Pauline Tarn, aka Renée Vivien, 1877-1909


Making Renée Viven accessable to the English-speaking world




Pauline Tarn at 16



As Renée Vivien


As Paule Riversdale?



As Anne Boleyn





For some years now, I've been translating the work of the symbolist poet and writer, Pauline Tarn, known as Renée Vivien, from French into English.

Some of this has already been done in the '70s and '80's: A Woman Appeared to Me, At the Sweet Hour of Hand in Hand, The Woman of the Wolf, and a collection of poems selected from Vivien's extensive oeuvre, called The Muse of the Violets. I am most grateful to, and respectful of, the translators who have come before me: Jeanette Foster, Margaret Porter, Catherine Kroger, Sandia Belgrade, Karla Jay, and Yvonne M. Klein.

I became interested in her when I found an anthology of The Ladder at a yard sale which had compiled a list of historically important Lesbians, many of them writers. Her picture (the one above these paragraphs) captivated me immediately, and the caption read: Forgotten Lesbian Poet. The scant information given ended with an entreaty that her work be translated before it was too late.

I found and read all the translated volumes, and waited for the further translations which I was sure would follow. Living as I do in Toronto, Canada, her original books in French were unavailable to me then, since she had lived and worked in Paris, France. I waited in vain.

With the arrival of the internet, all that changed. Able at last to research Vivien properly, I found bookstores in Paris, France from whom I could order her original books, notably Les Amazones, run by Chantal Bigot (merci, Chantal!). At first I translated the work in order to better understand it, but then found I had a knack for it. I tried getting the poems to rhyme, and found I had a knack for that, too (at least I think I do). So, I became the one I had waited for.

Now I have translated, in a literal version, all the prose and poetic works she wrote under the name Renée Vivien, excluding the works already transposed into English by the group of aforementioned translators. With all due respect to them, I'm in the process of going over these works and re-translating them in my own way. A Woman Appeared to Me will be slightly different since I'm working from the second version, which was a little less harsh in its depiction of her first lover, Natalie Barney.

After this, all the originally rhyming poetry will be re-set in rhyme, keeping to the original rhythm as closely as is possible. Her first book, Etudes and Preludes, and the collection of poems taken from her pre-1907 work, Songs for My Shadow, have both been set into rhyme already. The prose work will published separately in volumes of its own.

I will keep posting the progression of the project, presenting examples as seems fitting. Keep scrolling down to read samples of current translations.

The writing published under the names Paule Riversdale and Hélène de Zuylen de Nyevelt, which were collaborations between Renée and her second lover Hélène (although some believe most or all of it was by Renée alone) will be translated next, and examples of this posted as well, for comparison.

- Melanie Davis


Renée Vivien in 1902

Who was Renée Vivien?


Pauline Mary Tarn was born on June 11, 1877 in Paddington, England to John and Mary Tarn; her father had inherited a fortune from the family merchant trade. They lived mainly in Paris, France until the death of her father in 1886, when Mary brought Pauline and her little sister Antoinette back to England.

Pauline, a highly strung, sensitive girl, was devastated by both the loss of her father and the loss of her country, for she considered herself French and hated what she felt to be the emotional coldness of England. It didn't help that her mother never gave her much affection, preferring her younger daughter. Isolated from childhood friends, Pauline withdrew into the world of literature, and began to envision for herself a future as a writer - in Paris! Her early poems and journals have been preserved, attesting to her remarkably precocious ambition and talent.

Life at home was difficult. She met a poet, Amédée Moullé, the father of a friend, and they began a correspondence. Inspired, she decided to become a poet also, but the friendship took an unexpected turn when the married, middle-aged Moullé proposed "marriage" to her! She was tempted by this dream of freedom, and actually ran away from home, but was caught and returned. Her mother, perhaps wanting to get her hands on Pauline's inheritance, tried to have her declared insane. Fortunately the court ruled in Pauline's favour: she was made a ward of the state and placed in lodgings until she came of age at 21... a situation which was safe but lonely.

With her inheritance came the ability to return to Paris and start over. She decided on the pen name Renée Vivien, symbolizing her rebirth, and moved into the family's previous apartment to focus on her writing, which would remain exclusively in French. She was reunited with her close girlhood friend, Violet Shillito, who introduced her to the American heiress Natalie Barney.

This was a turning point in Renée's life, for Natalie was a unique, strong-willed individual who struck Renée as being the harbinger of her destiny. The two fell deeply in love, but love meant very different things to each of them. Natalie, also in her 20s, had led a very different life, one of self-assurance and independance. She knew she was a confirmed Lesbian from an early age, and initiated Renée into her world, introducing her to the work of Sappho. But Renée was a romantic, and Natalie was polyamorous; Renée left for her own emotional preservation, but remained full of regret. Her writing practically bursts with works inspired by all aspects of their love and difficulties. For her part, Natalie never ceased pursuing Renée, hoping to win her back, and at times almost succeeding.

