Issue 5 – Winter 2003 – Ponge

Francis Ponge

Translated by Andrew Boobier

Francis Ponge was born in Montpellier 1899 and a key essayist and poet in 20th century French literature. Flirting with surrealism, and a member of the communist party, he is known particularly for his ability to observe animals and common place objects meticulously describe them in apparently rational, yet lyric terms as demonstrated in his most well known work Le Parti-pris des choses (1942). Other works include La Rage andde l’expression (1952), Le Savon (1967) and The Making of the Pre translated by Lee Fahnestock (University of Missouri Press, 1979). He died in 1988; his Selected Poems have been translated by C.K. Williams. The poems translated here are early works from the 1920’s, taken from Le Grand Recueil: Lyres, Vol. 1 and from Le Part-pri des chose.


Three Fire Poems by Francis Ponge (from Le Grand Recueil: Lyres)


Fire [Le Feu]

Fire sets forth: at first, each flame somehow finds its own way…
(Fire’s walk is like that of an animal: it must leave one place to occupy another; it
walks like an amoeba and a giraffe, leaping the length of its neck, crawling along
on its feet)…
Then, while the contaminated bulk methodically caves in, the escaping gases are
transformed into a peculiar slant of butterflies.


The Match [L’Allumette]

Fire makes a body of the match.
A living soul with its own expression,
its own glory, its own short history.
The gas rising from it blazes;
bestowing wings, a costume, even a body:
a truly moving thing,

It all happens so quickly!

Only the head has the power to catch fire when it comes into contact with harsh
– sounds like the crack of a starting pistol.
But, as soon as it takes hold,
the flame
– upright, swift, a sail blown like a racing yacht –
          travels the length of its own wooden boom,

And hardly has it come about
it leaves
              black as the hat of a parish priest.


Fire and Ash [Feu et Cendres]

Agile fire, inert ash.
Sneering fire, serene ash.
Primate fire, pussy cat ash.
Fire clambers from branch to branch, ash squats down into a sleepy pile.
Fire grows, ash shrinks.
Shining fire, sullen ash.
Hissing fire, hushing ash.
Fire hot, ash cold.
Contagious fire, containing ash.
Fire red, ash grey.
Greek fire, Roman ash.
Fire the victor, ash the vanquished.
Fearless fire, frightened ash.
Fire scalds, ash scatters.
Wild fire, ash swept aside.
Playful fire, plaintive ash.
Animal fire, mineral ash.
Inflamed fire, impotent ash.
Fire the bulldozer, ash the builder.
Red fire and grey ash come together, one of nature’s favourite standards.



Andrew Boobier was born in West Yorkshire, England in 1963 and attended York University, gaining a first class degree in English. His award-winning poetry and translations have been published in the UK and USA in magazines such as OrbisThe Rue BellaThe Schuylkill Valley JournalSmorgasbordThe Pedestal MagazinePoems NiederngasseEclecticaThe Drunken Boat and Snakeskin. He is the editor of the Alsop Review’s online quarterly magazine, Octavo (