André Breton: Poetry in a Time of Dislocation

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André Breton: Poetry in a Time of Dislocation

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in the series “Poetry in a Time of Dislocation.” Fine art photographer Fern Nesson asserts that the place for art is critical during this time of pandemic, and she has immersed herself in the French poets, translating important works and sharing them as photo essays. This week, Fern shines the spotlight on André Breton (1896 – 1966), the lead theorist of surrealism.

(Check out previous installments here: 
Charles Baudelaire,
Guillaume Apollinaire, 

Paul Valéry
Christine de Pizan
Paul Verlaine, 
Alphonse de Lamartine
Anna de Noailles
Paul Éluard
Marceline Desbordes-Valmore
Stéphane Mallarmé
Louisa Seifert
Arthur Rimbaud
François Villon)

André Breton was the French founder of surrealism, a movement which sought to blur the line between reality and dreams, allowing free-form expression of ideas and communication of the the thought process unimpeded by logic, aesthetic theory or morality. His poems are free-flowing streams of consciousness. “Le Verbe Être” is a great example (but very long). This is an excerpted version.

Photo credit: Fern Nesson

Le Verb Être (1958)

Je connais le désespoir dans ses grandes lignes. Le désespoir n’a pas d’ailes, il ne se tient pas nécessairement а une table desservie sur une terrasse, le soir, au bord de la mer.

Je connais le désespoir dans ses grandes lignes.
Une forme très petite, délimitée par un bijou de cheveux.
C’est le désespoir.
Un collier de perles pour lequel on ne saurait
trouver de fermoir et dont l’existence ne tient pas même а un fil, voilа le désespoir.
Je connais le désespoir dans ses grandes lignes.
Le désespoir n’a pas de coeur,
la main reste toujours
au désespoir hors de haleine
dont les glaces ne nous disent jamais s’il est

Je vis de ce désespoir qui m’enchante.
J’aime cette mouche bleue qui vole dans le
ciel а l’heure oщ les étoiles chantonnent.

Je connais dans ses grandes lignes le désespoir
aux longs étonnements grèles,

le désespoir de la fierté,
le désespoir de la colére.
et c’est toujours avec désespoir que je
découvre les beaux arbres déracinés de la nuit.

Je connais le désespoir dans ses grandes lignes.
Désespoir n’a pas d’importance.
C’est une corvée d’arbres qui va encore faire
une foret,
c’est une corvée d’étoiles qui va encore faire un jour de moins, c’est une corvée de jours de moins qui va encore faire ma vie.

Photo: Fern Nesson

Crossroads (My Translation)

I know the general outlines of despair. Despair has no wings; it doesn’t necessarily reside at an uncleared table, in the late evening, on a terrace beside the sea.

I know the general outlines of despair.
A tiny small shape, like a jewel for the hair.
That is despair.
A pearl necklace for which one can’t find the clasp and which hangs by a thread.
That is despair.

I know the general outlines of despair.
Despair has no heart;
one’s hand is stilled.
Despair robs you of breath
so that mirrors cannot reveal if you are dead or alive.

I bask in despair. It captivates me.
I love the fly that hums in the sky when the stars first appear.

I know the general outlines of despair with its continual icy surprises —
the despair of wounded pride,
the despair of ire —
and I wake with despair to discover beautiful trees that have lost their leaves overnight. …

I know the general outlines of despair.
I scoff at despair.
It’s the sparse collection of trees that will someday become a forest, the collection of stars that will one day be no more.
It is the inevitable tolling of the days that make up the sum of my life.

Photo credit: Fern Nesson

Lead photo credit : Photo credit: Fern Nesson

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Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fern Nesson is a fine art photographer with an MFA in photography. She visits Paris regularly where she captures interior scenes. Her work is abstract, and brings fresh perspective to lovers of Paris, while also illuminating interesting museum exhibitions and cultural events taking place in the City of Light. She recently published a book compilation of the popular Bonjour Paris series "50 Things I Miss About Paris." Purchase this beautiful, photography-filled book on Amazon or contact Fern directly by email: fernlnesson [at] She's offering a special deal for Bonjour Paris readers: purchase the book at cost, a $25 discount.


  • Fern L. Nesson
    2020-09-21 06:52:08
    Fern L. Nesson
    Dear Maria, I am happy to share whatever you would like. You can check out my website which lists galleries that show my work and online exhibitions of my photos. the address is : I would also be delighted to speak (remotely) at one of your organization's meetings if you would find a discussion of the work to be interesting. Please feel free to email me directly with any specific requests. [email protected] F.


  • Maria Peluso
    2020-09-17 11:55:10
    Maria Peluso
    I would like to share your wonderful poetry series and any other virtual museum exhibits you may be aware of. I wish I could provide these to my women's organization here in Montreal Quebec Canada so that they too could enjoy your delightful poetry column. If you have any virtual links this would be most appreciated - and will promote your work. Many thanks. Continue to be well and continue to stay safe.