Compounding the rupture was the sudden illness and death of Violette Shillito; Renée had neglected their friendship in her preoccupation with Natalie, and was overwhelmed with guilt, blaming both herself and Natalie. This happened just as her first book, Études et Préludes, was being published, making complete enjoyment of her first success impossible.

In 1902, Renée met her next lover, Hélène de Zuylen de Nyevelt, a wealthy baroness. With Hélène, she found the maternal love that had eluded her all her life, but this was not a perfect situation either. Hélène was married with children, and their relationship had to be kept quiet. Still, Renée felt secure enough to continue her writing, and produced a staggering volume of work. They published books together under a pseudonym, Paul Riversdale, and also under Hélène's name.

In 1907, Hélène left Renée, who had not been faithful either, for another woman. Renée had been taking the opiate chloral hydrate since her teens for insomnia, and was addicted to the drug, which was by this time attacking her stomach, making eating difficult. She was further weakened by heavy alcohol use, deliberate fasting, and financial worries. She had always coped with her losses and disappointments throughout life by romanticizing death as a sort of deliverance, which made not caring for herself seem a valid choice. An unsuccessful suicide attempt by laudanum in 1908 left her partially paralyzed and easy prey for the pneumonia that took her on November 18, 1909, when she was just 32.

Her publishers made sure that most of the work left with them was published posthumously, and her total works list 17 volumes of poetry (not including compilations), and 16 volumes of prose, under her various pseudonyms. In addition, there are youthful poems, journals, and the usual bulky correspondence of a writer.

Renée Vivien's legacy is that she was expressing herself in a very narrow-minded time and place as a female thinker, and presenting her Lesbianism as one of many natural states that simply exist. She also reached back in time to the world of Sappho and other ancient female figures, building poems and stories based on their ideas and images, breathing her own experience into classical forms and fanciful visions.

In turn, her work provides a springboard for the future; she was unafraid to speak of her own despair, her sorrows, her perceptions of a world full of unjustice and cruelty, and her dreams for a better world. Like many other female writers and artists of the early 20th century, it has taken time for the world to catch up to her. She thought in particular of the women who would come after her and speaks directly to them.

A very good website on her was created by the poet Cristie Cyane, and can be viewed at:


Renée Vivien (our left) and Natalie Barney (one of her greatest inspirations)

To read more about Natalie Barney, visit:

rv_nb rv_nb_wchaise


One of the incredible covers by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer



Some samples of my translations from ETUDES and PRELUDES:


Day no longer pierces, with proud arrow and lance,
The woods, amazing in their beauty nocturnal.
This is the turbid hour when Bacchantes dance,
Amidst oppressive rhythms, languid and vernal.

Their hair tangles, dripping with the blood of the vines;
Their lively feet, like the wings of the wind, are light,
And their rosy flesh, the suppleness of their lines,
Imbues the forest with ever-shifting delight.

The youngest sings a song which calls to mind a wail:
Her amorous breast, with deep sobbing, is heavy.
She is not at all like the others - she is pale.
Her face has the stormy bitterness of the sea.

The wine, where the sun of the season will persist,
No longer brings generous oblivion now;
She is half-drunk, but her sorrow will not desist
And a wreath of dark leaves surrounds her pale brow.

To all in her, false gaiety brings weariness,
And the presentiment of cold and hard daybreak
Comes to spoil the glowing sweetness of the caress.
Among the festive roses she dreams, though awake.

What she remembers are the kisses they forget...
She cannot learn to desire without feeling grief,
She who gazes still, with melancholy beset,
At flowers dying after night orgies, so brief.



In pleated robes, long and flowing
Like all chimeras, gleaming bright
The bloom of spring to me you bring
Within your hands, so fair and light.

I dread that thrill, pearly and fresh;
Your fragile breast, I do not touch;
Trembling before your sacred flesh,
I dread your charming mouth as much!

To God, I feel my soul allies
When, underneath my proud embrace
The sweet blue bruising of your eyes
Extinguishes, without a trace.

But then, so white in my arms' bonds,
At my love-cry, faint and devout,
You smile and you give no response,
Your closed eyes freezing my soul out...

Spectral remorse still makes me dread, -
Which ecstasy cannot suppress, -
That you, somehow, may be wounded
By a spontaneous caress.



The light, in throes of agony, dies at your knee,
Come, o you whose guarded face, so lovely to see,
Carries dejection from years heavy and jaded:
Come, with your deadly welts turning pale, in distress,
With no other scent in the long folds of your dress
Than the breath of flowers which have long since faded.

Come, with your unrouged lips that ignite my desires,
Without rings, - neither rubies, opals, nor sapphires
Dishonoring your fingers, milky as the moon, -
And from your eyes put mirrored reflections to flight...
For it is here: the simple, chaste hour of the night
When hues can oppress, and luxury importune.

Yield up all your chagrin to eternal delight,
Exhale in a profound cry your suffering blight,
All those events of the past, so cruel and senseless,
Leave them to death, to the distance and to silence...
In the dream which to strife gives such sweet condolence;
To the ancient fever of speech: forgetfulness.

