A note on Valery Larbaud by Bill Zavatsky:
Poet, novelist, short-story writer, and belles-lettrist, Valery Larbaud was born in Vichy, France, in 1881. His father was the wealthy proprietor of a mineral water springs, and the family fortune freed Valery to pursue literature. Larbaud's poetic influences included Walt Whitman, whom he translated. (He also translated Joyce's Ulysses.) Larbaud created the poet A. O. Barnabooth and his life-work. In 1908 he published a book called Poems by a Wealthy Amateur, the first appearance of Barnabooth, and then in 1913 expanded it into A. O. Barnabooth, His Complete Works, Being a Story, His Poems, and His Diary. The fictitious Barnabooth mirrors Larbaud in his wealth and in his planetary search for a spiritual center. Often in frail health, Larbaud managed nevertheless to publish many books. He suffered a stroke in 1935 that left him partially aphasic. He died in 1957.
It seems to me that all the world’s wisdom
Is in the eyes of these wax figures.
I’d like to be locked in there all night long,
One winter night, by accident,
Especially in the criminals room,
Fine wax criminals,
Shiny faces, dull eyes, and bodies—of what?
But is this what they really looked like?
Then why were they locked up, electrocuted, or hanged,
While their mute images stand here?
With eyes unable to tell of horrors suffered,
But meeting eyes everywhere, endlessly, endlessly.
Do they close them at least at night?
-- Valery Larbaud
Translated from the French by Ron Padgett and Bill Zavatsky from The Poems of A. O. Barnabooth by Valery Larbaud (Boston: Black Widow Press, 2008)
Note on the poem: The title refers to the London wax museum. Larbaud might have also had in mind the Panoptikum, a wax museum he
visited twice on a trip to Amsterdam