Read Pablo Picasso’s Poetry: Modernist Meditations on Making Art, World War, Dogs & More

Picasso, annotated poem manuscript, December 24, 1935

What makes Pablo Picas­so such a rep­re­sen­ta­tive 20th-cen­tu­ry artist? Most of it has to do with his par­tic­u­lar achieve­ments, such as the visu­al ground he broke with his Cubist paint­ing, sure, but some of it also has to do with the fact that his inter­ests extend­ed so far beyond paint­ing. We think of cre­ators who could cre­ate across var­i­ous domains as “Renais­sance men,” but con­di­tions a few cen­turies on from the Renais­sance enabled such artists to exert their will across an even wider range of forms. Picas­so, for instance, worked in not just paint­ing but sculp­ture, print­mak­ing, ceram­ics, and let­ters.

That last even includes poet­ry, to which Picas­so announced his com­mit­ment in 1935, at the age of 53. At that point, writes Dan­ger­ous Minds’ Paul Gal­lagher, “he began writ­ing poems almost every day until the sum­mer of 1959,” begin­ning “by daub­ing col­ors for words in a note­book before mov­ing on to using words to sketch images,” ulti­mate­ly pro­duc­ing hun­dreds of poems com­posed pri­mar­i­ly of “stream of con­scious­ness, unpunc­tu­at­ed word asso­ci­a­tion with star­tling jux­ta­po­si­tion of images and at times an obses­sion with sex, death and excre­ment.”

If this sounds like your cup of tea, you can find plen­ty of Picas­so poet­ry over at Ubuweb, which offers A Picas­so Sam­pler: Excerpts from the Bur­ial of the Count of Orgaz & Oth­er Poems free for the view­ing. “Picas­so, like any poet of con­se­quence, is a man ful­ly into his time and into the ter­rors that his time presents,” writes the col­lec­tion’s edi­tor Jerome Rothen­berg. His words reflect “the state of things between the two world wars — the first one still fresh in mind and the rum­blings of the sec­ond start­ing up,” a time and place “where poet­ry becomes — for him as for us — the only lan­guage that makes sense.”

Before div­ing into that col­lec­tion, you can also get a sense of Picas­so’s poet­ry by hav­ing a look at some of his short­er poems col­lect­ed at the site of artist Jef Borgeau, such as “the artist & his mod­el”:

turn your back
but stay in view at the same time
(now look away,
any­thing else con­fus­es)

stand still with­out say­ing a word

you can’t see but this is how
i sep­a­rate day from night

and the star­less sky

from the emp­ty heart


dogs eat at the night
buried in the yard
they chase the moon in a pack
the white of their teeth
com­pared to stars

the win­dows close against them
iron bars in trans­paren­cy

life clos­es against them

the morn­ing will crush them to dust
with only the wind left
to stir them up

And “the morn­ing of the world”:

i have a face cut from ice
a heart pierced in a thou­sand places
so to remem­ber
always the same voice
the same ges­tures
and my laugh­ter
as a wall
between you and me

the ones who are most alive
seem the most still

behind the milky way
a shad­ow dances

our gaze climbs toward the stars

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Picas­so Paint­ing on Glass

Pablo Picasso’s Two Favorite Recipes: Eel Stew & Omelette Tor­tilla Niçoise

The Post­cards That Picas­so Illus­trat­ed and Sent to Jean Cocteau, Apol­li­naire & Gertrude Stein

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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