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Poems of Samuel Wood

Poems of Samuel Wood

By Louis-René Des Forêts

Translated by Anthony Barnett

Allardyce Book, Paperback, 32pp, £15.00, ISBN 978-0 907954-39-2, Illustrated by Anthony Barnett

Barnett draws on echoes of Shakespeare to translate passages in which the narrator confronts mortality

Review by Ali Thurm

Poems of Samuel Wood, originally published in French by Fata Morgana in1988, is Louis-René Des Forêts’ meditation on life, language and mortality. Allardyce Book have followed Fata Morgana in producing a work of art in both form and in content. 

Louis-René Des Forêts (1918–2000) uses the character of Samuel Wood to distance himself from his own thoughts on death and the act of writing. At the heart of this long monologue are the double voices of the poet and his imaginary character:
Samuel, Samuel, is it really your voice I hear
Emanating as if from the depths of a tomb
To reinforce my own in its struggle with sentences . . .

We are introduced to a dark and claustrophobic picture of the poet as insomniac trying to create meaning: ‘making his little gnawing noises, . . . /He is searching, blindly searching, but searching.’ 

One of the main thrusts of the poem is a Beckettian debate about ‘the pitfalls of language’ where the poet: ‘. . . hunches himself over a narrow strip of field/ As an animal hollows out a hole, he will make it his grave.’

In this nightmarish world the lost beloved alternates between ‘. . . this woman sitting on a window ledge / . . . her fingers gloved in red?’ and a figure ‘standing smiling/ Amid the asters and the roses’. 

Barnett draws on echoes of Shakespeare to translate passages in which the narrator confronts mortality and makes a plea to:
Withdraw wisely as an old actor in his declining years
Leaves the stage . . .
Strutting the boards, fretting ineffectual words. . . 

In this night of insomnia we are at first ‘stupefied beneath the burning sun . . . drown under its blinding light’ but as the monologue progresses, and perhaps dawn begins to break, the sun becomes ‘glorious’ or ‘the morning friend who pushes us out of bed’.

Ultimately the poem finds a reluctant acceptance of mortality as the narrator advises himself to: ‘Rather look at the birds sailing across the sun/ Listen to their evening concert in the woods . . .’

The creative act may be ‘nothing but a fabricated shadow’ yet:

even after it has lost its meaning
Its timbre still resonates in the distance like a storm
No one can tell is approaching or passing.

Barnett’s translation offers an English reader an insight into an intriguing French poet.

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