Arrondissements by Daryl Hine
Daryl Hine, a Canadian poet who has travelled widely, frequently records in his verse the quality of this travelling and the characteristics of the places he has visited. None of these places has he described more precisely and more poignantly than Paris, where he lived for several years as a young man. Arrondissements is the most complete of his comments on the French capital. At once a dream-promenade, an erotic tale, and a meditation on beauty’s many forms, this brilliant suite of poems evokes a great city, quartier by quartier, and once again demonstrates the mastery of the poet who devised it.
‘No mere tour de force, like so many of my productions, though rhymed and metred to a fare-thee-well, this, my Desiderium Lutetiae (or Nostalgie de la Boue) is all that remains of a much longer but less excursive prose memoir, thank goodness unpublished, entitled A Still Salt Pool. There, with queer but not quite queer-enough aesthetic results, I altered not only my person but my sex, in the manner of Henry James. More impersonal but hardly asexual, the present dizzy and I hope dizzying verse sucks up, with all the omnivorousness of a vacuum, the detritus of Paris by day and night, the not very naughty and scarcely gay capital where I did my first and most arduous graduate work, in what at the time looked like life. Of all the names of the dear and deplorable living and dead that might have been dropped here, none is cited, with the partial pseudonymic exception of Folly, the presiding deity of those years between 1958 and 1962, years that always seem in retrospect so much longer than they were at the time, when they simply seemed a lifetime. In the place of David and Joe and Philippe and John and Patrick and Sandy, just for starters, whirl the districts or arrondissements of Paris, those Dantesque circles in three of which (the third, sixth and seventh) I dwelt, while visiting and occasionally hanging out in others. An indefatigable and indigent pedestrian, there was a spring in my step in those days. Now the footfall of Autumn dogs my heels, while to my case-hardened ear these impetuous stanzas do not walk, they run. It is no accident that souvenir has had to be imported into our language, as a memento that we have nothing in English more fragrant than ‘reminder’, with its discouraging echo of ‘remainder’, themselves both Latin memories, unless it be the rather rueful agenbite of inwit. I wrote the following lines over a decade ago. A tale like that implicit here is encoded in no one night, no, nor in a thousand and one mornings. Borrowings or outright pillage from various French poets will be too obvious to those more familiar than I with the Bibliothèque Nationale. Yet the only real and best reason for the re-edition of Arrondissements seems to me the pictures -- each worth a thousand words, furnished by my fellow sojourners in the City of Light. Of these the poet and pornographer John Glassco would be most approving of such ‘‘Pale skin books with red-faced prefaces.’’ ’
1990—Alcuin Award for Excellence in Book Design,
Born in 1936, and raised in New Westminster, British Columbia, Daryl Hine studied classics and philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature at the University of Chicago. He was the editor of Poetry magazine from 1968 to 1978, and taught at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. As a poet, Hine was known for his learned wit, formal mastery, and cosmopolitan sensibility. He published eighteen volumes of poetry, several works of prose and verse drama, and five books of translations from ancient Greek and Latin poets. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1980, and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1986, among other awards. In 2010 he was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in Poetry. Hine died in 2012 in Evanston, Illinois, at the age of 76.