From ‘Paris’, by Hope Mirrlees

1 May 2012

Un quai des bouquinistes

All down the Quais the boquinistes shut their green boxes.
———From the VIIme arrondisement
———Night like a vampire
———Sucks all colour, all sound
—–The winds are sleeping in their Hyperbórean cave;
—-The narrow streets bend proudly to the stars;
From time to time a taxi hoots like an owl.

But behind the ramparts of the Louvre
Freud has dredged the river and, grinning horribly, waves his garbage in a glare of electricity.

———————–Taxis,
———————–Taxis,
———————–Taxis,

———They moan and yell and squeak
———Like a thousand tom-cats in rut.

The whores like lions are seeking their meat from God:

\\\

Hope Mirrlees’ ‘Paris’ was published in 1920 by The Hogarth Press, Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s publishing venture. ‘Paris’ follows a wanderer in the city from morning to the following dawn (the extract here is at nightfall), taking in text from advertising hoarding’s, tomb stones, and the printed music of sacred song – what could be more archetypally Modernist?

‘Paris’ is a fun, diverting read, very much of its time; it’s satire on the banal verdicts of (American) tourists on European culture can be compared to E.E. Cummings’ ‘Memorabilia‘, which gets to work on Venice, and was published six years later on the other side of the Atlantic.

Mirlees is now described as a ‘forgotten female modernist’, or FFM; certainly, her texts aren’t widely available. First hearing of it from a friend, the text I’ve read is a facsimile PDF on hopemirrlees.com. From my quick search, this seems to be the only poetry by her available online, making it seem all the more startling and singular.

[The photo, dated sixteen years earlier but a pretty representative shot of the bouquinistes, was ripped from here.]

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