Claude Aveline, Portrait of The-Non-Existent-Bird. Paris, 1950.
Here is the picture of the Non-Existent-Bird.
Not its fault if the Good Lord who made every thing omitted to create it.
It has a look of other birds, for non-existent creatures bear some resemblance
to those that exist.
But they haven’t a name.
Which is why this bird is called the Non-Existent-Bird.
And why it is sad.
Perhaps sleeping or waiting for the moment of existence.
Wondering what sort of beak or wings it will have, will it be able to dive under water,
as actual birds do, without spoiling its colours ?
It would like to hear itself sing.
It would like to be afraid of death.
It would like to have very ugly, very much alive baby-birds.
So the dream of a non-existent-bird is to stop being a dream.
No one is ever satisfied.
And that being the case, how can all go well with the world?
Claude Aveline, Paris 1950. Translated from French by George Buchanan, 1966.
CLAUDE AVELINE AND HIS POEM,
Translated from French by Valérie Didier.
Everything began in 1950. Claude Aveline (Paris, 1901-1992) drew a bird and wrote a poem on a piece of paper measuring 32 x 25cm. From 1956 to 1982, he used to visit galleries and artists, putting together two collections of works on paper by 194 artists, which he then donated to the French MNAM (National Museum of Modern Art), works by (Atlan, Bissière, César, Debré, Foujita, Hajdu, Masson, Music, Severini, Tamayo, Zadkine,…): 108 works in 1963 which were exhibited at the Centre Pompidou in 1978, and another 86 in 1982.
Claude Aveline was a fantastic story-teller. He loved speaking in public and reading his texts to his friends and relatives, to the radio or to a large audience. The poem has a didactic dimension (when he lists all the physical features of birds: wings, beak, legs and feet, feathers…), a playful dimension, a psychological and philosophical dimension.
As for the verses at the end, “No one is ever happy / And how do you think the world can be well in these conditions?”, it appears that the poet chose an enigmatic ending that throws the reader into an endless reflection and into a dream. It seems to me that this poem carries a symbolic interpretation of all its components without any tricks. Just like the Albatros by Baudelaire, it also reflects in a simpler way the poet’s way of life and that of the artist who fully immerses himself in the universe he created and who is challenged in real life. Art is a means to sublimate the real world and make it bearable.
Claude Aveline himself was surprised and happy by the spectacular fate of his little multi-layered poem, “from the playful to the aesthetic side, from the tragic to the entertaining aspect”. Some artists represented it as a simple bird with its distinctive physical features. Others found in it a fantasy and a game. Many read it like an invitation to seek and find the bird that lies dormant within each of us.
Incidentally, the sentence “he would like to be afraid of death one day”, clearly refers to the bird as being a symbol for humanity. Written in 1950, Portrait de l’Oiseau-Qui-N’Existe-Pas, is also a poem of its time, the years of Occupation, of resistance and of extermination: millions of birds flew away to the death camps. This idea haunted the writer’s thoughts, whether it be in his life or in his numerous post-war texts. It later surfaced again as a cry of revolt and of horror in his memorable Monologue pour un disparu.