Francis Ponge (1899-1988) was a French essayist and poetwith training in the law and philosophywho forged his own kind of prose poetry (sometimes called, by him, proèmes). Fortunately for us, they overcome his own warning that "objects and poems are irreconcilable."*

His first book, Le parti pris des choses (The Nature of Things), published in 1942 when Ponge was 43, contained these two phenomenological studies of "things" among some thirty others with titles such as "The Oyster," "Bread," "Rain," and "Moss." As Lee Fahnestock writes in the Introduction to her translation of The Nature of Things, his prose poems are


marked by the wit and beauty of the poet's precise observations, which all but conceal the poetic transformations at work just below the surface. For, drawing on the creative ambiguity of language, he was able to say several things on several levels at once, while unobtrusively demonstrating the particular nature of words and things. Over and over, an object and singular trait rise together, gathering complexity as they follow a short narrative cyclea defnition-description in metaphorto fuse with the poem on the page, where all the elements close on the same dying note. (p. 9)


This is as eloquent a description of prose poetryand below are as perfect examples of the formas we have found.





Midway between cage and cachot, or cell, the French has cageot, a simple little open-slatted crate devoted to the transport of fruit that is sure to sicken at the slightest hint of suffocation. Devised in such a way that after use it can easily be broken down, it never serves twice. Thus its life-span is shorter even than that of the perishables it encloses.
So, at the corners of every street leading to the market, it gleams with the unassuming lustre of slivered pine. Still brand new and somewhat aghast at the awkward situation, dumped irretrievably on the public thoroughfare, this object is most appealing, on the whole — yet one whose fate doesn't warrant our overlong attention.





A few days after childbirth, the woman's beauty is transformed.
Her face, often bent over her chest, grows slightly longer.
Her eyes, attentively peering down at a nearby object, occasionally look up, faintly distracted. Their gaze is filled with confidence, but seeking continuation. Her arms and hands bend together in a crescent, mutually sustaining. Her legs, grown thin and weakened, are gladly seated, knees drawn up high. The distended belly, livid, still very tender; the abdomen readjusts to rest, to nights under covers.
...But soon up and about, the tall body maneuvers through the bunting hung out conveniently high and low, which squares of wash, which from time to time are grasped by a free hand, are crinkled, tested knowledgeably, then folded or hung out again depending on the verdict.




"The Crate" and "The Young Mother" © Lee Fahnestock. Both are reprinted by permission of Lee Fahnestock. They appear in The Nature of Things by Francis Ponge, translated by Lee Fahnestock (New York: Red Dust, Inc, 1995, 2000). The translations are from Le parti pris des choses, by Francis Ponge (Paris: NRF Poésie, Éditions Gallimard, 1942). [Please visit to purchase this and other books of prose poems by Ponge and others.]

*Ponge, Francis, "Banks of the Loire," Mute Objects of Expression. Translated by Lee Fahnestock. (New York: Archipelago Books, 2008), 4.



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