Is poetry a lie?

Neither “lie” nor “truth” is the proper term to define Art or Poetry. Fiction is not a lie. Though it is not a true story, a fable is a true fable. Truth is not dependent upon reality. Reality however is always true, but the lie often trumps it. No one has ever been asked to believe that the dawn has rosy fingers. Yet to have said so has made the dawn more beautiful in the eyes of many people who have been unable to qualify such a statement. In art as in poetry, it is not a question of things being true—only that they are appropriate [juste]. It is this appropriateness [justesse] that makes them acceptable to the mind which, at any rate, needs to be shown things other than as they are and for which things stand out all the more when one, justifiably [avec justesses], describes them other than as they are. What stands out, what draws the attention is not the obvious. The mind easily grasps the obvious aspects of things, instead it is the unapparent that needs to be brought to light. For certain people reality quickly appears as a total con, a rather ingenious swindle, they clearly see that it is abundantly garnished with excellent and tasty treats which, however, they can neither reach nor taste. If they have nothing, they are consumed by desire; if they have everything, they don’t know what to do. For them nothing is simply available or ready for consumption. Between the world and such people there is a kind of refracting glass. They only need to place their hand on it for the object that they desire to appear elsewhere. Whereas all that they do succeed in acquiring turns to lead. Then, they begin to imagine and to enjoy fantasies ceaselessly sized and resized to their ever more convenient limits. On the other hand, because it is nothing more than the need and means to express oneself, art is a truth—assuming that it does not attempt to present itself as something other than it is—as a goal and not a means—if it does not try to fool us or to pull the wool over our eyes.

It is a question of knowing whether these things, which by an imperious need have been especially conceived and expressed, please you, touch you, move you or not. All the rest is on another plane—the one where putting into play entirely different kinds of forces and ruses has, for better or worse, immediate consequences that are inarguably less gratuitous. Nevertheless, like us, the poet is caught, indecisive and tempted, between the bitter, yet appetizing, lie of life and the sublime, but always somewhat hollow, truth of art.

(Les Cahiers du Journal des Poètes, No.70, November 15, 1939)