Francis Ponge (1899-1988) spent his early years in Avignon. He attended school in Caen, later studied both law and Philosophy before taking up a variety of editorial and teaching jobs. Le parti pris des choses (Taking the Side of Things) Gallimard 1942, caught the attention of prominent writers and artists. Wider recognition came in the sixties when Gallimard published several large collections of his poetry and essays. Describing his approach to writing in The Making of the Pré as, “things are already as much as words as things and…words…are as much things as words. It is their copulation that writing realizes.”
Ponge avoided appeals to emotion and symbolism, and instead sought to minutely recreate the world of experience of everyday objects. Describing his work as, “a description-definition-literary artwork,” which avoided both the drabness of a dictionary and the inadequacy of poetry. His principal aim was to avoid stereotypical thinking. In Le Grand Recueil (The Grand Collection), Gallimard 1961, he explained his, “concentration on simple objects – stones, grass, directed towards a restoration of the power and purity of language.”
In an interview with Serge Gavronsky for the anthology Poems & Texts (October House) Ponge claimed, “I write as I write, and I do not want it to be poetry. I do not intend to write poems. I express my feelings about things that move me, or that seem to me to be important to state. I have protested at length against my classification among poets, because lyricism in general disturbs me. That is, it seems to me there is something too subjective, a display of subjectivity which appears to me to be unpleasant, slightly immodest.”
Books by Francis Ponge
Vegetation—(translated from the French by Lee Fahnestock)
The magnolia blossom erupts in slow motion like a leisurely bubble on the thick skin of syrup that’s turning to caramel.
(The caramel color of the leaves on the trees should be noted too.)
Once in full bloom, it represents total satisfaction, in keeping with the significant vegetal mass expressed there.
But it is not sticky; quite the contrary, it is cool and silky, in the same measure that the leaf seems glistening, coppery, dry and brittle.
The Nature of Things—(translated from the French by Lee Fahnestock)
Published in 1942 and considered the keystone of Francis Ponge’s large body of work, Le parti pris des choses appears here in its entirety, in Lee Fahnestock’s stellar translation, as The Nature of Things. Ponge’s first full volume, it reveals his preoccupation with nature and its metaphoric transformation through the creative ambiguity of language.
“Things, the title says, but true to the wordplay used throughout, Le parti pris des choses translates as taking the side of or taking a resolute stand for things, as well as the side taken by things, for in Ponge’s view the objects speak for themselves. Yet how quickly it becomes clear that humanity is never absent from the page. In the first place, anthropomorphism is rampant, as Ponge grants unexpected human qualities to his protean creatures, not only qualities but passions too: trees are frantic to articulate, the oyster is steadfastly closed in upon itself. What is more, imprints of the searching mind and writing hand appear in the narration, either in suggestion, or in the first person singular, when Francis Ponge steps forward, watching the rain or holding a shell in his hand.”
from the introduction by Lee Fahnestock
Roughly the size of a rather large pebble, the oyster is more gnarled in appearance, less uniform in color, and brilliantly whitish. It is a world categorically closed in upon itself.
And yet it can be opened: that takes gripping it in a folded rag, plying a nicked and dull-edged knife, chipping away at it over and over. Probing fingers get cut on it, nails get broken. It’s a rough job. The pounding you give it scars the envelope with white rings, a sort of halo.
Within, one finds a world of possibilities for food and drink: beneath a mother-of-pearl firmament (strictly speaking), the skies above settle in on the skies below, leaving only a rock pool, a viscous greenish sack that ebbs and flows before the eyes and nose, fringed with a border of darkish lace.
On a rare occasion the perfect formula pearls up in its nacreous throat, and we take it for our adornment.
from The Nature of Things