaked in the ocean!
I was abandoned, in this country house without end: reading in the kitchen, drying the mud from my clothes in front of the guests with their drawing-room conversations: troubled almost to death by the murmur of the milk of the morning and the night of the last century.
I was in a very dark room: what was I doing? A servant girl came towards me. I could say that she was submissive as a puppy, although she was beautiful and of a maternal noblesse: pure, familiar, completely charming! She pinched my arm.
I hardly even recall her face: much less her arm whose flesh I rolled between my two fingers; nor her mouth, which mine seized like a desperate little wave endlessly lapping. I threw her down on a basket of cushions and sail cloth, in a black corner. I remember nothing but her drawers trimmed with white lace... Then the wall became vaguely the shadow of the trees, and I was swallowed up in the amorous sadness of the night.
This time, it is the Woman whom I saw in the city, to whom I have spoken and who speaks to me.
I was in a room without light. They came to tell me that she was there: and I saw her in my bed, all mine, without light: I was very moved, most of all because it was my parents' house: distress took hold of me! I was in rags, and she, a woman of the world, was giving herself to me; she would have to go away! ... I took her, and I let her fall from the bed, almost naked; and in my unspeakable weakness, I fell upon her and rolled with her among the rugs, without light! The family lamp reddened the adjoining rooms one by one. Then the woman disappeared. I shed more tears than God could ever have required.
I went out into the city without end...Drowned in the muffled night and in the flight of happiness. It was like a winter night, with a snow to smother the world forever. The friends to whom I cried "Where is she?" falsely replied. In front of the windows where she went every day: I was running through a buried garden.They drove me away. Finally I went down into a place full of dust, and sitting on some lumber, I poured out all the tears of my body that night. And yet my exhaustion always returned.
I understood that she belonged to her everyday life; and that the turn of kindness would take longer to come again than a star. She has not returned, She will never return, She who gave herself to me in my home, -- something which I never would have presumed to ask. True, this time I wept more than all the children of the world.
Note: this version has been edited slightly for performance. In several places I have followed the translation of Louise Varèse, (Illuminations and Other Prose Poems, New Directions 1957) as I was unable to improve upon it.
The Deserts of Love is the poem from which I quote in the dream sequence in Practical Alchemy.
about Practical Alchemy translations
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|Holly Tannen teaches folklore and anthropology, and has lectured on contemporary magic at U.C. Berkeley and at Yale University. Her recordings include "Invocation", "Between the Worlds", and "Rime of the Ancient Matriarch"
|updated 25 April 2002 : 9:44 Caspar (Pacific) time
All text, translations, and songs copyright © 2002 by Holly Tannen