Chagall by Blaise Cendrars

Blaise Cendrars by Modigliani
Blaise Cendrars by Modigliani


The French poet, Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961), lost his right arm during the Battle of the Somme in 1915. An important member of the Montparnasse community of writers and artists, Cendrars was an inspirational influence on many American writers, including John Dos Passos and Henry Miller. His friendship with the painter, Marc Chagall, is reflected in the poem below.



Portrait – Marc Chagall

He sleeps
He wakes
Suddenly, he paints
He takes a church and paints with a church
He takes a cow and paints with a cow
With a sardine
With heads, hands, knives
He paints with a bullwhip
He paints with all the dirty passions of a small Jewish town
With all the heightened sexuality of provincial Russia
For France
Without sensuality
He paints with his thighs
His eyes in his arse
And suddenly it’s your portrait
It’s you reader
It’s me
It’s him
It’s his fiancée
It’s the local grocer
The milkmaid
The midwife
There are tubs of blood
The newborn are washed there
Insane skies
Mouths of modernity
The Tower as corkscrew
Some hands
He’s Christ
He spent his childhood on the Cross
He suicides every day
Suddenly, he no longer paints
He was awake
Now he sleeps
Chokes on his tie
Chagall’s astonished to be still alive

Blaise Cendrars

(translation by John Lyons)



One thought on “Chagall by Blaise Cendrars

  1. I found this interesting. The only poem of Cendrars with which I am familiar is his Transsibérien/Jeanne. With modest French I can follow it in the original which means experiencing the musicality of the lines as well as the kaleidoscope of images. I find it hypnotic. Good to see this one on Chagall and your post prompted me to look up the original.


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