The Art and Genius of Anne Hébert: Essays on Her Works : Night and the Day Are One

By Janis L. Pallister | Go to book overview

Thanatos and Logos in the
Poetry of Anne Hébert

JANIS L. PALLISTER

Almost as profoundly dialogic and as intensely narrative as Dante's Divine Comedy, Anne Hébert's Le Tombeau des rois (Poèmes)—like the Divine Comedy—raises enormously complex questions of speaker, or persona. Furthermore, like the Inferno's relationship to the Paradiso, the Tombeau, when viewed together with other Hébertian works (especially with Le Mystère de la parole), poses problems regarding the connection between Eros-Thanatos and the Logos, or the "Verbe." In this essay I will examine some of these questions and problems and offer tentative responses to them.

In Le Tombeau des rois one can surmise that a principal persona, now drowned (Hébert 1960, 24)—like many characters in Hébert's short stories, plays, dramas, and novels—now murdered (51), moves through the "Thanatos" of night (13, 23, 23) attempting unsuccessfully to decipher her surroundings (24), but instead succeeding principally in establishing an epistemology of loss: Thanatos, or night, erases her traces or tracks (13). Irretrievable childhood is haunted by the raucous cry of imaginary birds, "châtiés par le vent" (56). (The image owes a certain debt to François Villon.) The river and the keys are lost (23; 32); odors disappear (23); and sound, crucial to the poet, has become a fundamental issue. The bridge between the bird's song—that is, the Logos—and the persona is said to be the "interior voice" of the night and of death (250). (The bird is dead, though it "sings.") In the poem "Les Petites Villes," a poem concerning the archaeology of childhood, the houses have gone mute like shells, and the streets "ring with silence" and loneliness. (The synesthesia of the image, though perhaps somewhat trite, is nonetheless significant and even striking.) Images of the tools of suicide, representing loss of hope as well as death itself, constitute another important cluster in the collection. For example, in "Inventaire" there are sharp knives for the suicidal; and in "Vieille image" the cord and the ebony beam in the attic respond to oppressive rage (32).

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