Three Epithalamia by Georges Perec

Once upon a time, I kept another blog.  I then tore it down, one of my many reinventions.

Last week, I remembered an entry that took a forever to assemble; including contacting “The Paris Review” about copyright information, and getting the indentations and line spacing perfected.  Love’s labors, now buried.  “I’d really like to have those Georges Perec poems up and available on the web,” I thought.

I searched my hard drive.

No, I scoured it.

No success.

The morning’s coincidences: I found that entry and those poems.   My old blog, now protected and long giving no one access, including myself, finally gave itself over to my eyes.

This after unsuccessful years of attempts.

The day had no thought of Georges Perec.  The locked blog opened by accident, as I hit the wrong link on old browser tab, an antiquated browser that I had switched to for only Goddess knows what reason this morning.

I was in the door, having jumped through space and time into a long lost portal.  And voilà! Georges et son chat, and the three poems.

Here is that lost entry.  My gift to the world today, giving Georges Perec back to it.

(Edited to add: The Paris Review now has the first of these epithalamia available on their site.  The other two require a PR subscription.)

From February 28, 2011 (no redaction):




I’m returning to my blog with a very special entry, one I’ve had in mind for sometime: making available three poems by Georges Perec.

I discovered these over two decades ago in a Winter 1989 issue of The Paris Review, and they’ve been venerated treasures since.  Despite my efforts over several years, I was unable to find them in any published anthology, or find any publishing information on them.

I contacted The Paris Review and inquired how I might go about getting permission to post them here. During my query, I was informed that The Paris Review did not own the rights to these poems.  The estate of Georges Perec does.  Who or what that is, I am not certain.

I assume the estate will not sue me for copyright infringement: should the estate be offended, please accept my apologies in advance.

Perec deserves more attention than he is given, and these songs, buried in a 1989 issue of The Paris Review, and available otherwise only to the handful of people who perchance purchase that back issue, need to be available to readers of this playful, imaginative wordsmith.

Harry Mathews, who translated these three songs from the French, notes the following: These three “nuptial songs” date from 1980 and 1981; they first appeared as pamphlet 19 in this series published as La Bibliothèque oulipienne. I found it impossible to keep in translation the attractive procedure the author followed in writing them, limiting himself to the letters and the names of bride and groom.

Where three quoted phrases appear in the second poem, I have substituted Wallace Stevens for Stéphen Mallarmé. — H.M.

