To read these poems in the original French


The Secret Book for Youki and Other Poems by Robert Desnos, translated by Todd Sanders
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Youki cover

Robert Desnos Robert Desnos

Translated by Todd Sanders

youki, light of my nights

Do you remember - the nights when you appeared
At the window of my door?
When you rose up in the darkness of my house
When you fell down in a heap on my bed like a great bird
Tired of passing the oceans and the plains and the forests.
Do you remember - your words of greeting, of salvation
Do you remember - my words of welcome
           my words of love?
No, you do not remember,
No one remembers the present, no one...
Now, it is night,
You appear, you arrive, you fall in a heap on my bed
I am your servant and your submissive defender obedient
           to your law as you are to my love.
It is midnight it is noon
It is quarter past midnight
It is half past midnight
It is midnight to come or noon just passed
It is midday ringing
It is always midday ringing for my love
For our love
All sounds all sighs and your lips
And on my bed you fall in a heap between midnight
           and four in the morning like a great albatross
Escaping storms.

charms of the night

When you entrust your body to the charms of the night
There seems to appear through the window
The vague face of those whom you once knew
where were you? where was she? where will we be?
Time which abolishes and recovers itself
does not reply, even to the questions of those who pass by,
Those flowers, their petals blown by forgotten breath
have landed far away on some new land
you see them shine in a flash of an eye
in an accent of voice in a useless gesture
With the hour they will rapidly die
These eyes from a distance are two lanterns
that you see disappear far down the forest path
These eyes reappear and you examine their shadows
you feel their gaze Wait this is not them
Life is filled with futile phantoms
From afar you recognize a friendly step
And when it comes near it is only one more vain fear
Ridiculous skeleton or comic fog
go away, go away, I only fear
that mystery enveloped in reality.


Once a heart beat in this chest
It beat for none but her
The heart beats still but no longer knows why

He has closed his lips forever
No more does he say, never again will he say
the word love

Perhaps his heart beats, will always beat for her
Surely it beats for her still
But it beats in silence

That must be a sad night
The night of that one man
Listening to his heart beat

He listens to it beat as it once did in the great days
As in the delicious days
As in the days of illusion

But love no longer has the right to appear
In the word of this determined watchman
Bound to love and to suffer

And if she also has a heart
One evening like a wolf she will come
Close these eyes that fix her image in the darkness

And place on the silence of this love
Immense silence and whistling sleep
But then she will appear in a dream
And it will all begin again.

at dawn

The morning collapses like a pile of plates
In thousands of porcelain shards and hours
And chimes
And cascades
On the zinc counter of this very poor bistro
Where the stars persist in the café night

She is not poor
The one in her evening gown soiled with mud
But rich in the realities of the morning
In the intoxication of her blood
And the perfume of her breath that no insomnia can alter
Rich in herself and in all mornings
Past, present and future
Rich in herself and in the sleep that overcomes her
In sleep strong as a mahogany tree
In sleep and in morning and in herself
And in her whole life which is counted only in
Those mornings, vivid dawns
wild days, slumbers,
lively nights

She is rich, that one
Even if she reaches out her hand
And must sleep with the cold morning
In her dirty dress
on a deserted bed.


Women of cloudless skies
Women of lofty airs
Is the night sweet for you

Women of lofty airs
Walking the streets until dawn
Does the night not break your heart

Women of cloudless skies
Plow-women lost in the plains
Is the night a harvest for you

Women of lofty airs
Fish merchants with hands curled like shrimp
Your night flows quickly for you

Women woken in the small hours of the day
Women dragging bruised feet to work
The night is without echo for you

Is the night sweet?
Does the night break your heart?
Do you harvest the night?
Does the night flow quickly for you?

Women of cloudless skies
Women of lofty airs
Women of the night of the dawn and the day
Streetwalkers, plow-women, women fishmongers
Do you like the lofty skies
Do you like the cloudless hours?

stone by stone

Stone by stone and step by step
And heart by heart and head by head
The beautiful days do pass

Thread by thread and leaf by leaf
And one by one and each by each
The days are beautiful and do not pass

Grain by grain body by body
And side by side and hand by hand
Good will win the battle

Stone by grain and each by one
And hand by heart and head by heart
Love is as vast as the world.


Quailsong flower of streets
Magpiesong flower of forests
Wolfsong flower of waters
Lovesong flower of night
Deathsong flower of spots

Drunkentears fruit of dawn
Embracingtears fruit of eyes
Welcometears fruit of hands
Mytears fruit of my lips
Myweeping fruit of time.

the wolf

The wolf has lost his long teeth
in the time of dawntrees
Gleaming eyes like a blazing inferno
Under vivid stars
Lone figure of lakes and storms
Forest snow
And all else that is its image
The stripes of a stream of blood
A sleigh escaping in the distance towards the forests
The voice of a small girl
Wolf, you come and go
in the time of dawntrees
in the time of pinecones.

With the siren queen

With the siren queen
there is a cabaret where I am sitting down for a meal
           this evening
among tables empty and naked as tombs.
Black tie waiters
Busy around chairs without occupants:
In their suits of ravens
They appear to celebrate
           the marriage of solitude and night
and me I wait.
Sometimes the telephone rings and no one answers
and perhaps it is she at the end of the line,
           far from here, calling me
but no one answers
           and I do not know what force forbids me
to go over to take the receiver in my hands and say:
"It is me, alcohol shines in bottles
come, come rapidly,
we will drink all night if you desire it
If you want to sleep, you will sleep in my arms
while waiting for the morning of crystal dew and wet sheets
that fall as a wave on the city."

Over there, the house is empty
I run from room to room calling
I cry on your pillow
I sob your name
           because no year passing after another year
will be able to distract my thought from your thought
my desire from your desire
           and my mouth from your mouth.

Sheets will dirty without being crumpled
on the bed where you liked to sleep
and I, heartbroken to be alone, call your name, imagining
what insults you submit to
foul, filthy worms that destiny
           has set upon our path.