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Francis Ponge - Three Prose-Poems, translated by Ian Brinton

Francis Ponge

Fern spirits

Lying beneath the ferns and seeing their row of miniatures am I glancing at a perspective of Brazil?

They are neither logs for building nor the solid stems for match-making but a type of heaped leaf piled high like soaking rum.

Short stalks sprout forth as individual virgins who require no support: an enormous drunken confusion of palms beyond all control and each one hides two levels of sky above it.

The cigarette

First of all let us conjure up an atmosphere both hazy and arid, tousled, in which the cigarette is laid down horizontally, self-perpetuating.

Next there is its personality: that small beacon giving off more odour than light from which a number of small sections of ash detach themselves in designated rhythms.

And lastly there is its life: the glowing stud flaking off into silver dust shaped by the muff of its most recent shell.

The Orange

As with the sponge, there rests within the orange a desire to save face after having been subjected to the expression of itself. However, whereas the sponge always succeeds the orange never can: its cells are fragmented, its tissues pulled apart. Although the skin retains its form thanks to elasticity an amber liquid spills out to provide the certainty of both a refreshing and fragrant scent –and yet it also hints of a bitter awareness: it has become a premature birth from its own seed.

Perhaps we should weigh up the differences here between these two methods of coming to terms with oppression? – the sponge is nothing more than a muscle which absorbs air along with both clean and filthy water: its antics are merely vulgar. The orange has better taste although it lets itself go without fuss– the sacrifice is scented…it surrenders to its oppressor too easily.

But it is not sufficient to say of the orange that its distinction is to scent the air and give delight to its executioner. One must emphasise both the glorious colour of the secreted liquid and the manner in which it differs from the juice of the lemon by compelling the larynx to gape wide in order to even pronounce its very name as well as to swallow down its juice without either the puckering of lips or the spiking of taste buds.

And we are left without language with which to express our admiration for the casing of this fragile, tender, pink and oval balloon which sits in its thick moist blotting-paper, the skin of which is both highly pigmented and extremely thin, caustically flavoursome and yet just sufficiently rough to catch the light on the perfect surface of the fruit.

However, to conclude this short study which has focused as roundly as possible – we are left at last with the pip. This seed, shaped like a tiny oval, presents from the outside the white-wood colour of the lemon-tree whilst inside revealing the green of pea or tender sprout. After the sensational burst of that Venetian lantern of tastes, those colours and scents which constitute the fruity balloon – we reach the relative hardness and vitality (not entirely insipid) of the wood, the branch, the leaf: what may seem a very tiny centre is the heart of the whole fruit.

English Translation Copyright © Ian Brinton, 2022.

Original French texts by Francis Ponge, "Rhum des fougère", "La Cigarette" and "L'Orange" Copyright
© Editions Galimard, Paris, 1942.

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