The Egyptian Spirit enumerates its uncommitted sins before Osiris in order to prove that it deserves eternal blessedness; but the poet has no need to exculpate himself before any judge.
I have dazzled even prigs and unbelievers without abusing the marvels inherent in my art.
I have scorned metre, rhyme; I have polished words. ‘Music be gone!’ A plague on discourse!
I have discarded clarity as worthless. Working in darkness, I have discovered lightning. I have disconcerted. I have sounded the mute, confronted monsters and miracles, burned everything that exasperates the impoverished and the good soul.
Man’s dreams, his deliriums, have reached their culmination in my poems. It has not been for me to make them state their name; proteiform, they have several directions. I have respected their disorder. I have given free course to their flight. My words testify to their perpetual metamorphosis.
I have exalted the feelings that one tests blindly and would destroy in the desire to identify. Thanks to me everyone now opens his eyes to them. He experiences them in a new intimacy. His soul is more at ease when that which he had held too tightly escapes him.
I have not imitated those who acquiesce in the desires of the masses or the powerful. I have established for myself my rules, my principles and my tastes, and I have overstated their difference, comparing myself in this to great poets and, through them, to all men. I have thought there was neither a better nor a more expedient way to point out my sincerity and my final dependence.
I have proposed to be inimitable. I have demonstrated my mastery; I have not hidden my boldness. I have rejected the commonly accepted disciplines. I have invented others for my own use. If anyone can imitate me (in being inimitable) it is simply my reward.
I never have had the burden of proof. Poetry is not a business: impatience and pride guard its cradle. I have avoided platitudes and obviousness. One forces locks, not images. I never have needed to proclaim myself magus and prophet.
I never have feigned the indifference, the good sense and the wisdom of nations. I have noted with satisfaction that my transports have separated me from the flock of Panurge.
Work? Pain? Unknown. I have recalled that for water it was an easy, unquestionable course from rain to the spring. I have presented myself as a spring, producing pure water naturally. Verses rushed forth from the very first.
With every word, my verses remind one that they are a negation of prose. (‘It is as oracle that I speak.’) Each vain effort to reduce their enigma, to avoid their trap, demands a new reading. One cannot penetrate their secret. In wanting it so desperately, one renders their beauty all the more unfathomable.
Poetry escapes the banality, the servility and the futility of prose, that which is inappreciable. I have held all the dramas of love in a soap bubble. My verses immediately astound. Everything about them distinguishes them from ordinary language, and the spirit marvels that the ambiguous word, the long and uneasy syllable, leads it, trembling, into the woods.
To someone else belongs the care of feeding the soul with staple foods, which, though indispensable to his stagnant mediocrity, are not rare. I have wanted to force on him strange and luxurious dishes from the antipodes or the abyss.
I have seen neither majesty in a king nor ministry in a priest. I have attracted attention to the mockery of the sceptre, the slime of the sandal. I have attacked things broadside.
I have not observed the same disrespect in the workshop of the artisan. But I have praised neither his labours nor his works. I have picked up a wood shaving to praise the curve, the colour and the quality. Dialectic calls for such priorities.
Imagination is neither right nor wrong. One does not invent in a void. I have resorted to chance and to magic potions. I have disdained reason and experience. I have changed, if only to have solicited from them their commanding way, the meanings of words. Words leave me, nevertheless, richer than they found me. They have enhanced my powers by confrontations are retained in the mind.
I have been rash enough to boast to boast of my audacity and to recommend it as a principle. My imprudences have always been happy; I admit it with pride. I have relied, above all, on the gifts of fate, always challenging them to accentuate the power of my imagination and the generosity of my heart. I have accepted them with pride, rejoicing once more that they should be mine.
I have expressed that which was considered, before me, to be inexpressible.
I have divulged that which was reputed to be unknowable. I have revered the least fashionable science, knowing the impossible, every complex thing that a person considers from birth to death. But, meeting it in my verses one is struck by evidence that unchains in him the laughter of hashish.
I have a pure heart. I have scandalised all the imbeciles, except those who sleep the sleep of the just.
Those who like my verses should say them when they are alone and their door opens in the night. Those who like my verses, and who love, no longer have any need of saying them.
I have given to each truth its well.
This path has freely chosen me. The idea of success or failure is at the end of my foot.
First published in BIEF/ Jonction Surrealiste #7, June 1959.
(from OVO 3 1987)