‘Pavilions of Dreaming’

Bodies as Structures in Kay Sage’s Demain, Monsieur Silber


  • Katharine Conley William & Mary


Born Katherine Linn Sage near Albany, New York, in 1898, Kay Sage is best known for her “architectonic” landscapes, described as her “private cloudland” in Time magazine. Less well known are her four volumes of poetry published between 1957 and 1962, three in French, one in English. Although her paintings are devoid of living beings, with one notable exception, they are populated with structures and structural elements, which, in her poems, stand in for herself, for her own body, as a supplement to her painted work. Her friend James Thrall Soby described the abstracted structures in her paintings as “pavilions of dreaming” that arise from somewhere “deep in memory,” a description that serves as an corollary to the way Sage describes herself in her poems, as a person exposed to the elements, the worries and indignities of everyday life, in a gradually rigidifying body, as though she experienced her body as a kind of open garden “pavilion.”

Sage’s more significant self-portraiture occurred at the end of her life in her four volumes of poetry, three published in France—Demain, Monsieur Silber (Tomorrow, Mr. Silber; Seghers, 1957), in a limited edition of 500 copies; Faut dire c’qui est (Tell It Like It Is; Debresse, 1959); and Mordicus (Mordicus; pab, 1962), also in a limited edition of 253 copies—and The More I Wonder (Bookman, 1957), published in the United States. A vivid personality emerges in her poems, steeped in despair yet leavened with dark humor. Her poetic voice surfaces out of sturdy yet vulnerable bodies typically represented as more architectural than human, ranging from a tree to an oyster, a tower, and a marble statue.

Author Biography

Katharine Conley, William & Mary

Kate Conley teaches courses on the surrealist movement and twentieth and twenty-first-century French and Francophone literature and culture. She has a Ph.D. in French from the University of Pennsylvania (1992). She has published three books, Surrealist Ghostliness (Nebraska, 2013), Robert Desnos, Surrealism, and the Marvelous in Everyday Life (Nebraska, 2003), and Automatic Woman: The Representation of Woman in Surrealism (Nebraska, 1996), as well as two co-edited volumes, Robert Desnos pour l’an 2000, co-edited with Marie-Claire Dumas (Gallimard, 2000), and La Femme s’entête: La Part du féminin dans le surréalisme, with Georgiana M.M. Colvile (Lachenal & Ritter, 1998), and multiple articles and book chapters in such journals as Modernism/ModernitySymposium, South Central Review, The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, Papers of Surrealism, Sites: Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, French Forum and French Review. She is currently working on a book tentatively entitled Surrealism Collects the World.