Rénee Vivien was born Pauline Mary Tarn in London, in 1877. The family lived in Paris and when Pauline’s father died when she was 9 years old, her mother took her back to England. Mrs. Tarn sought to get her daughter’s inheritance left by her husband. She even declared Pauline to be insane. However, the courts made Pauline their ward and protected her. At the age of 21 years, Pauline returned to Paris.
A New Name- A New Life
Paris towards the beginning of the 20th century as an exciting city to live. Many wealthy lesbians (Americans and Brits) made it their home. With a certain amount of discretion, they could buy homes and have lesbian lovers. Amongst the most famous was Natalie Barney. She was a flamboyant and wealthy lesbian. She turned her home into a literary salon for intellectual lesbians. Rénee attended and they became lovers. Natalie believed in ‘open’ relationships and evidently this was the arrangement that like it or not, Rénee accepted.
Rénee was inspired by Sappho the poet of Lesbos. She translated Sappho from Greek into French. On one occasion, Rénee and Natalie visited Lesbos with the idea of making it an artists’ colony. The relationship between these two women was stormy and passionate. It ended with both women moving on to other women.
Here are some of Rénee’s poems. Many are dedicated to Natalie and some to a childhood friend of Rénee named Violet. The friend is identified, at times, by purple and violet flowers. paula.
My brunette with the golden eyes, your ivory body, your amber
Has left bright reflections in the room
Above the garden.
The clear midnight sky, under my closed lids,
Still shines….I am drunk from so many roses
Redder than wine.
Leaving their garden, the roses have followed me….
I drink their brief breath, I breathe their life.
All of them are here.
It’s a miracle….The stars have risen,
Hastily, across the wide windows
Where the melted gold pours.
Now, among the roses and the stars,
You, here in my room, loosening your robe,
And your nakedness glistens
Your unspeakable gaze rests on my eyes….
Without stars and without flowers, I dream the impossible
In the cold night.
Your laughter is light, your caress deep,
Your cold kisses love the harm they do;
Your eyes-blue lotus waves
And the water lilies are less pure than your face..
You flee, a fluid parting,
Your hair falls in gentle tangles;
Your voice-a treacherous tide;
Your arms-supple reeds.
Long river reeds, their embrace
Enlaces, chokes, strangles savagely,
Deep in the waves, an agony
Extinguished in a night drift.
Your Strange Hair
Your strange hair, cold light,
Has pale glows and blond dullness;
Your gaze has the blue of ether and waves;
Your gown has the chill of the breeze and the woods.
I burn the whiteness of your fingers with kisses.
The night air spreads the dust from many worlds.
Still I don’t know anymore, in the heart of those deep nights,
How to see you with the passion of yesterday.
The moon grazed you with a slanted glow …
It was terrible, like prophetic lightning
Revealing the hideous below your beauty.
I saw-as one sees a flower fade-
On your mouth, like summer auroras,
The withered smile of an old whore.
Prolong the Night
Prolong the night, Goddess who sets us aflame!
Hold back from us the golden-sandalled dawn!
Already on the sea the first faint gleam
Of day is coming on.
Sleeping under your veils, protect us yet,
Having forgotten the cruelty day may give!
The wine of darkness, wine of the stars let
Overwhelm us with love!
Since no one knows what dawn will come,
Bearing the dismal future with its sorrows
In its hands, we tremble at full day, our dream
Fears all tomorrows.
Oh! keeping our hands on our still-closed eyes,
Let us vainly recall the joys that take flight!
Goddess who delights in the ruin of the rose,
Prolong the night!
The trees have kept some lingering sun in their branches,
Veiled like a woman, evoking another time,
The twilight passes, weeping. My fingers climb,
Trembling, provocative, the line of your haunches.
My ingenious fingers wait when they have found
The petal flesh beneath the robe they part.
How curious, complex, the touch, this subtle art–
As the dream of fragrance, the miracle of sound.
I follow slowly the graceful contours of your hips,
The curves of your shoulders, your neck, your upappeased breasts.
In your white voluptuousness my desire rests,
Swooning, refusing itself the kisses of your lips.