[translated in 1950, this is the cover to the 1972 Dolmen Press, Dublin edition of Guillaume Apollinaire‘s Zone translated by Samuel Beckett, the first seperate appearance of the text to appear in print]
[Pierre de Gasztold – illustration from “Les poètes voyagent de Baudelaire à Henri Michaux” – Henri Parisot, Delamain et Boutelleau, Paris, 1946]
AG: (So) then we have (finally) “Zone” – “You are tired at last of this old world/ O shepherd Eiffel Tower the flock of bridges bleats at the morning/ You have had enough of life in this Greek and Roman antiquity/ Even the automobiles here seem to be ancient/Religion alone has remained entirely fresh religion/Has remained simple like the hangars at the airfield” – [Now, you’ll notice that there are no commas (or) punctuation, so that the thoughts are enjammed, or come together, or are sutured together, so that actually (I’m) reading it as a stream-of-consciousness, or as if one thought (is) following another without a gap, and then a break, and then another thought. But it’s a thought juxtaposed wih no stop] – “Even the automobiles here seem to be ancient/Religion alone has remained entirely fresh religion/Has remained simple like the hangars at the airfield” – [Well, for one thing, “Religion alone has remained entirely fresh religion” is one line, no punctuation (“La religion seule est restée toute neuve la religion“) – but this is nineteen-when? – I don’t know what year this is. This is 1912, I guess, the poem, I’m not sure. Maybe before World War I – “(R)eligion/Has remained simple like the hangars at the airfield” is a completely srtange thought to have in the turn of the century. I mean, it’s a completely modernized thought, like the whole archetypal mass of imagery and consciousness completely retooled for the twentieth-century. For the airfields and the railways and the pharmacies. So you can see the lineage between (Jules) Laforgue and Apollinaire and (T.S.) Eliot.] – [Allen continues with the poem – “You alone in all Europe are not antique O Christian faith…”…”It is Christ who soars in the sky better than any aviator…”…”The eagle rushes out of the horizon giving a great cry/From America comes the tiny humming-bird/From China have come long supple pihis/Which only have one wing and fly tandem..” – [that’s supposed to be funny] – “Then the dove immaculate spirit/Escorted by the lyre bird and the ocellated peacock..”
AG: Do you know what the pihi is by looking at it?
Student (CC): Yes
AG: Is there such a thing? – “From China have come long supple pihis/Which only have one wing and fly tandem..” – Is that mythical, or is that…
Student (CC): No, it’s a natural bird, but it’s just a strange..
AG: Oh really, it’s real.
Student (CC): Yes
Student (CC): And then… very strange birds that are.. that are in mating, they’re just always flying together and just constant whirring their wings (somewhat like a humming-bird) so it might give the effect of having one wing.
AG: Ah, They actually have two
Student (CC): They actually have two wings
AG: And it’s called a Pihi?
Student (CC): No, it’s… it’s..well, the bird that I think that he’s describing is the hoopoe
Student: That’s what I think he’s describing
AG: It might be pihi in French
(That was (Roger) Shattuck). (Here’s) the other translation, by Samuel Beckett – “From China, the long and supple one-winged pihis that fly in couples” – I always thought that that was an esoteric Cubist joke – or just playfulness – just having fun – “just having a little bit of fun, mother” – [Allen continues] – “Then the dove immaculate spirit/Escorted by the lyre bird and the ocellated peacock/The phoenix that pyre which recreates itself/Veils everything for an instant with its glowing coals/Sirens leaving their perilous straits/Arrive all three of them singing beautifully. And everything eagle phoenix and Chinese pihis/Fraternize with the flying machine…”…”Now you are on the shore of the Mediterranean/Under the lemon trees which blossom all year”…”Astonished you see yourself outlined in the agates of St Vitus/You were sad enough to die the day you saw yourself in them/You looked like Lazarus bewildered by the light/The hands of the clock in the Jewish quarter turn backwards/And you go slowly backwards in your life/Climbing up the Hradchin and listening at night..” – [“Hradchin” – Hradchin is a hill in cenral Prague, in old Prague, the old castle hill] – Climbing up the Hradchin and listening at night/In taverns to the singing of Czech songs”… [Allen continues, reading through to the end of the poem] – “Adieu, adieu/Soleil cou coupé/ Sun’s neck cut” – [ or, “Sun the severed neck” – “The neck of the sun cut” – that’s a famous line – “Sun corseless head”, says Samuel Beckett – corseless? – corpseless – head]
Student: (Are there other translations?)
AG: “Sun slit throat – Anne Hyde Greet – And Ron Padgett – “Sun throat cut” – but, “Soleil cou coupé” – “Sun throat cut” – “Soleil” – sun – “cou” – throat – “coupé” – slit, or cut, or cutted . Cut
Well you get some sense of the panorama and panoramic grandeur of the poem – The juxtaposition – one moment you’re in “Here..in Marseilles amid the watermelons/ Here you are in Coblenz at the hotel of the Giant/Here you are in Rome sitting under a Japanese medlar tree..” – It’s almost cinematic. – The consciousness of the flash-back (or the flash forward-flashback) or fade-in-fade-out is like a scenario – a shooting-script.
So the idea of jump-cut, seeing one scene and then a jump-cut to another and gaps in-between, that’s completely modern and new, and Cubist-style, in poetry. You get a little bit of it in Laforgue, but here ( it’s) in full-bloom, full-face, the swift movement of the mind from one place to another. Or as (William) Burroughs says, at the beginning of Naked Lunch, “I am not American Express”. It is not my business to transport the reader from London to Tangier or to Morocco, the mind can do that – so Burroughs says the poet doesn’t have to be American Express and provide the transportation because the transportation is natural to the mind, in any case – or the jump is natural to the mind).
So Cubism, in the sense of, rather than a linear progression, including the ship or the train from Marseilles to Coblenz, you simply have the “jump-cut”, you simply have the different angles seen almost simultaneously, or in such rapid succession (that) it’s like the Cubist method. That actually came in, in that part of the century, by importation of haiku and Japanese landscape painting (and Japanese prints, particularly). (Henri) Toulouse-Lautrec and (Vincent) Van Gogh (and) the precusors to Picasso, in fact, (were) so influential that Cezanne put down Van Gogh. He said “Ah, he’s not a painter. All he does is make Chinese images (because Van Gogh was imitating Chinese and Japanese painting for a while in order to get that funny perspective in which various depths seem to be occuring on the same optical level, on the same plane)
Student (CC): Well, the Japanese were doing wood-block printing
Student (CC): And many of their lacquered works, which were being imported, and spices which were being imported, into Europe were coming in wrapping paper, similar to our newspaper (in the way that you’d wrap up your china before moving, or such goods as ceramics). And that was where it came from. It actually came from these…
AG: From the wrapping paper?
Student (CC):.. from the wrapping paper of these…
AG: Uh-huh. So it must have been…
Student (CC): …fine articles.
AG: …been disseminated into the bourgeois class who were buying chinoiserie in the department store…
Student (CC): Yes, that’s exactly the source.
[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately thirty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in, to approximately forty-nine-and-three-quarter minutes in]