I will kiss your hands and your divine naked feet;
Our hearts will cry out for the neglect that they meet,
Will decry the vile words and base gestures anew...
These flights will linger in peaceful security....
You will join your hands in their mystic purity,
And, in the soul-filled shadows, I will adore you.



The flight of the fluttering bat
Is tortuous, anguished, bizarre.
Then, beating her bruised wings thereat,
She turns, and looks back from afar.

Have you never felt, just one time,
How, drunken with painful defeat,
My soul, in a madflight sublime,
Soared to your lips, distant but sweet?



This is one of my translations from EVOCATIONS, reprinted in SONGS for MY SHADOW:


I reposed in the massive flank of the mountain...
Its mildness intoxicated me. Near my sleep
Welled up, towards the sun, the flowers' ardent sweep.
Nothing then disturbed the great peace of the mountain.

I slumbered. I resembled a star in the night,
And April, which undulates as love it abides,
Trembled divinely through the golden countrysides
Without breaking my vigil, obscure in the night.

Pure white in the depths of the extinguished shadow,
I knew nothing of chill mist or the noisy breeze
In the branches and wheat as the wind through them flees
Whistling...I slept deep in the extinguished shadow.

When you wrenched me out from the tranquil eternal,
O my master! o tyrant whose imprint I bear!
In your grip, so replete with alarm and despair,
I lived, and lost my repose in the eternal...

I received the Statues's tired face, and the crowd
With their insulting, cruel, and imbecile gawk;
My cold being, unable to move or to talk,
Was then prey to the transient stare of the crowd.

And now I exist as the proud victim of time,
For I suffer beyond the brief hours passing.
My anguish lifts proudly within the amassing
Murmurs which perish in the vastness of time.

I despise you, creator, whose too-austere thought
Has, in sudden fevers, burst my body apart,
And of whom sorrowful dreams I keep in my heart...
I know the profound sadness with which earth is fraught,

I who now exist as the proud victim of time.


Renée Vivien's portrait, in terracotta and marble, by August Rodin. The marble bust is now in the Louvre.



Prose Poems from VAGRANCIES:


I know not why this recollection forces the frequently closed door of my memory.
It was night-time, in a Japanese tea-house.
In a subdued ascension, the monotonous rhythm, the almost eternal rhythm of three cords were struck with regularity. Three notes, no more... A rhythm in the night...

But the moon was so large, so magnificently powerful, that prodigious stalks of bamboo were seen rising beyond a pool, - which, beneath the moon, took on all the mystery of the sacred pools in the enclosure of a temple. And the immense moon gave to these prodigious stalks the appearance of a dream.

For some time, a melancholy old woman, who was beautiful and a professional musician, played tirelessly... I cannot render this feeling of eternity, of the Eternity which, formerly, seemed terrible to me, incomprehensible and deadly... This strange intuition glided in my veins, with the rhythm of three notes repeated indefinitely, with the Japanese night, with the visage of the melancholy old musician... And little by little, ... and little by little, my soul was appeased until there was a divine annihilation of death in the night...



One day - the small island was green and peaceful, - I went walking at random, lost in admiration of the trees and the water. Very inoffensively, - on my faith in the face of the sky! - I went walking...

And, as I contemplated the water, - I, who love and adore it! - I saw emerge from a mass of reeds, a black swan, menacing...

He swung his overly long neck to and fro, with sinuous and nearly serpentine movements...

I recalled the power of those great wings which, the easiest thing in the world, can shatter your arms...

And his red beak hissed...

Very prudently, - and vulgarly, alas! - I beat a retreat...

But oh, black swan! in all your formidability, how much I love you in your indomitable beauty!

You defended your nest, which you had a perfectly good reason to... as I, who muse in silence... as I defend with relentlessness my dreams...





In an old quarter of the city, I discovered a strange little boutique where no shop window and no signboard attracted attention, and in which no one haggled, nor watched those strolling by.

I entered. A man, of whom I could see nothing but a silhouette, so impenetrable was the shadow around us, appeared without a sound.

"What, in fact, do you sell here?", I demanded of him in the thoughtlessness of my surprise.

"Ideas", he replied to me, in a very simple tone.

He grasped a small box and, began to rummage around in the dust:

"Would you be an utopian, by chance? Pardon the indiscretion. Do you want ideas of peace and of universal happiness? They are not dear and I have many for sale at the moment. Take them, and you may have the whole lot for 2 fr.50."

And, before my gesture of refusal:

"Ah! you have sense: I do not guarantee their solidity. Now, here is a financial idea, but it is extremely rare and costly. I could not surrender it to you for less than three thousand francs."

"Devil! did I, three thousand francs, that's..."

He calmly interrupted me.

"An idea less new than this one has made the fortune of a founder of American trusts. I have not profited personally, because being too rich would bore me. I would lose my friends and the respect of the quarter."

