Less well known than his collages and paintings, Jean Arp’s poetry shares their spirit of fluid lyricism and the playfulness of sincerity. I could only find two of his poems online, which is a travesty. Being a die-hard romantic, my favourites are those he wrote for his wife, the artist Sophie Tauber Arp (pictured above with her sister, wearing her own creations).
This particular poem is about Sophie’s art - not just the art that she created in her career, but the art of her life itself. It reminds me of my favourite line from Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart”: ‘you can’t beat death but you can beat death in life’.
Sophie Dreamed Sophie Painted Sophie Danced
You would always dream of winged stars,
of flowers cajoling flowers
on the lips of infinity,
of light-sources blossoming out,
of symmetrical bloomings,
of breathing silks,
of serene sciences,
far from the houses of a thousand darts
and the prostrations of naïve deserts,
among a thousand untidy miracles.
You dreamed of things that rest in the immutable home of light.
You painted an unveiled rose,
a bouquet of waves,
a live crystal.
You painted the shells
that you gathered on the beach
and arranged them on the drawing table
around a large shell
like a flock around its shepherd.
You painted a teardrop in the dew,
a teardrop among pearls.
You painted the radiance that makes the heart beat,
the gentleness that makes lips stir.
You painted the night that hangs out the stars,
the bright sleep,
the own sweet will of flowers.
You danced the dawn that spilled over the earth
You danced the trembling garden of daybreak.
You danced in the quilted landscape of the moon
with the mischievous gnomes of darkness.
You danced the nude who loses his toy of air,
the pleasure that sobs dispossessed.
You danced the six vermilion armchairs
and were wiser than the brains of six philosophers,
the ivory scaffold in the lava of gloom
the laughter of the dust,
the southern night and its cricket chirpings.
You danced farewell.
Probably the best collection of Arp’s writings is still Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories (ed. Marcel Jean, from the Documents of 20th Century Art series), first published in the 60’s and sadly now out of print.