French poet Pierre Reverdy was part of turning Paris into the epicenter of Surrealism. Along with writers such as Andre Breton and Guillaume Apollinaire, Reverdy shook the city so violently with his wild his imagery that art and literature around the world would never be the same again.
Beyond serving as an excellent example of the stream of consciousness style and beauty of surrealist poetry, "Central Heating," or, in French, "Chauffage Central," gives its readers a fever. It uses a heating system as a metaphor for a romance, letting its readers feel the burn of the speaker's enchantment, confusion, sadness, and joy. The more we connect the speaker's images of a heating system with the images of the woman, the more our temperature rises.
As you read this poem, or any surrealist writing, keep your mind and heart open. Reading this poem is an exercise in using a different logic than you probably use to get A plusses in school. Instead of thinking about this poem as a problem to be solved, or an argument to be analyzed, think about it as a mysterious dream to be savored and remembered. Reading this poem is an exercise that will help develop your dreaming logic, which, when activated, can open up worlds of possibilities.
Lastly, keep in mind that this poem was originally written in French by Reverdy (published early in his career in 1916 and smack dab in the middle of World War I), but it's been translated into English by Michael Benedikt. Literary translation is a contentious subject, with some claiming that translations can carry the same meaning as originals, and others claiming that poetry is not translatable at all. It's best to walk a middle road, enjoying translations for the poems they are in the language we're capable of reading them in, while realizing that the translation is an act of art and interpretation in itself.
Why Should I Care?
Have you ever been so in love or enchanted with someone that the entire world seems unreal in comparison? If so, then this poem by Pierre Reverdy should speak to you, as it is caught up in a love that is so wild it seems almost wrong. And if you've never had this experience, then come along for the ride, and live and love through our speaker.
But this poem isn't just some stereotypical love poem. Its love is not clear cut or certain at all, though it is intense. And the poem isn't even completely about love. Yes, it's about a woman, but it's also about what exactly makes the world and us as human beings real. As much as the poem is about love, it's also about illusion and reality, the doubt of the real in the face of temperature and touch.
If you give this poem a chance, even though at first glance it seems jumpy and disconnected, you'll find its genius. This poem discusses huge philosophical and emotional ideas all in the context of something as seemingly mundane as central heating. If you're shivering in an emotional winter, come on inside this poem, and let it warm you up.