Poeme a la mystérieuse

I HAVE BEEN MEANING TO GIVE you this poem for over a year. Last week I was watching a BBC documentary about Surrealist painters, and Robert Desnos was mentioned in passing. The time had come. I will keep this article short because the poetry must take centre stage.

When I studied Desnos’ writings in university, the poem I translate for you below moved me so much that it became for me the singular, most beautiful, exquisite expression of love that I had ever found. In the subsequent decades, that opinion has not faltered or changed in any way. Each time I read it, it brings me to my knees, even today. My French professor was Bill Ryder, a man deeply in love with France and its language, and I have to say, it IS the language of lovers because when I translated it for you, I had difficulty in expressing the inexpressible that is found in the nuanced meaning of the original French. The punctuation is correct, and there is no question mark at the end of the 3rd line in French even though he asks a rhetorical question.

Robert Desnos was a phantom for me. In my university days, there was no information about him except that he had died in WW2. I had assumed he was executed as a Jew, but when I looked him up on Wikipedia last month, I was dismayed to find out he had died of Typhoid in Terezin , the concentration camp in occupied Czechoslovakia,  incarcerated as a dissident political writer, a month after liberation of the camp. I don’t want give you the link to the Wikipedia article because I want you to stay on the page and imbibe with me this extraordinary piece of verse.

It is written to a woman, but in my own life, I have read it many times and devoted it to men I have loved when I was younger, and those I still do. You will notice that Desnos explores how great love can lose its object of affection and all that remains is the love. In spiritual terms, of course, that is the final realisation – my father used to say that love is a sublime axis, and he is right.

For all of us who have known a great, magnificent love for another in which  we become completely lost, empty and subsumed, what was an erotic aspect of the love axis for another becomes much more than the object of our attention. That beautiful heart of yours will respond to these words, but let me remind you, it is not the poetry that initiates your response, it is your ability to love to that supreme magnitude that Desnos illiicits from you. It is you, God, loving at full volume and capacity in recognition of Himself or Yourself – your true Self.

Poeme a la mystérieuse (1930)

ROBERT DESNOS (1900-1945)

J’ai tant rêvé de toi

que tu perds ta réalité

Est-il encore temps d’atteindre ce corps vivant et de baiser sur cette bouche la naissance de la voix qui m’est chère.

J’ai tant rêvé de toi

Que mes bras habitués en étreignant ton ombre à se croiser sur ma poitrine ne se plieraient pas au contour de ton corps peut-être.

Et que, devant l’apparence réelle de ce qui me hante et me gouverne depuis des jours et des années 

Je deviendrais une ombre sans doute,

O balances sentimentales.

J’ai tant rêvé de toi qu’il n’est plus temps sans doute que je m’éveille. Je dors debout le corps éxposé à toutes les apparances de la vie et de l’amour et toi, la seule qui compte aujourd’hui pour moi, je pourrais moins toucher ton front et tes lèvres que les premières lèvres et le premier front venu

J’ai tant rêvé de toi

tant marché, parlé, couché avec ton fantôme qu’il ne me reste plus peut-être, et pourtant, qu’à être fantôme parmi les fantômes et plus ombre cent fois que l’ombre qui se promène allègrement sur le cadran solaire de ta vie.


I have dreamt so much of you

That you are losing reality

is there still time to look after this pulsating body and to kiss the mouth which gives me your beautiful voice, so dear to me?

I have dreamt so much of you

That my arms, so accustomed to reaching for your shadow and crossing them onto my belly, might not fold themselves around your real body

And in the actual presence of all those things that have haunted and governed me for days and years,

I would become a shadow myself for sure, 

Oh, to have sentimental equilibrium!

I have dreamt so much of you that without doubt, time has run out and I will never awake. I sleep outside my body, exposed to all life’s apparent happenings and my love for you, the only thing that counts for me today, and this love has dissolved you into a shadow such that I could even touch your brow and your lips as any other lips and brow.

I have dreamt so much of you

I have so walked, spoken and slept with your phantom that perhaps there is nothing left in me, except to become a phantom among phantoms and to be a hundred times more nuanced than the shadow which strolls so blithely across the sundial of your life.


As you remember and feel this love, may the sundial of your life ensure you never forget this immensity in the magnificence of who you really are.



Selima Gurtler is a spiritual writer, philosopher, poet and Jnana yogi.

Her modern teachings to Self-Realization and Liberation are uniquely flavoured through the perceptive eyes of her Indian and European heritage.

Free copies of her books are available for download here:  https://www.emwpeace.org/publications/

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Grace Archbishop Desmond Tutu are patrons of her work.



1 Comment

  1. Womenos

    Pour mettre en perspective et unifier certains des procedes stylistiques de A la mysterieuse, je me propose d’etudier la construction des sept poemes du recueil, ce qui permet de montrer en quoi, malgre leurs differences evidentes, ils prolongent les textes anterieurs de Corps et biens en meme temps qu’ils traduisent le gout de Desnos pour la chanson qui se manifestera encore plus nettement par la suite.


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