Something like a reflection of gold shone between his fingers.

"Now if, like me, you despise opulence, or if, which is more probable, this idea seems too high priced for you, here is, at a very good value, the dream of a poet. Three sous, this is reasonable, don't you find?"

And he showed me a glimmer of rainbow imprisoned in a box of colours.

"Finally, as you appear to me to belong to the serious clientele, I propose to you (your countenance is creased with a grimace which should have been a smile) the magnificent idea of a libertine, all but made new, you know, and of an exceptional refinement. I would let you have it for a thousand francs. It is worth more, but this is so that you will return often to buy others from me. I truly have a collection without equal."

"Yes", I said, "but some of your merchandise seems to me to be well used."

"Ah!", he replied with pride, "these, like antique furniture, are justly the most appreciated by my clientele. But do you see nothing that can satisfy you?"

"I desire an idea that you can never sell me: an idea of my own."



A Scotsman, a friend from my childhood, showed me, one day, his collection of fishhooks.

"Look", he said to me, "this is a veritable museum. They are objets d'art, these fishhooks that you see. To entice the salmon which feed on flies in their iridescent flight, we invent light fishhooks, of gold, green, blue, and violet. Some of these are fashioned with pheasant feathers: and you know that the pheasant has all the magnificence of the peacock, augmented by the inexpressible grace of being wild. These fishhooks require patient workmanship and skillful ingenuity."

I regarded these strange jewels of torture and death. They were very beautiful in effect, brilliant like glory, glittering like love.

"And", continued my interlocutor, "the salmon who believe themselves to be seizing the rainbow and opal wings of wandering flies, feel their throat lacerated implacably by the steel hook. It is beautiful in its struggles, it is prey to the Enemy."

As I leaned over the jewels of torture and death:

"What do you think of my collection?", my friend the Scotsman asked me.

"- I think", I said to him, "that the Bible (which I have heard you squander in such copious quotations) has not lied, and that truly God has created man in his own image."





I have ruined my heart, devastated my soul
And a beggar of love is what I am today:
The memories, like filthy vermin, take their toll,
Gnaw at me in the implacable face of day.
I have ruined my heart, devastated my soul
And of fate, I implore shamefully, without cease,
A reflection of your eyes: a divine caprice;
O fugitive form, perfumed pallor that hovers
So prodigal, so abundant among lovers!

I have looked endlessly for your gaze in strange eyes,
I have searched for your kiss on ephemeral lips;
Like a vine in the orchard, flushed by the sun's rise,
Floating on Bacchic laughter which rises and dips,
I have looked endlessly for your gaze in strange eyes
Without freeing my heart from your harsh caresses.
And thus, like the sighing of plaintive mistresses
Who weep at night for a summer without return,
In laments I hear echos of love-words which yearn.

O form so fugitive, O pallor so perfumed,
Inconstant sweetness which destiny sought to cease,
Abundant and prodigal lover who once bloomed,
I have lost your sweet smile to the divine caprice;
O form so fugitive, O pallor so perfumed,
You have turned me to a beggar of love today
Exposed in the implacable face of the day
The stark grief of wretched misery takes its toll...
I have ruined my heart, devastated my soul.


As far as I'm able to tell, this is a complete list of works by Pauline Mary Tarn under all her pseudonyms.

Published under the name of Renée Vivien:

1901 - Études et Préludes - Poetry inspired by her relationship with Natalie Barney, mingled with neoclassical references, plus early works. Cover art by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer. Revised in 1903.

1902 - Cendres et Poussières (Ashes and Dust) - Poetry based on Natalie, the death of her childhood friend Violet Shilleto, and increasing neoclassicism, invoking Sappho: whose more accurate name, she discovered, is Psappha. Cover by Lévy-Dhurmer. Revised in 1903.

1902 - Brumes de Fjords (Fog of the Fjords) - Poems in prose; short allegorical tales, almost like fairy-tales.

1903 - La Dame à la Louve (The Woman of the Wolf) - Short stories. Cover by Lévy-Dhurmer. Translated into English in 1983 by Karla Jay and Yvonne M. Klein. The title story was filmed in the 1990s by Greta Schiller of Jezebel Productions.

1903 - Évocations - Poetry and a short play further invoking the spirit of Psappha and the ancient world, combined with further explorations of her feelings regarding Natalie,Violet, her next lover Hélène, and diverse otherworldly subjects. A lengthy book, revised in 1905. Cover by Lévy-Dhurmer.

1903 - Une Femme m'apparut (A Woman Appeared to Me) - A symbolist novel based on her romance with Natalie and involving characters from their circle, tempered by an allegorical androgynous figure, San Giovanni. Cover and an illustration of Vivien's poem Our Lady of the Fevers by Lévy-Dhurmer, a reproduction of John the Baptist by Leonardo Da Vinci, and musical notations from various composers at the beginning of each chapter, to set the mood. Revised in 1905, with less harshness towards Natalie. First version translated into English in 1976 by Jeanette Foster.

