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Poetry of Ponge
by P. G. R. Nair Bookmark and Share

The Crate (Le Cageot)

Halfway between cage (Cage) and cachot (Prison cell) the French language has cageot (Crate), a simple openwork container for transporting fruits that is sure to sicken at the slightest hint of suffocation.

Constructed so as to be easily demolished after use, it can’t serve twice. So it doesn’t last even as long as its highly perishable contents.

On all the street corners, near the market it shines with the modest glow of white wood. Still brand new and a bit aghast at the awkward situation, dumped irretrievably on the public thoroughfare, it is, all in all, a thoroughly likeable object-yet one whose fate doesn’t warrant our overlong attention.

The Pleasures of a Door

Kings never touch doors.

It is a joy unknown to them: pushing open whether gently or roughly, one of those great familiar panels, turning to put it back in place-holding a door in one’s embrace.

….the joy of grasping one of those tall barriers to a room by the porcelain knob of its belly; the quick contact in which, with forward motion briefly arrested, the eye opens wide, and the whole body adjusts to its new surroundings.

With a friendly hand you hold it a bit longer, before giving it a decided shove and closing yourself in, a condition pleasantly confirmed by the click of the strong but well-oiled lock spring.

Poetry of Ponge 
I consider it as one of my miraculous reading encounters to have discovered the French poet Francis Ponge. Ponge possesses a unique way of seeing. For him, seeing comes before words. Reading him gives us new eyes to see ordinary objects. He is almost ascetic in his approach to things of the external world. He is at once a spectator and participant in the exterior world. He zooms in on things and comes up with a vision that appeases and astonishes us. Ponge wants us to look afresh at all that surrounds us, to respect and love it, so that there can be the proper harmonious relationship between the human and nonhuman.  In that way he can be called a renaissance poet who creates a new humanism. Interestingly, the subjects of his fables belong to a lower world than of Gods and heroes of antiquity.

His prose poems prod us to meditate - “Yes, I am a plant, a leaf, a pebble or an oyster”. Through it, like a scientific professor, he creates a new form and a poetic encyclopedia that accounts for man’s universe and justifies the creator. 

There is a braveness to efface the artist in his poems and to merge the object and the language into one. He considers the verbal world of language as valid and as the external as the physical world. In Ponge’s world, it is the word , in its singular form, which reveals a life beyond functional existence. For Ponge, word and world are intertwined and there are two ways of understanding our existence: Words illumine the world, and the world illumines the words. This viewpoint I think forms the core of his writings.

In his prose poems, he offers a view of life transcribed into mute symbols around us-Pebbles, trees, flowers, sea, candles, oyster or even cigarettes. He expresses their mute character in moral terms. He recognizes their mortality, vulnerability and bestows on them a heroic vision by projecting more than what they are. His words sculpt them. As a result we see them like figures emerging from stones or as characters from a novel.  ‘They are heroes “, Ponge says in ‘Snail’, ‘beings whose existence itself is a work of art.’ This is exactly why I like him so much.

Ponge has rare sensibility and brilliance to dwell on objects without a desire to possess it or to immerse it with his personal disappointments or desires. His objectifying poetic process aims to grasping thing-in-itself. Do not mistake me here. Ponge is no partisan of art for art sake. 

Man arbitrarily placed in the world, makes an arbitrary choice by allowing himself to survive in it before being  arbitrarily removed from it like the crate, used only once and then tossed on the trash heap. The poet having chosen literature to make his life meaningful, which can only partially convey his meaning like the work of any man,  can only partially express man the cosmos. 

In his poem ‘Pebble’ he says that the pebble, the final offspring of a race of giants, is of the same stone as its enormous forbears. If life offers no truth, it nonetheless offers possibilities. For trees, there may be no way out of their ‘treehood’, ‘by the means of trees’-leaves wither and fall-but they do not give up. They go on leafing season after season. They are not ‘resigned’. This is the first lesson, ‘the heroic vision’, as I mentioned earlier, and their first weapon against mortality. Snails, Flowers and Pebbles – all express an indomitable will and a striving for perfection by whatever means are unique to them: the tree has leaves, the snail its silver wake, man his words. Man also possesses all the ‘virtues’ of the world he lives in: the fearful fearlessness of the shrimp, the stubbornness of the oyster, the determination of water, the cigarette’s ability to create its own environment and its own destruction. Rather than using things as images of human attributes, he covertly uses human attributes as images of things around us (This is quite interesting) .

Ponge underlines that the ultimate weapon is the work of art, the sublime regenerative possibility, which man carries within himself, like the oyster its pearl, the orange in its pip. His poems are not ‘morals’ in any didactic sense, but they are lessons, models of exemplary virtue to follow. 

I am sure that next time when you observe a crate in a busy market or hold the knob of your door, you will pause to ponder and salute its being with a benign smile.    

Francis Ponge

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July 23,2010
More by : P. G. R. Nair
Views: 6116      Comments: 2

Comments on this Poem Article

Comment Happy to be introduced to this poet's work. Your words have whetted my appetite for more. Thank you.

01/25/2020 22:35 PM

Comment very nice.

Reena Baliyan
07/06/2011 00:00 AM

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