In Jean-Luc Godard’s futuristic detective movie Alphaville (1965) there is a famous scene in which Natacha (Anna Karina) recites some lines of poetry. She is holding a copy of Paul Eluard’s Capital of Pain. The full text of the quote is as follows:
“Your voice, your eyes, your hands, your lips
Our silence, our words
Light that goes, light that returns
A single smile between us
In quest of knowledge I watched night create day
Oh beloved of all, beloved of one alone
Your mouth silently promised to be happy
Away, away, says hate
Closer, closer, says love
A caress leads us from our infancy
Increasingly I see the human form as a lovers’ dialog
The heart has but one mouth
Everything by chance
All words without thought
A glance, a word, because I love you
We must advance to live
Aim straight ahead towards those you love
I went toward you, endlessly toward the light
If you smile, it enfolds me all the better
The rays of your arms pierce the mist”
A beautiful passage. Because of the book, it has always been said that the poetry she reads is by Eluard, specifically from Capital of Pain.
There’s just one problem: I have yet to find any evidence that the lines are by Paul Eluard.
I have read through Capital of Pain twice now, a bilingual translation, and have opened the book now and then and quickly read through a few poems (as one tends to do). But the “Your voice, your eyes” nevertheless sent me back to the book. I wanted to read it in context, as it were. But I couldn’t find it. Page by page search. Nothing.
Maybe I am just blind. Or not methodical enough. Someone, somebody tell me, please, where the lines above can be found in Capital of Pain. Do that I can simply delete this post and all will be well.
Now it could be that the lines are from some other book by Eluard, some poem found elsewhere. But I did a Google search on various lines from the above — “your voice, your eyes” — “we must advance to live” — “I went toward you endlessly toward the light” — and all I managed to discover was a return path back to the movie Alphaville. Which seems strange. If they are lines by Eluard, and given the fact that they are rather wonderful lines (and lines even quoted in a movie), it seems that there would be some other reference to them, somewhere, the lines quoted on some poetry forum perhaps. But all I get is Alphaville.
Paul Eluard is not listed as being one of the authors/screenwriters of the movie. The only writer listed is Godard himself. In fact, Eluard died in 1952. So he could not have actively worked on the movie as co-writer or consultant. If the lines are by Eluard, they are earlier.
Until such time as more scholarship can be devoted to this question, I suggest we stop stating that the poetry is from Capital of Pain. In fact, I would recommend that we stop even stating that the lines are by Eluard.
But — somebody show me that I am wrong. Please.
One strange thing did happen in all of this, this morning, going through all of the searches and exploring this question — I was reminded of a poem that I damn well know is by Eluard and from Capital.
“It’s here that you see the creator of words
Who self-destructs in the sons he engenders
And names the forgetting of all the world’s names.”
— (from “Drink”)
Perhaps we should leave it at that for now.
NOTE: Please see the Comments to this post to read continuing updates on this investigation.
Thanks Nicolas. I really don’t know that actress very well.
I don’t know the answer but, wow, a beautiful poem.
Yes, it is. If it is NOT Eluard I would actually be surprised, it would have to be someone of his caliber.
And thanks for reading.
Hi Edward, I surely know the trouble you’re in and I feel with you, it would drive me crazy … and did while searching for an answer, I thought this could be interesting:
“Il s’agit là, en fait, d’un collage – technique qu’aime à utiliser Jean-Luc Godard et qui, au cinéma, se transforme en montage – de différents poèmes de Paul Eluard et qui forme une nouvelle poésie, autonome. Mais ce texte, si magnifique fut-il, est encore sublimé par les images avec lesquelles il fait corps – ce qui offre d’ailleurs à cette séquence sa sensualité si extrême. Et l’on voit, entre autres, le beau visage d’Anna Karina et surtout ses mains qui viennent, un instant, recouvrir celui d’Eddie Constantine… Pendant quelques deux minutes et trente secondes, le cinéma de Godard atteint là un sommet et est comme en apesanteur. Cela annonce la fin du film – qui, après quelques dernières péripéties, intervient une vingtaine de minutes plus tard –, lors de laquelle Natacha, fuyant Alphaville en compagnie de Lemmy Caution, prononce à deux reprises – et d’abord très difficilement – ces trois mots : « Je vous aime ». Ainsi, par l’amour et la poésie, redevient-elle définitivement humaine. Et la route menant vers les pays extérieurs (et les villes de Florence, Nueva York, Tokyohama, Angoulême City,…) peut dès lors s’ouvrir – et le film se terminer.”
… roughly translated by Google:
“This is in fact a collage – technical loves to use Jean-Luc Godard and, cinema, turns into mounting – different poems by Paul Eluard and forms a new poetry, autonomous. But this text was so magnificent it is even enhanced by the images with which it conducts body – which also offers this sequence so extreme sensuality. And we see, among others, the beautiful face of Anna Karina and especially his hands coming a moment, the cover of Eddie Constantine … For some two minutes and thirty seconds, the cinema Godard reached a peak and there is as weightless. This signals the end of the film – which, after some recent incidents, involved twenty minutes later – during which Natasha Alphaville fleeing in the company of Lemmy Caution, say twice – first and very difficult – three words “I love you.” Thus, for love and poetry, she finally becomes human. And the road leading to foreign countries (and cities of Florence, Nueva York, Tokyohama, Angoulême City, …) can then be opened – and the film ended.”
if it turns out right, the Poem you are searching for is a Collage of different Poems by Paul Eluard, nevertheless a beautiful text, and I don’t know if I’m right with this but I couldn’t find the text you quoted, neither in “Capital of Pain” nor in “Mourir de ne pas Mourir” (Dying of Not Dying).
don’t know whether this helps, but I will keep on searching …
Dirk, I think that in this you are “the detective” who has “broken the case” as they say. Well done, my friend.
It makes sense. I haven’t seen every Godard movie (yet), but have seen a number of them, and a collage would be something he would very much do I think.
Okay, so now we movie forward. Next step in the investigation would be to go through Capital of Pain, this time looking for individual lines — I was looking formerly for the entire block of the poem, and so may have missed individual lines.
It could be too that Godard drew from more Eluard volumes than Capital of Pain.
“Mourir de ne pas Mourir” was published in 1924 I have found, but was included with Capital in 1926 as follows —
Mourir de ne pas mourir
Les petits justes
This is the case with my own volume, which is Black Widow Press, Boston, 2006 — which adds facing page English translations to the text of Capitale de la Douleur, Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1926.
So that is the next step — to go through Capital and see if we can check off some of the lines quoted in the movie, to put them and notate them as being this or that individual poems.
And, logically, any lines that remain unchecked after that would have to be from volumes other than Capital. In which case the search must then be widened.
Well this has been most interesting, actually kind of exciting. And I thank you that I could be the Watson to your Holmes. 😀
PS. I also have Poesie ininterrompue II, so I can later check that one if necessary.
glad you could do something with my find, Edward … I will have some time this week end, due to a national Holiday on Monday, so I will go for more intense search, I think …
Of course why the individual lines I typed into Google only lead back to Alphaville and not to some poetry site — that still is a matter of speculation.
it’s not speculation … it’s algorithm (a bad one, I admit)
I never did see the movie but I can completely understand why that poem drew your attention. Tried to paste all of it in Google but got nothing useful in return.
Don’t give up. It is interesting to read about your findings 🙂
Hope you are well!
We are, small wrinkles here and there but life would be boring without it, right? 🙂
toph beifong said:
posts like this is the reason why i love internet. please keep sharing your findings ^^
Explained here, if you haven’t yet found this