1903 - La Vénus des Aveugles (The Venus of the Blind) - Poems based on further neoclassical studies and her travels. Perhaps her darkest, most "decadent" book. Cover by Lévy-Dhurmer.

1903 - Du vert au violet (From Green to Violet) - Allegorical fairy-tale poems in prose which further explore her views on the nature of humanity, love and death.

1903 - Sapho - A biography of Psappha, followed by the Sapphic fragments translated from Greek into French, and accompanied by poems inspired by Psappha's work. Cover by Lévy-Dhurmer.

1904 - Les Kitharèdes (The Kitharedes) - Fragments from the Greek Anthology by female poets, translated into French with accompanying poems expanding on the fragments. The title refers to a type of ancient harp, the Kithara. Cover and illustrations of the various Greek authors, based on friends of Vivien, by Lévy-Dhurmer.

1906 - A l'Heure des Mains jointes (At the Sweet Hour of Hand in Hand) - Poetry furthering explorations of her emotional life, studies, and travels. A note of bitterness regarding the world's reception of her work's candor seems to anticipate the negative reaction from critics of this volume, which led to the start of her breakdown. Cover by Lévy-Dhurmer.

1907 - Le Christ, Aphrodite, et M. Pepin - Two articles of satire, both written as journalistic reports, concerning how the second coming of Christ and the appearance of Aphrodite on the banks of the Seine would have been treated by newspapers of the time.

1907 - Flambeaux éteints (Extinguished Torches) - A short volume of love poetry, some of it inspired by her long-distance lover Kerime Turkan-Pacha.

1908 - L'Album de Sylvestre - A collection of aphorisms by fictional characters, seemingly a satire after the style of Natalie Barney.

1908 - Sillages (Wakes) - Poetry of an increasingly personal nature, with touches of the despair that culminate in Tatters. Also a play about Psappha and her followers.

1909 - Poèmes - A collection of 63 poems from previous works. In 1977, a selection of poems was translated under the title of The Muse of the Violets by Margaret Porter and Catherine Kroger, introduced by an article written for the Mercure de France by Louise Faure-Favier, and translated by Jeanette Foster.

1909 - Poèms en Prose - Four prose poems taken from Brumes de Fjords, which are alternate versions.

1909 - Sapho et Huit Poétesses Grecques (Sappho and Eight Greek Female Poets) - Presumably Sappho and The Kitharedes published together, anonymously. I haven't yet seen this book.

Nov. 18, 1909 - The death of Renée Vivien from pnemonia, probably exacerbated by at least one suicide attempt, voluntary fasting and years of alcohol, chloral hydrate, and laudanum abuse. The following works were all published posthumously under the name Renée Viven.

1909 - Le Vent des Vaisseaux (The Wind of the Ships) - Poetry based on her travels by ship and the demons which plague an author.

1910 - Dans un Coin de Violettes (In a Patch of Violets) - A small volume of poetry inspired by Violet and Kerime.

1910 - Haillons (Tatters) - A volume of poetry filled with pain and despair, ending with the verse which is engraved on Vivien's tomb.

1917 - Vagabondages (Vagrancies) - Poems in prose, possibly her last completed work. Short allegorical vignettes which reveal the changes taken place in her psyche as she struggles to find hope and meaning in a life filled with emotional turmoil.

1923, 1924 - Poèmes de Renée Viven, vols. 1 & 2 - Vivien's 12 volumes of poetry were bound in a 2-volume set. Reprinted in 1934 as Poèsies Complètes de Renée Vivien.

1982 - Anne Boleyn - Vivien's unfinished biography of Anne Boleyn, presented by her most understanding biographer, Jean-Paul Goujon. His 1986 French biography of her, Tes blessures sont plus douces que leurs caresses: Vie de Renée Vivien (Your Wounds are Gentler Than Their Caresses: Life of Renée Vivien) is highly recommended.

1982 - Le Jardin Turc (The Turkish Garden) - 10 letters by Vivien to Kerimé Turkan-Pacha, an admirer from Constantinople who became a long-distance lover while Renée was with Hélène. Reprinted in 1998 as Letters de Renée Vivien à Kerimé.

1983 - Correspondances Croisées (Crossed Correspondances) - Some of the letters between Renée and Natalie Barney.

There exist several poems written at various times which have yet to be published.

These are available to view at Cristie Cyane's site:

and have been included in my translations.

Published under the name of Pauline Tarn:

1894 onwards - Poèmes de Jeunesse - Youthful poems and a letter to her teacher, Jean Charles-Brun, reprinted in the magazine Création. Charles-Brun became her paid advisor and editor as well as a close friend, and his contribution to her work cannot be underestimated. He wrote a book on her, simply called Renée Vivien, which I am currently translating, that deals primarily with her methods of writing.

1907 - Chansons Pour Mon Ombre (Songs for My Shadow) - A selection of 27 poems chosen by Vivien. The title was taken from a poem in La Vénus des Aveugles.

