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  • Reflections on Contemporary Poetry [II]. A review of The Closed Door (Portes fermées), by Jean de Bosschère. Trans. F. S. Flint; and John Davidson: A Study of the Relation of his Ideas to his Poetry, by Hayim Fineman

  • Johns Hopkins University Press
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The Egoist, 4 (Oct 1917) 133-34

There is a certain odd resemblance, quite superficial, between some of the poems of Mr. Harold Monro and the Closed Doorof M. Jean de Bosschère. 1 In Mr. Monro’s poems we find a constant slight distortion, a sudden emphasis upon the apparently trivial, which appears at first to be something new and foreign. Mr. Monro arrives at a degree of consistency in a charming flirtation with obscure, semi-philosophic sentiments; he could, for instance, create a pretty fairyland where domestic furniture plays pranks when one’s back is turned. With M. de Bosschère there are none of these sidelong glances; he is directly in front of his object; it occupies the fovea. One could elaborate an amusing contrast between “Homère Mare habite sa maison de planches” and Mr. Monro’s “Every Thing.” 2 Both poets are concerned with this thesis: the intimacy of the relationship between a man and his personal property. Mr. Monro speaks characteristically in the first person; he states the theory bluntly and reflectively:

Since man has been articulate . . . He has not understood the little cries And foreign conversations of the small Delightful creatures that have followed him Not far behind;

like an Anglo-Saxon on his first visit to the Continent. His utensils are provided with adjectives which connect them with human emotions–“The gentle Bed,” “The old impetuous Gas,” “My independent Pencil,” “You, my well-trampled Boots.” He reflects on a general situation; de Bosschère concentrates on a single instance. Homère Mare departs:

Pendant quatre saisons Homère voyage Et dans chaque ville il est un autre personage; 3

lending his house to Pierre, who

      a les yeux clairs de l’autruche Et le cœur moins mystérieux que l’addition. 4

Homère Mare

n’est pas un prophète ni un critique. Chaque matin il met lui-même le feu dans l’âtre. Tout le jour Il est l’époux du feu, L’aimé des flammes. 5

And here neither “ époux” nor “ aimé” have any sentimental associations. Before Homère sets upon his travels

Tout est encore Homère Et Homère est tout cela. 6

There is no pretence in the poem of a quasi-human relationship. Even when Homère returns to find that Le feu sourit aux yeux de Pierre, et chante. Les potiches regardent cet ami aux yeux clairs Comme des amis se regardent quand il y a trop d’hommes. 7 M. de Bosschère never employs his thoughts and images in decorating ordinary human sentiments.

M. de Bosschère is in fact almost a pure intellectual; leaving, as if disdainfully, our emotions to form as they will around the situation which his brain has selected. The important thing is not how we are to feel about it, but how it is. De Bosschère’s austerity is terrifying. A poet is not a pure intellectual by virtue of any amount of meditation or abstractness or moralizing; the abstract thought of nearly all poets is mediocre enough, and often secondhand. It is better to go to the De animathan to the Purgatoriofor a theory of the soul. 8 A poet like M. de Bosschère is an intellectual by his obstinate refusal to adulterate his poetic emotions with human emotions. Instead of refining ordinary human emotion (and I do not mean tepid human emotion, but human however intense–in the crude living state), he aims direct at emotions of art. He thereby limits the number of his readers, and leaves the majority groping for a clue which does not exist. The effect is sometimes an intense frigidity...

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