Jacob and the Black Seraphim


Just hours before he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to his death in Drancy, Max Jacob wrote « The Spring ». Here is my tentative translation:

“In front of this golden dust of the sun, on the horizon of the plain, in front of this silver dust of the willows around the marshes, in front of this buzzing of different insects, cut by the jack dominated by the horror of an airplane, in front of this dust of sporadic flowers, the crow folds up its voluptuous velvet and silk wings, gathers, greets deeply and looking in its chest for the pelican cry which was that of the dying Christ. And I, letting my head roll in tears, crying with joy in my elbow, as a gnome and a crippled old man, I cry out: ‘My God, I am a pantheist and you are unspeakable’. »

The dust may be a testimony to the unity of the world. The voluptuousness of the velvet incites contemplation. The cry of the pelican and the cry of Christ are drowned in terror. It is war. Max Jacob, alias Leon David, alias Morven the Gaelic, converted to Christianity, and wearing the Jewish star, crippled and pantheistic, gave himself over to tears and joy.

In the Middle Ages the pelican was a symbol of Christian sacrifice. Many writers and poets have borrowed and exhausted this metaphor.

Lautréamont: « When the savage pelican resolves to give his breast to be devoured by his young, having as his witness only the one who knew how to create such love, in order to shame men, even though the sacrifice is great, this act is understandable » (Songs of Maldororor, 1869).

Léon Bloy: « Each one of us is saved by the redeeming pelican who can save even notaries! But he saves you very-particularly, because the heart of Jesus needed a painter and no painter came forward. By dint of love and faith, you have been judged worthy to glimpse the red pelican, the pelican that bleeds for his little ones » (Diary, 1906).

Wikipedia says, more technically: « The pelican is usually silent, but in nesting colonies, chicks will throw plaintive growls to ask for food. Adults may emit hoarse cries during courtship. »

The nailed Christ, hanging by his outstretched arms, his suffocating chest, close to asphyxiation, must not have shouted very loudly. Was his moan « plaintive » or « hoarse »?

Ornithology can hardly help here.

The poet’s images, their rhizomes, proliferate and interfere, generation after generation, like memories and prophecies.

Alfred de Musset:

« The most desperate are the most beautiful songs,

And I know some immortals who are pure sobs.

When the pelican, tired of a long journey,

In the fog of the evening returns to his reeds,

His hungry little ones run ashore,

As they watched him fall over the water in the distance…

Already, believing to seize and share their prey,

They run to their father with cries of joy,

Shaking their beaks on their hideous goiter.

He, taking slow steps over a high rock,

From its wing hanging down, sheltering its brood,

A melancholy fisherman, he looks up to the heavens.

Blood flows in long streams from his open chest;

In vain he has of the seas searched the depths;

The ocean was empty and the beach deserted;

For all food he brings his heart.

Dark and silent, lying on the stone,

Sharing his fatherly insides with his sons,

In his sublime love he cradles his pain;

And, watching his bloody teat flow,

On his feast of death he collapses and staggers,

Drunk with lust, tenderness and horror.

But sometimes, in the midst of the divine sacrifice,

Tired of dying in too much agony,

He’s afraid his children will leave him alive;

So he rises up, opens his wing to the wind,

And, hitting his heart with a wild cry,

He pushes into the night such a funeral farewell,

That the birds of the sea desert the shore,

And that the retarded traveler on the beach,

Feeling the passing of death, commends himself to God. »

(The muse)

The pelican offers his flesh for its brood in a kind of a Christic, final sacrifice and utters a « wild cry ».

Musset is a poet, and by anticipation, he foresees the sure end of poets, who are also some sort of pelicans:

« Poet, this is how the great poets do it…

They let those who live for a time cheer themselves up;

But the human feasts they serve at their feasts…

Most of them look like pelicans. »

The poet Jacob the Gaelic also had a foreboding of the end, which was near.

Those who seized him were not black seraphim.