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December: Pauline's Punch

December is usually a month when friends and family gather to celebrate the holidays, and a punch is a perfect drink for such social occasions. But December 2020 is not a typical December, and gatherings are strongly discouraged on account of the pandemic that has disrupted normal life for the last nine months. So this is a "virtual" cocktail to match the virtual social life we have all been reduced to. You can figure out how to make this punch in quantities for just one or two people, or you can wait until parties are an option again, and have a go when normal life resumes.


In any event, the following recipe comes from the play Alice & Gertrude, Natalie & Renée et ce cher Ernest (les éditions de la pleine lune, 1984) by French-Canadian author Jovette Marchessault 


How to make Pauline's Punch


a magnum of champagne (extra dry)

a bottle of Irish whisky

a bottle of French cognac

13 drops of maraschino liqueur

13 drops of Apollinaris spring water

one pineapple

one orange ("just one")

P's punch 2.JPG

"Hiver" (Winter) by Renée Vivien (Evocations, 1903)



Les pampres du printemps et le vin de l'automne

Ont perdu le parfum que jadis me fut cher;

Je veux l'haleine chaste et le silence amer,

Les brumes et la glace et l'ombre de l'hiver.


Je ne tresserai plus l'irréelle anémone,

Je n'écouterai plus le rythme monotone

Des oiseaux dans les bois que l'octobre couronne

D'opales, de rubis et de l'or souverain.


Mais je m'inspirerai du tragique refrain

Du vent qui jette au ciel ses révoltes d'airain,

Qui rôde en sanglottant près de l'âtre serein,

Comme Dante implorant la paix du monastère.


O neiges où la soif du blanc se désaltère!

Toute virginité recèle le mystère,

La crainte, et l'infini du rêve solitaire.


J'écarterai les fruits des jardins de l'été,

Car l'incomplète ivresse au regard hébété

Ne verse point l'oubli comme le pur Léthé,


Car la neige où la soif du blanc se désaltère

Seule éteindra l'ardeur de mon anxiété...

Dans le noble infini du rêve solitaire,

J'oublierai la ferveur des amours de l'été...

English translation

The swags of spring and the wine of autumn

Have lost the scent that was dear to me;

I want the chaste breath and the bitter silence,

The fog and the ice and the shade of winter.


I shall no longer braid the unreal anemone,

I shall no longer listen to the monotonous rythym

Of the birds in the woods that October crowns 

With opals, with rubies, and with sovereign gold.


But I shall be inspired by the tragic refrain

Of the wind that throws to the sky its revolts of brass,

That prowls while sobbing round the serene hearth

Like Dante begging for the peace of the monastery.


O snows where the thirst for blank white is sated!

All virginity contains the mystery,

The fear, and the infinite of the solitary dream.


I shall push aside the fruits from summer gardens,

For incomplete inebriation with its dazed look

Does not pour out forgetfulness like the pure Lethe,


For the snow where the thirst for blank white is sated

Alone will extinguish the burning of my anxiety...

In the noble infinity of the solitary dream,

I shall forget the fervor of summer loves...

A few things to think about in this poem (by Melanie Hawthorne)

Renée Vivien is not a poet who writes much about specific times of year. Times of day, yes (dawn, evening, the in-between times, night), but seasons, no. She is not the traditional love poet who welcomes the arrival of spring when shepherds go a-courting with a hey nonny no, the world comes alive, and "the pretty birds do sing/ Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo." Nor is she a poet of autumn melancholy, like Keats (though she clearly read him and was familiar with his work, as she references him explicitly, for example in the poem "I've been a ranger" in Cendres et poussières of 1902). So this poem Hiver (from Evocations, 1903), is somewhat exceptional in being about a specific season. On the other hand, as we shall see, it is really as much about an inner landscape as an outer one, like much of the rest of her poetry.


The poem has a somewhat unusual construction (not to mention the rhyme scheme), consisting of six verses, some of three lines, and some of four, but not in a regular pattern (4,4,4,3,3,4). The first verse sets out the theme in regular alexandrine lines: the poet is rejecting spring and summer (both represented by aspects of vines), which she used to like, in favor of a winter landscape. What she wants ('je veux") comes in the form of a list of mostly nouns connected by the conjunction "and," but this wish-list is a long way from the saccharine celebration of the joys of winter, the "few of my favorite things" genre that cheers one up when the days are short and the nights long. This is a grinch list, an accumulation of desolations: bitter silence and fog and ice and darkness. We are not going for a jolly sleigh ride here, but on a journey around the poet's own psyche.


The second verse expands upon what the poet is turning her back on: no more braiding anemones (a variation on the daisy chain? A poem by Alphonse de Lamartine places a couple of lovers braiding ferns in a field strewn with anemones, perhaps Vivien was recalling this); no more listening to birds, their song is now monotonous, even if autumn has gilded the sight of the woods. Instead (third verse), she will take her inspiration from the wind, which, personified here, prowls around the home fire sobbing and throwing its "révoltes d'airain" (literally, its revolts of brass) skywards. The reference to Dante reminds the reader of one more poetic influence that Vivien claimed.


Having told us what she rejects, the poet tells the reader in the second half of the poem what she is seeking. This is where we get the two 3-line verses, each dilating on an aspect of the landscape, before the final summing up, a 4-line verse that repeats lines from earlier (something Baudelaire often did), but with variations. The first tercet is an invocation to "snows" (in the plural), that slake the thirst for "du blanc." "Blanc" can be translated as white or whiteness, but it is also the word that gives us "blank" in English, a white space that signals an absence, a nothing. What the poet wants, then, is not just the sight of white snow, but a white-out, a nothingness, the landscape of a solitary dream that is a little scary because it is infinite. White is the color of virginity, or purity, but it is also the color of a loss of self, a different sort of purification.


The second tercet returns to what the poet rejects, fruits of summer, and tells us why in terms that pick up on the images used in the first verse to represent spring and autumn. There she mentioned the "pampres" (the twists of vines used as decoration) and the autumn wine (made from the mature grapes, the fruits of summer). The kind of inebriation that comes from wine, then, is not good enough, it is only partial (incomplete). It leaves you dazed, but doesn't bring total forgetfulness, unlike the waters of the mythical river Lethe, which supposedly washes away all memory from the dead who are crossing over into the underworld. This observation leads into the final verse by ending on a comma rather than a period.


Here we learn that only the whiteness/blankness of snow (now singular) will do, only the infinite of the solitary dream will suffice to erase the poet's anxiety. To forget the "fervor of summer loves," alcohol will not be enough; only the blank space of a white out will be enough to obliterate all memory of those fruits of summer.


Two of the four lines in the final verse end in suspension points that indicate an incomplete thought. The poem even ends this way, the final sentence left unfinished. There is something the poem is leaving unsaid, something about finality itself. Because the kind of forgetting the poet seeks can only be had from the waters of Lethe, from crossing over to the underworld itself, i.e., dying. Alcohol provides only a partial and temporary relief, and to achieve the kind of blankness the poet seeks it is necessary to obliterate the self altogether. The cold of winter is not just the outer cold of the environment, but the cold of death that the poet welcomes. This snapshot of an inner landscape, the winter of the mind depicted here, offers insight into the troubled state of mind of Renée Vivien, who often had recourse to the temporary relief of alcohol, along with the outlets provided by writing poetry, in order to cope.

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