1909 - Vers à Marie (Verses for Mary) - Poetry. According to Jean-Paul Goujon, no examples of this have yet been found.

1909 - Pour My Soer (For my Sister) - A poem written in the last year of her life to her sister Antoinette, explaining her distance.

1912 - The One Black Swan - Prose poems, in English. As I have not yet found a copy of this, I don't know if these are reprints of previous prose poems translated into English, or new work. I suspect the former; I know she wanted to combine Fog of the Fjords with From Green to Violet, and this may be the result.

Published under the name of Paule Riversdale:

(Renée Vivien & Hélène de Zuylen de Nyevelt in collaboration)

1903 - Échos et Reflets (Echoes and Reflections) - Poetry. Cover by Lévy-Dhurmer.

1903 - Vers L'Amour (To Love) - Poetry.

1904 - L'Etre Double (The Double Being) - A novel on androgyny. Cover by Lévy-Dhurmer.

1904 - Netsuké - A Japanese-themed novel.

Published under the name of Hélène de Zuylen de Nyevelt:

(attributed at least in part to Vivien)

1904 - Effeuillements (Falling Leaves) - Poetry.

1905 - Copeaux (Chips) - A large volume of prose poems, stories and plays.

1905 - L'Impossible Sincérité (Impossible Sincerity)- A play.

1907 - Comédie dans un Jardin (Comedy in a Garden) - A play.

1907 - Le Chemin du Souvenir (The Path of Memory) - A play.

1910 - L'Inoublée (The Unforgotten) - A series of short stories in tribute to Vivien.

Published under the name of Hélène de Zuylen de Nyevelt:

(believed to be her work alone)

1906 - La Mascarade Interrompue (The Interrupted Mascarade) - A play.

1908 - Béryl - A play, which furthers the intrigues of L'Impossible Sincérité.

1912 - La Dernière étreinte (The Last Embrace) - A novel.

1914 - L'Enjoleuse (The Coaxer) - A novel.


who was Hélène de Zuylen de Nyevelt?

She was born Hélène Betty Louise Caroline Rothschild, in Paris, 1863 and died in Lisbon on the 17th of October in 1947.




Hélène was the daughter of Salomon James de Rothschild (1835-1864) and Adèle von Rothschild (1843-1922). She married Etienne van Zuylen de Nyevelt (1860-1934) in 1887 and they had two children.


In late 1901, she and Renée met, when Renée's tempestuous relationship with Natalie Barney had reached its' crisis point. Hélène was able to provide the stability Renée needed in order to apply herself to her writing. Not much is known definitively about the details of their life together. I have run across gossip which implies that Hélène was involved in S & M, and "corrupted" Renée, but have not been able to verify this. Hélène remains a shadowy figure, often skimmed over by biographers, but she had a pivotal role in Vivien's life. Without her support, would Renée have been able to produce the massive volume of writing that she did? It's difficult to determine how much each of them contributed to their collaborations; even scholars tend to disagree on this.

It was hard for Natalie to believe that Renée would choose Hélène over her. She tried, for the rest of Renée's life, to rekindle their love. In fact, Natalie was never far from Renée's thoughts; much of her writing is filled with images of her. Hélène doesn't seem to have tried to exorcise Natalie's ghost from Renée's work - the only line she seems to have drawn was at expressions of extreme melancholy, such as I Have Ruined My Heart, which were not included in Vivien's compiled volumes.

The Paule Riversdale poetry is much like that of Vivien's, but the poetry under Hélène's name has a certain sardonic edge to it, and its broader range of subject matter includes sarcastic jabs at the people who pine over the past (eg. The Black Poppy) - a main feature of Vivien's oeuvre. The short stories depict, predominatly, situations involving heterosexual couples. One short story, published in a magazine under Vivien's name as The Vegetable Garden, was completely done over in The Unforgotten, Hélène's tribute volume, which came out the year after Renée's death. Told in the manner of Edgar Allan Poe, it even includes a quote from him below the title. It remains the same tale, but the poetic charm of Vivien ("the blood radiated in my veins") is gone. I may post the two for comparison at a later date.

For now, I'm posting the title story of The Unforgotten, which is languid with what seems to be the essense of Renée Vivien - and yet the main character seems to be a portrait of Vivien herself, on her deathbed!



The Unforgotten

by Helene de Zuylen de Nyevelt & Renee Vivien


Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.

