Renée Vivien

Renée Vivien wrote in French 
but had Scottish and American roots

Undine  *

Your laughter is light, your caress is deep,
Your cold kisses love the harm they do;
Your eyes are blue like lotus waves
And the water lilies are less pure than your face.

You flee, you move fluidly;
Your hair falls in gentle reeds;
Your voice is a treacherous tide;
Your arms are supple reeds.

Along high river reeds, their embrace
Enlaces, chokes, strangles savagely;
Deep in the waves, an agony
Extinguishes in a nightly swoon.


Renée Vivien (1877 - 1909)

* Undine was a water-nymph who fell deeply in love with a human.
She was permitted to be with him but would die if he ever was
unfaithful to her.






Renée Vivien (London °1877 - Paris +1909) was the pseudonym
of Pauline M. Tarn. She was a lesbian and lived nearly all her life
in Paris. Vivien wrote in French but she was educated in England
and had Scottish and American roots.

At the end of 1899 Violet Shilleto -Viviens' childhood friend and lover-
introduced her to Natalie Clifford Barney, a wealthy American, who was
leading an active lesbian life in Paris.
Vivien was tormented by Barney's infidelities and by the death in 1901
of Violet Shilleto, who was one of the major inspirations for Vivien's poetry.
She tried, for the second time in her life, to commit suicide.
At the end of 1901, Vivien met the Baroness Hélène de Zuylen de Nyevelt
with whom she would spend the next several years. The Baroness offered
Vivien emotional and financial security.
In 1904 Vivien and Natalie Clifford Barney ran off together to Lesbos,
where they tried to establish a Sapphic circle of artists. The project was
not a succes and Vivien rekindled her relationship with the Baroness.
Vivien went on to have affairs with ladies of the demimonde and in 1906,
the Baroness ended her relationship with Renée Vivien.
The tormented poetess died in 1909 of alcoholism and anorexia.

Renée Viviens' poetry was influenced by Keats, Swinburne, Baudelaire,
Pierre Louys and Hellenic culture.
Her major works are Etudes et Préludes (1901), Cendres et poussières
(Ashes and Dust 1902), Les Kitharèdes (The Women of Kithara 1904),
Une Femme m'apparut (A Woman Appeared to Me 1904), A l'Heure
des Mains jointes (At the Hour of Joined Hands 1906), Sillages
(Sea Wakes 1908), Flambeaux éteints (Extinguished Torches 1908)
and translations from Sappho.
Viviens conversion to Roman Catholicism, shortly before her death,
influenced her last works: Dans Un coin de violettes (In a Violet Garden
1908) and Le Vent des vaisseaux (Ship Wind 1909).
Her novel Anne Boleyn was not published until 1982.




R. Vivien 1 in French (24 poems)


R. Vivien 2 in French (20 poems)


R. Vivien 3 in French (11 poems)


R. Vivien in Dutch (3 poems)


Sapphic poetry


Dead Poetesses Society



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© Gaston D'Haese: 22-04-2003.
Update 03-04-2016.