Mina Loy
from Lunar Baedeker



Brancusi's Golden Bird v


         The toy
         become the aesthetic archetype

As if
         some patient peasant God
         had rubbed and rubbed
         the Alpha and Omega
         of Form
         into a lump of metal

         A naked orientation
         unwinged     unplumed
              —the ultimate rhythm
         has lopped the extremities
         of crest and claw
         the nucleus of flight

         The absolute act
         of art
         to continent sculpture
         —bare as the brow of Osiris—
         this breast of revelation

         an incandescent curve
         licked by chromatic flames
         in labyrinths of reflections

         This gong
         of polished hyperaesthesia
         shrills with brass
         as the aggressive light v
         its significance

         The immaculate
         of the inaudible bird
         in gorgeous reticence   .   .   .



from "The Lost Lunar Baedeker, Poems" selected and edited by Roger Conover, 1996, New York, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
© 2018 Estate of Mina Loy, courtesy of Roger L. Conover.




BRANCUSI'S GOLDEN BIRD, 1922. First published in the The Dial 73 (November 1922, pp. 507-8), opposite Constantin Brancusi's studio photograph of the Golden Bird. The same image had previously been reproduced in the "Brancusi" number of The Little Review 8 (Autumn 1921, pl. 17) accompanying Exra Pound's essay on Brancusi. A typescript in the Walter Conrad Arensberg Archives, Francis Bacon Library appears to be a copy of the Dial text transcribed by Arensberg. ^

Reprinted in Lunar Baedekar ("1921-1922").

This text follows  the first published version, to which I have made one correction:

  Line 28: aggressive ] agressive ^    

Editor's Note: This is one of two works by Loy featuring Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957). The other, a pencil portrait of the sculptor's head, is reproduced in the Jargon Society 1982 The Last Lunar Baedeker (pl. 18).  Although Loy and Brancusi would later become friends in Paris, and appear in photographs  with Jane Heap, Margaret Anderson, and Tristan Tzara, "when she wrote this poem she had never met the Rumanian genius of sculpture ... the  poem represents a real intuitional appreciation" (Eugene Jolas, Paris Tribune, July 24, 1924). Loy's poem is among the first "American" appreciations of Brancusi's work. Along with Henry McBride, she was the first writer to champion Brancusi in The Dial.

Loy's sixth and final contribution to The Dial appeared in the magazine's famous Waste Land issue. The magazine quickly sold out its sixteen thousand copies and prompted a vituperative exchange between Scofield Thayer and his managing editor, Gilbert Seldes. Thayer objected to the reproduction of Brancusi's  photograph on the grounds that it had "no aesthetic value whatever" and was  "commercially suicidal." Seldes shot back that it was Loy's poem, not Brancusi's  photograph, that caused "the only row . .. in that connection."

These events preceded by several years the legal dispute over whether Brancusi's Bird in Space should be allowed to pass through customs duty-free (as art) or should be considered a piece of metalwork and therefore be subject to import tax as an object of manufacture. This controversy (decided by the Customs Court in Brancusi's favor) preceded by only one year the dispute over whether Loy's first book (Lunar Baedeker, 1923) should be able to pass through customs at all, and may partially explain the radical revisions she made to "Songs to Joannes" between its first periodical appearance and its reconstitution in book form as "Love Songs" (n. 15).

Many Brancusi scholars have cited this poem, and it has been reprinted in several books and catalogues on Brancusi, including the historically significant catalogue for his first major one-person show in New York (Brummer Gallery, 1926). All Brancusi literature to date has identified the Golden Bird of Loy's title as the celebrated 1919 bronze sculpture purchased by lawyer, patron, and collector John Quinn (1870-1924), now owned by the Art Institute of Chicago. This claim was most recently made by Margherita Androeotti in her essay "Brancusi's Golden Bird: A New Species of Modem Sculpture" (Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Studies, 19:3, pp. 134--52).

Androeotti is correct in speculating that Loy could easily have seen the sculpture in either the home of Quinn or at the exhibition "Contemporary French Art" (Sculptors' Gallery, New York, 1922).  These circumstances, coupled with the photograph of the canonical Golden Bird which accompanied the first appearance of the poem, make a convenient case to support this theory. But they do not take into account another fact: that there was a second Golden Bird produced at roughly the same time (1919-20), which was nearly identical to the first in size, form, and materials. Both are listed in Friedrich Teja Bach's definitive catalogue raisonne, Constantin Brancusi (Dumont: Cologne, 1987) under the French heading l'Oiseau d'Or (cf. entries 155 and 156, pp. 456-57).

The less known of the two (now in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts) was originally purchased on December 16, 1921 (for 5,000 francs), by Mariette Mills, the expatriate American sculptor and former student of French sculptor Antoine [Émile] Bourdelle. In the summer of 1921, Loy visited her close friends Mariette and Heyworth Mills in their home on rue Boissonnade, where she had an epiphanic encounter with the bronze sculpture.

Loy recorded her first reaction to the Golden Bird in her 1950 essay "Phenomenon in American  Art" "Years ago at wonderful Mariette Mills' I came face to face, or rather face to flight with Brancusi's Bird." She then described the "long aesthetic itinerary from Brancusi's Golden Bird to [Joseph] Cornell's Aviary," calling Brancusi's sculpture "the purest abstraction I have ever seen."

Given the resemblance of the two sculptures, Loy could have been responding to either "aesthetic archetype." But her written recollection strongly suggests that she was writing not about Quinn's Golden Bird but rather about the less celebrated Golden Bird that she saw at the Millses' (Bach 156).

The essay "Phenomenon in American  Art," is among Loy's papers at the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, Mina Loy Archive and was reprinted int.he Jargon Society 1982 The Last Lunar Baedeker. ^