She was dying. Her face, strange and pale, with large eyes already veiled, lay nestled in her black, dishevelled hair.
Through painful and wheezing efforts which became less and less frequent, her hoarse breathing swelled her thin chest. Her narrow hands, with their bluish nails, were like damp marble.
She pulled the sheet back towards herself in a macabre gesture, instinctive in the death agony which had already enveloped her.
Her husband, nearly an adolescent, was kneeling and sobbing at her bedside.
The dying woman moaned.
Her eyes slowly came back to life; their gaze searched about in a stupor; then suddenly, they paused with a distracted tenderness on the young man.
"Lynne!... My darling... Lynne!", he stammered, through his gasps of despair.
She had the supreme heroism to smile at him. Then, in a distant voice, infinitely feeble and yet precise, she said: "I am sad... Gerard, sad because of your pain... sad to leave you alone."
Her restless gaze surveyed the room, that chamber of love where, amidst the roses and lace, a great Venetian mirror deepened, mysterious and clear. She resumed between two rattling wheezes:
Our dear little nest... we were so happy here... we loved it so... promise... promise... to keep it for me... to leave it as it is! Live elsewhere... Touch nothing! For I believe that, if something of me survives, I will come straight back here."
Such sobbing shook Gerard that he needed superhuman will to murmur:
"This I promise you, my dear!"
She insisted: "And promise that no other woman will ever come into my house."
This time, he nearly cried out:
"Never, my Lynne! never... How could I? ... Oh! never!"
- "Thank you", she said, very low. "I hope that you... that... you... "
Her lips agitated mutely for some seconds, then her eyes took on an indifferent expression, and glazed over. She opened her mouth to breathe more easily, and finally stayed immobile...calm...completely white...
After the funeral toilette, she lay crowned with thick, sombre coils, which were held in place by a bizarre clasp made of thousands of scarabs.Eyes singularly elongated in her hieratic face, she reposed in the manner of an Egyptian priestess.


Have pity on the evil from my lips
Have pity on my regrets
Scatter with lillies the length of my fevers
And with roses the marsh.
Maurice Maeterlink.

Her husband kept his promise.
His only thought was to satisfy the last wish of the dead.

With a minutiae nearly unhealthy, he attended feverishly to what had been her room, respecting the place of each object.
All remained exactly as Lynne had seen it for the last time.
He entrusted a loyal servant with the care of this temple of memory, and in this atmosphere, the sweet vanished one seemed to be still present.
Flowers were provided for the vases. An appearance of life and intimacy prevailed, and there was nothing of the lugubrious aspect of a dwelling in which someone had died.
Each time that Gerard entered therein, a poignant emotion took possession of him.
He always believed that he would see Lynne appear.
............................................................................................................................................................................................ ............................................................................................................................................................................................
It was a frosty Christmas.
The snow radiated a gloom of falling whiteness.
Gerard's sorrow had dulled a little, but that night the memories arose more vehemently in him, as if awoken by the bells of midnight, which had rung for the first time a few minutes prior.
Stretched out on the divan preferred by Lynne, he lit one of the cigarettes she had loved and dreamed sadly in isolation, while from his trembling hand, curls of opaline smoke unfurled before his eyes.
Former times were calling to him, invading him, and the moving verses of Samain wept in his memory:

"And I will return, among the objects impregnated
With your perfume, intimate and dear; the old year
Which floats still in your faded dress..."

They had passed the last Christmas so happily together! Through his tears, he believed she would return, with her large violet eyes, encircled with blackish-brown, and her mouth of a child, with the youthful smile.
They had so joyously spoken of the future! - The future! - So poetically, the message of midnight had sounded from the nearby church, whose evocative chimes were muffled by the snow.
He had asked her:
"What do you want for Christmas?"
She had shifted coyly in his arms and had replied:
"The pearls of my mouth in the jewel-case of your lips."
And this kiss of absolute love remained the most exquisite memory of their life together.
They embraced before the mysterious depths of the Venetian Mirror.
And he recalled what Lynne said next, panting slightly.
"Why can't this dear Mirror keep the image of our caress?"
Beset by these memories, he fell to his knees and sobbed desperately.
Worn out by his tears, he ended up falling asleep when the dawn was bleaching the crack in the curtains.



More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd.

