L’instant fatal: six poèmes de Raymond Queneau (The Fatal Moment: six poems by Raymond Queneau) was possibly Mario Prassinos’s first attempt at book illustration, a series of powerful etchings to accompany an early version of his poet friend Queneau’s poems. The full version of L’instant fatal did not appear until 1948, when Gallimard published the complete cycle, but this cycle of six poems about death in all its guises and repercussions, appearing in the depths of wartime Paris, clearly moved both poet and artist to deep artistic expression.

Prassinos chose to illustrate Queneau’s stark verses with naked people, often involved in everyday activities, but with skeletal bodies and grinning faces.

Raymond Queneau in 1948

Here is an extract from the end of the first poem:

L’instant fatal

Tu as bon métier tu vis et tu prospères
En profitant des morts

Puis c’est la maladie et puis c’est la misèere
Tu t’inquiètes des morts

Tiussant et tremblotant tout doux tu dégénères
Tu ressembles aux morts

Désireux d’oublier la vocable arvbitraire
Qui désigne les morts

Tu veux revivre enfin la mémoire plénière
Qui t’éloigne des morts

Louable effort! Juste tâche! Con science exemplaire
Dont sourient les morts car

Toujours l’instant fatal viendra pour nous distraire

The Fatal Moment

You have a good job you live and you prosper
Taking advantage of the dead

Then it’s sickness and then it’s misery
You worry about the dead

Steadfast and trembling very softly you degenerate
You look like the dead

Eager to forget the arbitrary word
That designates the dead

You want finally to relive the full memory
That keeps you away from the dead

Laudable effort! Just task! Exemplary knowledge
Whose dead smile because

The fatal moment will always come to distract us

L’instant fatal was published by Aux Nourritures Terrestres, Paris in a limited numbered edition of 250 copies.