Three Epithalamia

Georges Perec

Epithalamium for Sophie Binet and Michel Dominault

On this beautiful Saturday in May
Sophie has married Michel
and Michel has married Sophie

They have married
and they are now together
like Aucassin and Nicolette
and like nut cake and honey
like hand and piano
      table and chair
      soup and ladle
      tench and hook
      science and doubt
      pen and drawing
      dove and millet
      hospital and silence
      candle and bed warmer
      camomile tea and madeleine
and even couscous and chick peas

It’s a delectable morning
the sun lights up the countryside
bees are gathering honey
a butterfly delicately alights by a mimosa
sheep are bleating
in the distance bells are ringing
everything is calm and peaceful

At the very end of the little wood the vast planet begins
its lakes its oceans its steppes
its hills its plains its oases
its sand dunes
its palaces its museums its islands its ports of call
its lovely automobiles glistening in the rain
its white-bonneted Salvationists singing carols on Christmas Eve
its bowlered worthies in conference at the tabac on Place Saint
its mustachio’d sea captains exuding patchouli and lilac
its tennis champions hugging at the end of a match
its Indians with their calumet seated by a sandalwood totem pole
its mountain climbers attacking Popocatapetl
its eager canoeists paddling down the Mississippi
its Anabaptists mischievously nodding their heads as they discuss
    the Bible
its little Balinese women dancing on cocoa plantations
its philosophers in peaked caps arguing about Condillac’s ideas
    in outmoded tea rooms
its pin-up girls in bathing suits astride docile elephants
its impassive Londoners bidding a no-trump little slam

But here the sky is blue
Let’s forget the weight of the world
a bird is singing at the very top of the house
cats and dogs drowse by the fireplace
where a huge log is slowly burning up
You hear the ticking of the clock

This little poem
where only simple words have been used
      words like daisy and broomstick
      like lady-bird and cream sauce
      like croissant and nonchalance
and not words like palimpsest, pitchblende, cumulonimbus,
      decalcomania, stethoscope, machicolation, or
has been specially composed
on the occasion of these nuptials

Let us wish Sophie and Michel
years and years of rejoicing

like the thousand years gone by
      in which Philemon and Baucis
each May are born into the world
      she as linden, he as oak


Lines read at the wedding of Alix-Cléo Blanchette and Jacques Roubaud

Alix-Cléo has married Jacques
and Jacques has married Alix-Cléo
This is a fortunate coincidence

and so today
they are both allied and bound together
in the manner of bird and branch
of Aucassin and Nicolette
of table and chair
of science and doubt
of desert and oasis
of linden and oak
of ink and story
of day and night
of oblivion and vestige
of bee and maple

It’s a lovely June day
the sun is shining above Ile de la Cité
on their transistor radios booksellers at their stalls are listening
   to Heinrich Biber’s Rosary Sonatas
harassed tourists climb the steps of Sacré-Coeur
on rue de la Huchette blue-jeaned Dutchmen are playing
   banjos and bagpipes

The whole world stretches out around us
its unfathomable oceans
its lakes, its steppes, its streams,
its hills and permafrost
its sand dunes, its hidden treasures, its islands, its ports of call
its “black gold” and “white coal”
its bauxites and rare terrains
its basilicas, its haunted castles, its ruined keeps
its Salvationists in pastel-pink raincoats singing carols on
Christmas Eve
its bespectacled notaries reading their evening paper by the
    light of oil lamps
its retired colonels in conference at the  on Rue Saint-    Louis-en-l’Ile
its disbanding revellers emerging from outmoded nightclubs
its slant-eyed Cossacks paddling down the Yenisei in birch-    bark canoes
its day-trippers in berets attacking the Ballon d’Alsace
its austere Jansenists reciting the Old Testament
its circus ballerinas standing on their obedient chargers
its D. Litt.’s arguing about Judeo-Christian expression in the
    discourse of Höldits obese Irishwomen buying cans of beer and salted pickles
    in a Bronx delicatessen
Here the sky is blue or soon will be
Let’s forget the age’s stridencies
   tornadoes and fog
Let’s listen to the birds singing
the cats purring in the library alongside Bescherelle’s
quiet daily sounds
the heart beating 

These occasional lines
which do not concern
either purple balustrades
or sunken coral water-walled
or concupiscent curds
or lady-birds
or subterranean locusts
or the Constitution of Eighteen Forty-Eight
have been written for the inauguration of this betrothal Let us wish Alix-Cléo and Jacques
years of rejoicing and happiness
Let us salute them
and to the east
          may the black jet of extreme youth salute them
and to the south
          may the turquoise blue of adulthood salute them
and to the west
          may the yellow abalone of nothingness salute them
              that cannot be conceived of or spoken
and to the north
           may the white shell of the Resurrection salute them and may the Southern Cross salute them
and may the evening star salute them
and every constellation
and every nebula
and may they at break of dawn
when the surround whitens
journey full circle around the edge of earth and heaven


Wedding of Kmar Bendana
and Noureddine Mechri

My lady of rare amber
Armada moored in the roads of Madeira
Ebony tree
Marble meander

Year after year finding me ready to surrender


Unimaginable laughter of Dido or Aeneas
Dune smell
Golden cloud
Rut flooded with a last shower

Saying nothing
Knotting a calico quilt

Queen in king made one


Board my forsaken drake
Nomad of my shadow world

Give me my name
My savior
My soul


Give me that murmuring
the echo route
where this speaking begins
My fired heart disturbs black ash
Rough whisper of a golden horn
Chrome or mercury illusion

An unknown rending of sweetness
Mine, like my own trembling


My love my golden number
beautiful sweeper of my mist
beautiful burglar of my clouds
knot at the confines of my dwelling
a blindfold embroidered with dawn

Black ink
determines this still slender code
the world’s unscathed memory
A rock, menhir, warehouse
Dormant chemistry of a gigantic oil rig
Cherokee Indian, Chinese orchid

A cedarwood chest of drawers,
A smell of beeswax, bark, caraway


Admire in my mirror
My bride wreathed in dawn
My Queen, my Diana, my Golden Bream,
A sprig of arum diffuses its scent
Laughing over nothings
over a crumb,
over a loosened ribbon
over a swim at the beach
over someone singing to the beat of a derbouka

Loving enough to die


Ancient spell
Rooted in the very heart of this modern world


like sweetwater
like a hoop, a round,
a piece of chalk
a marketplace in Manchuria
a tile in the corridor
fragrance of coriander
a cadence on an accordion


My friend my own heart
Give me an iron memory
of this world curved like a locust
An armored memory

Memory of my own Rue du Caire
Memory of the buccaneer
of Cerberus’s deck hand
at the edge of a carbon sea


Happiness consecrated to my noontime concord
to the marble of my dwelling
to the murmurings of my mouth
Hot shadow of my diadem
A radio crackles a love ballad
a fly drones
Babouche in a corner of my room
a dog barks

Sunday, on Rue du Maroc
          — translated from the French
                   by Harry Mathews

    Translator’s note: These three “nuptial songs” date from1980 and 1981; they first appeared as pamphlet 19 in the seriespublished as La Bibliotheque oulipienne. I found it impossible to keep in translation the attractive procedure the author followed in writing them, limiting himself to the letters in the names of bride and groom.
    Where three quoted phrases appear in the second poem, I have substituted Wallace Stevens for Stephane Mallarme.

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