With the passing years, Gerard, faithful to the wish of the Dead, had religiously kept the sanctuary of the past.
He made pious visits there, but less and less often.
Life goes on. This is the inexorable law!...
The beloved memory cannot fight against the natural forces of existence. Love always triumphs over the powers of Destruction.
At a garden-party, he encountered a very beautiful young girl, Nadia Wolensoff.
She was tall and majestic. Her flowing gown moulded itself to the sculptural form of her well-proportioned body. Her violet hat softly shaded her bound blonde hair, her proud mouth and her fluttering eyes.
They struck up a conversation.
Around them, nothing existed but the twilight and the park, exquisitely in bloom.
The shadows of the firs were lengthening further on the lawn, and the crying swallows were hastily sketching whimsical black polygons in the pale sky.
Gerard was subjugated by the imperative beauty of Nadia and the slavic song of her indolent voice captivated him inexpressibly.
A little while after, she embodied all the universe to him.
Soon they became engaged.
He was madly in love; she allowed him to worship her. Her intense and curious soul did not possess an overly quick sensibility. She had more pride than tenderness.
... But see how love aroused, with ferocity, her proud heart. She had understood how much her fiance still cherished his dead, as he preserved her home intact. She felt a keen jealousy in learning that Gerard was continuing his frequent pilgrimages there.
She spoke to him one evening, with seeming indifference, of this cult.
He responded by stating the simple truth. He related Lynne's final moments and how he had faithfully kept his promise.
She listened with a grave air, approving; then she took his hands, saying:
"It is good that you have done this. I love you better still."
He was happy and touched.
Often, his thoughts went towards his first love and, from the depths of his memory, a great sorrow arose in him.
Now, a reconciliation seemed to intervene between Yesterday and Tomorrow, and his happiness would cease to be troubled by anything...
The marriage took place.
They set out for Spain. In the railway carriage, overflowing with flowers, their lips united for the first time.
The narrow space around them concentrated their tepidity, their intimate solitude. The vertiginous song of the train on the rails seemed eternal to them, like love itself, yet more isolated.
Mouth to mouth, they did not move, buried in joy.
Ah! so far from the world, from life! And, at every jolt, a sheaf of nuptial roses rained on them, through the baggage-rack, its large white petals...
Nadia gently pushed Gerard back and, with hands on his shoulders, gazing steadily, said:
"Do you love me?"
- " I love you so much!... Indeed, with all my being... nothing exists any more but you..."
- "On our return, I will ask you to grant me a wish. Will you refuse?"
"Certainly not; how can you doubt it? What is it?"
"I will tell you... Ah! I love you."
And in fact, she loved him with passion, since the time she was conscious of a rival; when she realized that, from beyond the grave, Lynne possessed him always, with the solid chains of a fervent memory.


Deep in the gleaming glass
She sees all passing things pass.

They had returned and were permanently established. At the end of an evening in December, a continual, plaintive rain wove a grey veil in the windows. The melancholy of the weather gained on them.
Seated side by side, close to the reddening fire, they gazed at one another.
Suddenly, the organ of a beggar in the distance, under someone's door, set to play a popular lullaby. This poor lamentation implored, lost in the monotonous chagrin of the hour, singing:

"You remember, dear one,
The beautiful days of long ago..."

Nadia seized this opportunity to say: "Do you remember your promise? The one that you made to me on the train, to grant my first wish?"
"Of course I will keep it, gladly: speak."
"Good! good! I did not dare to tell you... I would like... I would like to go with you to your old home. I would like to associate myself with this devotion, so worthy, so lofty, that you have for she who was your first companion."
He was briefly startled and his face clouded. He reflected. Certainly, he had promised to the departed never to allow a woman to penetrate into their precious love nest, but he did not consider a visit to be sacrilegious; on the contrary!... the memory of Lynne, instead of having one faithful, would henceforth have two!
And so he replied, "Willingly."

Some days later, they crossed the threshold of the house, cold and sad like an abandoned pond.
Nadia wore a slightly sombre dress which was wonderfully becoming to her blonde beauty.
She had that feline suppleness, that graceful radiance which gives to certain women a special power, to be beautiful and to please...
"How silent it is! How moving it is!", she said, very low.
And Gerard could not help but think that by now, Lynne was well away from him; that his new and so intense existence had rendered completely inexpressive the old memories, once so vehement.
This house seemed to him like that of another.
Nadia curiously examined the ornaments, touching the objects with a profound piety.
She nestled beside Gerard, imbuing him with the warmth of her taut being, which she offered.
He clasped her around the waist.
Little by little, she allowed her head to lean on his shoulder.
Their breath mingled. With a violent happiness, Nadia sensed that he was definitely all hers, since he desired her in the room belonging to another...
He embraced her impetuously and gave her a kiss that seemed divine, interminable... Without leaving the lips of her adored mouth, he threw a furtive glance into the Venetian mirror...But... it was not Nadia who he glimpsed distinctly in the mysterious blue depths of the mirror; it was Lynne, Lynne with her large violet eyes, encircled with blackish-brown, and her childish mouth, with the youthful smile.

It was Lynne clinging to his lips, as on that Christmas Eve...
He uttered a savage cry and, violently pushing away the stupefied Nadia, he hurled his haggard being madly towards the revealing glass and broke it with one blow of a terrible fist.
A sinister crackling was heard, but the image of Lynne with the violet eyes stayed on, nonetheless, in the splinters of the desecrated mirror.
In fright, Nadia fled, her entire soul enslaved by superstition, terrified by this prediction of unhappiness. Gerard supported his wounded hand, teeming with large scarlet drops that seemed to be tears of blood.
And, through buzzing ears, he thought he heard a voice, a voice from beyond the grave, which said:
"I want the pearls of my mouth in the jewel-case of your lips."
Dragging himself to the mirror, with an immense repentance, he kissed the spot where he believed he still saw, in a hallucinatory gaze, the childish smile of Lynne, with her violet eyes...
The ancient love had reconquered him.
And he sensed that, from then on, in his devastated heart, would persist for all time the image of Lynne, Sweet and Despotic.


The portrait of Renée Vivien by Alice Pike Barney, Natalie's mother.