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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

Sentiments adrift

A glance, a word, because I love you

Everything moves

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.