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Winter Editions brings Robert Desnos’s “Night of Loveless Nights” back into print

Robert Desnos’s “The Night of Loveless Nights” was originally published in 1930. The poem was first published in English in 1973, in a translation by the poet Lewis Warsh in issue #10 of the little magazine The Ant’s Forefoot. A beautiful, angry, raw poem from one of the greatest Surrealist poets, the piece has sadly been out of print for decades. Winter Editions’ publication of The Night of Loveless Nights now brings this foundational poetic work, and Warsh’s masterful translation, back into print. Air/Light is thrilled and honored to present excerpts.

Robert Desnos (1900–1945) was introduced to Paris Dada and André Breton through poet Benjamin Péret in 1919, and became an active member of the Surrealist group, known in particular for automatic writing. Desnos’s circle included leaders of the literary vanguard Louis Aragon and Paul Éluard, as well as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Antonin Artaud, and John Dos Passos. He was arrested by the Gestapo in late February 1944, deported to Auschwitz, then Buchenwald, and finally to Terezín where he died of typhoid.

Lewis Warsh (1944–2020) was a writer, editor, publisher, educator, visual artist, and the author of over thirty volumes of poetry, fiction, and autobiography. He was co-founder, with Bernadette Mayer, of United Artists Magazine and Books; and with Anne Waldman, of Angel Hair Books and Magazine. A lifelong teacher, he was founding director of Long Island University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing (2007–2013). His posthumous collection of poetry, Elixir, was published by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2022.

from Night of Loveless Nights by Robert Desnos

There are terrible hands
Hand black from the ink of a sad schoolboy
Hand red on the wall of the room of crime
Hand pale as death
Hands which hold a knife or a revolver
Hands opened
Hands closed
Wretched hands grasping a pen holder
O my hand you too you too
My hand with your lines and yet if it is so
Why do you stain your mysterious lines
Why? more handcuffs more mutilation more more
Write write for it is a letter that you write to her & this impure 
    way is a way of touching her
Hands that stretch hands that soften
Is there a sincere hand among them
Ah I no longer dare to shake hands
Lying hands loose hands hands that I mangle
Hands clasped in the prayer of one who trembles when I look 
    him in the eye
Is there still a hand I am able to shake with confidence
Hands on the lover’s mouth
Hands on the heart without love
Hands cut by false love
Hands founded on love
Hands closed to love
Hands dead to love
Hands straining for love
Hands rising for love
Hands held for love
Hands high on love
Hands tender towards love
Hands open with love
Hands happy from love
Horrible hands stained for love only
Hands tied by eternal love
Hands washed by loves’ relentless waves
Hand to hand it is love which prowls
Hands full again for love
Hands armed it is true love
Hands of the master hands of the lover
Hands warm from love
Hands open to love
Hand of justice hand of love
Hand strong from love!



Robert Desnos
Portrait of Lewis Warsh by Joe Brainard, used by permission of the Estate of Joe Brainard.


Wild dog rose withers among grass sheds
O yellow leaves
All crackle in this room
Like grass snapping underfoot in a dark alley.
Great invisible wings immobilize my arms and the echoing
    of a distant sea reaches me.
The light rolls until the edge of dawn froths and dawn does
    not appear
Nothing appears.
Ground glass, decaying woodwork, endless dreams, withering 
A totally white hand rises through the shadows of my forehead
And I will listen to the improbable day
To fly and knock myself against the walls and the furniture,
    a bird of paradise, a bird which I have inadvertently
    locked away
Only closing my eyes.

If ever dawn to great cries turns the bathing houses blue
The dawn, soap soaked in the water of black rivers,
Dawn will not sparkle on this gray night
Nor on the trembling fingers nor on the empty glasses.
It is the night without frontier and fir trees
Who grinds at the chain of the anchor at the port
Night of nights without love strangled from the dream
Night of blood night of fire night of war without truce
Night of a lost path among the stairs
And of the feet falling too heavily onto the landing
Night of luxury night of the fall into the abyss
Night of the chains ringing in the room of the criminals
Night of naked ghosts gliding in the beds
Night of waking when the sleepers are weak.
To feel the blood pass into their thin chests
And to shower their teeth with the spittle of the heart
In the shadow they caress a hairy vampire
And are unable to distinguish of the greedy monster

Is not their own heart thrashing in their soiled sides.
Night of indistinct echoes and wet charcoal
Night of fires sparkling in the mirrors
Night of the blind looking for some sous in the drawers
Night of nights without love, where the bedsheets slip away,
Where the police whistle on the boulevards
O night!   cruel night where the rustling of the robes
Where the whispering of the voices at the bedside of the sick,
Night closed forever by a steel bolt
Night O lonely night without star or anchor!

In your eyes, in your heart and in the sky also
I see suddenly the stars of the impressive universe,
The crack growing narrow and luminous
As if some wild animal with sluggish claws
Had embraced the night and mangled it
(But the gleam will be pale and the tide slow)
From nerves running in the fragile crystal
Cracks miming the agile grass snakes
Who run and become one with the light
Pale from a strange dawn. Thus when
The tired player turns the symbolic cards
To see the cruel morning light from the porches
Many a thought and many a desire almost forgotten
Many a withered fan falls on the landings.

The Editors of Air/Light.

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