Three Epithalamia by Georges Perec

Epithalamium for Sophie Binet and Michel Dominault
On this beautiful Saturday in May
Sophie has married Michel
and Michel has married Sophie
They have married
and they are now together
like Aucassin and Nicolette
and like nut cake and honey
like hand and piano
       table and chair
       soup and ladle
       tench and hook
       science and doubt
       pen and drawing
       dove and millet
       hospital and silence
       candle and bed warmer
       chamomile tea and Madeline
and even couscous and chickpeas
It's a delectable morning
the sun lights up the countryside
bee's are gathering honey
a butterfly delicately alights by a mimosa
sheep are bleating
in the distance bells are ringing
everything is calm and peaceful
At the very end of the little wood the vast planet begins
its lakes its oceans it steppes
its hills its plains its oases
its sand dunes
its palaces its museums its islands its ports of call
its lovely automobiles glistening in the rain
its white-bonneted Salvationists singing carols on Christmas Eve
its bowlered worthies in conference at the tabac on Place Saint
its mustachio'd sea captains exuding patchouli and lilac
its tennis champions hugging at the end of a match
its Indians with their calumet seated by a sandalwood totem pole
its mountain climbers attacking Popocatapetl
its eager canoeist paddling down the Mississippi
its Anabaptists mischievously nodding their heads as they discuss
     the Bible
its little Balinese women dancing on cocoa plantations
its philosophers in peak caps arguing about Condillac's ideas
     in outmoded tea rooms
its pinup girls in bathing suits astride docile elephants
its impassive Londoners bidding a no-trump little slam
But here the sky is blue
Let's forget the weight of the world
a bird is singing at the very top of the house
cats and dogs drowse by the fireplace
      where a huge log flow be burning up
You hear the ticking of the clock
This little poem
where only simple words been used
      words like daisy and broomstick
      like lady-bird and cream sauce
      like croissant and nonchalance
and not words like palimpsest, pitchblende, cumulonimbus,
      decalcomania, stethoscope, machicolation, or
has been specially composed
on the occasion of these nuptials
Let us wish Sophie and Michel
years and years of rejoicing
like the thousand years gone by
            in which Philemon and Baucis
 each May are born into the world
            she as linden, he as oak
Lines read at the wedding of Alix-Cléo Blanchette and Jacques Roubaud
Alix-Cléo has married Jacques
and Jacques has married Alix-Cléo
This is a fortunate coincidence
and so today
they are both allied and bound together
in the manner of bird and branch
of Aucassin and Nicollette
of table and chair
of science and doubt
of desert and oasis
of linden and oak
of ink and story
of day and night
of oblivion and vestige
of bee and maple
It's a lovely June day
the sun is shining above Ile de la Cité
on their transistor radios booksellers at their stalls are listening
     to Heinrich Biber's Rosary Sonatas
harassed tourist climb the steps of Sacré-Coeur
on rue de la Huchette blue-jeaned Dutchman are playing
     banjos and bagpipes
The whole world stretches out around us
its unfathomable oceans
its lakes, its steppes, its streams,
its hills and permafrost
its sand dunes, its hidden treasures, its islands, its ports of call
its “black gold” and “white coal”
its bauxites and rare terrains
its basilicas, its haunted castles, its ruined keeps
its Salvationists in pastel–pink raincoats singing carols on
     Christmas Eve
its bespectacled notaries reading their evening paper by the
     light of oil lamps
its retired colonels in conference at the tabac on Rue Saint-
its disbanding revellers emerging from outmoded nightclubs
its slant-eyed Cossacks paddling down the Yenisei in birch–
     bark canoes
its day–trippers in berets attacking the Balloon d'Alsace
its austere Jansenists reciting the Old Testament
its circus ballerinas standing on their obedient chargers
its D. Litt.'s arguing about Judeo-Christian expression in the
     discourse of Hölderlin
its obese Irishwomen buying cans of beer and salted pickles
     in a Bronx delicatessen
Here the sky is blue or soon will be
Let's forget the age's stridencies
     tornadoes and fog
Let's listen to the birds singing
the cats purring in the library alongside Bescherelle's
quiet daily sounds
the heart beating
These occasional lines
which do not concern
either purple balustrades
or sunken coral water-walled
or concupiscent curds
or lady-birds
or subterranean locusts
or the Constitution of Eighteen Forty-Eight
have been written for the inauguration of this betrothal
Let us wish Alix-Cléo and Jacques
years of rejoicing and happiness
Let us salute them
and to the east
          may the black jet of extreme youth salute them
and to the south
          may the turquoise blue adulthood salute them
and to the west
          may the yellow abalone of nothingness salute them
             that cannot be conceived of or spoken
and to the north
          made the white shell of the Resurrection salute them
and may the Southern Cross salute them
and made the evening star salute them
and every constellation
and every nebula
and may they at break of dawn
when the surround whitens
journey full circle around the edge of earth and heaven

Wedding of Kmar Bendana and Noureddine Mechi
My lady of rare amber
Armada moored in the roads of Madeira
Ebony tree
Marble meander
Year after year finding me ready to surrender
Unimaginable laughter of Dido or Aeneas
Dune smell
Golden cloud
Rut flooded with a last shower
Saying nothing
Knitting a calico quilt
Queen in king made one
Board my forsaken drake
Nomad of my shadow world
Give me my name
My savior
My soul
Give me that murmuring
the echo route
where this speaking begins
My fired heart disturbs black ash
Rough whisper of a golden horn
Chrome or mercury illusion
An unknown rending of sweetness
Mine, like my own trembling
My love my golden number
beautiful sweeper of my mist
beautiful burglar of my clouds
knot at the confines of my dwelling
a blindfold embroidered with dawn
Black ink
determines this still slender code
the world's unscathed memory
A  rock, menhir, warehouse
Dormant chemistry of a gigantic oil rig
Cherokee Indian, Chinese orchid
A cedarwood chest of drawers,
A smell of beeswax, bark, caraway
Admire in my mirror
My bride wreathed in dawn
My Queen, my Diana, my Golden Bream,
A sprig of arum diffuses its scent
Laughing over nothings
over a crumb,
over a loosened ribbon
over a swim at the beach
over someone singing to the beat of a derbouka
Loving enough to die
Ancient spell
Rooted in the very heart of this modern world
like sweetwater
like a hoop, a round,
a piece of chalk
a marketplace in Manchuria
a tile in the corridor
fragrance of coriander
a cadence on an accordion
My friend my own heart
Give me an iron memory
of this world curved like a locust
An armored memory
Memory of my own Rue du Caire
Memory of the buccaneer
of Cerberus's deck hand
at the edge of a carbon sea
Happiness consecrated to my noontime concord
to the marble of my dwelling
in the murmurings of my mouth
Hot shadow of my diadem
A radio crackles a love ballad
a fly drones
Babouche in a corner of my room
a dog barks
Sunday, on Rue du Maroc


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