Paris by Hope Mirrlees


Paris: A Poem was written by the British writer Hope Mirrlees in spring 1919. It is a snapshot of post-war Paris, a description of a journey through the city from day to night. Described by one critic as a ‘lost masterpiece of modernism’ (Julia Briggs), it is a daring, experimental avant garde poem. It is in many ways a parallel work to T S Eliot’s The Waste Land, which Paris predates by two years.

This is the first edition, printed by Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press in 1919. It was published in 1920, although the title page incorrectly states 1919. Critics suggest that its small distribution of just 175 copies prevented it from being better known.

What does the poem depict?

Paris portrays metropolitan modern life and the emerging modern consciousness. Set on a single day like Ulysses (1922) and Mrs Dalloway (1925), the poem opens with the bold, remarkable line, ‘I want a holophrase’. It conveys Mirrlees’ desire to do away with virtually all language and form in favour of a single word that entirely captures her subject.

Yet this desire is overcome as the speaker heads into the Metro station, bombarded by signs, posters and advertisements. Evoking a roaming camera, the poem takes us through the bustling Parisian streets and its people, architecture, art, and nightlife. Like The Waste Land, Paris is full of fragmented, disparate sounds and voices.

Mirrlees also portrays a city full of reminders of war and death. There are multiple references to ghosts and dreams; to World War One and the 1919 Paris peace conference; to psychoanalysis, Freud, and the unconscious. Yet, unlike The Waste Land’s treatment of London, Mirrlees is ultimately optimistic. Paris embraces the recovering city, showing its damage as well as its dizzying energy.

Printing Paris at the Hogarth Press

Paris overthrows the traditional boundaries of poetic form. Influenced by Guillaume Apollinaire’s ‘concrete poetry’ (such as Calligrammes, 1918), Mirrlees actively plays with typography and layout. In one section the text is displayed like memorial plaques (pp. 18–19) which sits alongside a musical score (p. 18). The work thereby evokes visual art, while also echoing the syncopated rhythms of jazz.

This formally experimental poem was, therefore, the most ambitious work that the Woolfs had published since establishing their press in 1917. The Woolfs printed the poem by hand, sewed the pages together, and bound it in a harlequin patterned paper in gold, blue and red. There are several errors including spelling mistakes (e.g. ‘leisuerly’, p. 19). Some pages had to be hand-corrected in pencil, such as the insertion of ‘St.’ on p. 3.

Full title:
Paris. A poem
1919, The Hogarth Press, Paradise Road, Richmond, London
Hogarth Press
Hope Mirrlees
Usage terms

© Hope Mirrlees – Hope Mirrlees Collected Poems – Ed: Sandeep Parmar – published by Carcanet Press – published 2011. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further

Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Sounds in The Waste Land: voices, rhythms, music

Article by:
Katherine Mullin
Capturing and creating the modern, Literature 1900–1950

The Waste Land is crowded with voices and music, from ancient Hindu and Buddhist scripture to the popular songs of the 1920s. Katherine Mullin listens to the sounds of T S Eliot's poem.

Mrs Dalloway: exploring consciousness and the modern world

Article by:
Elaine Showalter
Exploring identity, Capturing and creating the modern, Literature 1900–1950

Elaine Showalter describes how, in Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf uses stream of consciousness to enter the minds of her characters and portray cultural and individual change in the period following the First World War.

City of dead souls: The Waste Land and the modern moment

Article by:
Lyndall Gordon
Capturing and creating the modern, Literature 1900–1950

Lyndall Gordon explores how modernist art, dance and music, as well as the experience of early 20th-century urban living, shaped T S Eliot's The Waste Land, which both describes the modern condition and searches for something outside of it.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

The Waste Land

Created by: T S Eliot

The Waste Land, a long poem by the American writer T S Eliot, is one of the most famous works of literary ...