Pierrot Le Fou

July 17, 2007 at 12:57 pm 2 comments

Adrienne Rich



Suppose you stood facing
a wall

of photographs

from your unlived life

as you stand looking at these
stills from the unseen film?

Yourself against a wall
curiously stuccoed

Yourself in the doorway
of a kind of watchman’s hut

Yourself at a window
signalling to people
you haven’t met yet

Yourself in unfamiliar clothes
with the same eyes


On a screen as wide as this, I grope for the titles.
I speak the French language like a schoolgirl of the ‘forties.
Those roads remind me of Beauce and the motorcycle.
We rode from Paris to Chartres in the March wind.
He said we should go to Spain but the wind defeated me.
France of the superhighways, I never knew you.
How much the body took in those days, and could take!
A naked lightbulb still simmers in my eyeballs.
In every hotel, I lived on the top floor.


Suppose we had time
and no money
living by our wits

telling stories

which stories would you tell?

I would tell the story
of Pierrot Le Fou
who trusted

not a woman

but love itself

till his head blew off
not quite intentionally

I would tell all the stories I knew
in which people went wrong
but the nervous system

was right all along


The island blistered at our feet.
At first we mispronounced each others’ names.
All the leaves of the tree were scribbled with words.
There was a language there but no-one to speak it.
Sometimes each of us was alone.
At noon on the beach our shadows left us.
The net we twisted from memory kept on breaking.
The damaged canoe lay on the beach like a dead animal.
You started keeping a journal on a coconut shell.


When I close my eyes
other films

have been there all along –

a market shot:
bins of turnips, feet
of dead chickens
close-up: a black old woman
buying voodoo medicines

a figure of terrible faith
and I know her needs

Another film:

an empty room stacked with old films

I am kneeling on the floor
it is getting dark

they want to close the building

and I still haven’t found you

Scanning reel after reel
tundras in negative
the Bowery

all those scenes

but the light is failing

and you are missing

from the footage of the march
the railway disaster
the snowbound village

even the shots of the island
miss you

yet you were there


To record
in order to see

if you know how the story ends

why tell it

To record
in order to forget

the surface is always lucid
my shadows are under the skin

To record
in order to control

the eye of the camera
doesn’t weep tears of blood

To record
for that is what one does

climbing your stairs, over and over
I memorized the bare walls

This is my way of coming back

If you’ve been reading 2x3x7 this week, you know that I practically worship Godard. So when we first came up with this theme, this Adrienne Rich poem was one of the first pieces I thought of, mostly because it’s about a film that I love and have blogged about elsewhere.

The poem itself I’ll admit to having some reservations about. I love parts 1, 3 and 6, which for me, resonate strongly with the film, and I think part 5 is stunning though I’m less sure of its connection to the film. Mostly though, I’m just not sure if the poem works for a reader who hasn’t watched the film, so if you fall into that category I’d love to know what you think.

That said, for those who have watched the film (and if you haven’t you really, really must – here’s the trailer to entice you)  I think Rich does a splendid job of evoking the spirit of the film – its feel of whimsy, of endless reinvention, its carefully constructed haphazardness, its sense of things constantly shifting, of the mind constantly searching for the right words, the right story, the right image, all joined to an idea of beauty, a living, aching beauty that exists in the present without caring for the past or for consequences. “The story / of Pierrot Le Fou / who trusted / not a woman / but love itself” as Rich so eloquently puts it.


P.S. I can’t resist posting a few more clips from the film – here’s the bit where they reenact the Vietnam War and here’s the ‘fate line’ song that I blog about in my post on the film.


Entry filed under: Adrienne Rich, English, Falstaff, Poems about Movies.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. anu  |  July 20, 2007 at 8:50 am

    Oh, the first part of the poem is awesome – loved it! (Need I mention I haven’t watched the film)

  • 2. Falstaff  |  July 21, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    anu: Glad you liked the poem. But you really MUST watch the film.


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