André Breton, to Charles Henri Ford’s question What do you think of the countryside around New York?
I like enormously what I have seen of the Hudson and its green islets – the Floating Island – which doubtless remains something secret and menacing from the books of my childhood. I was extremely pleased to become acquainted for the first time with that unique light of ‘apparition’ which appears over the grass about five o’clock in the afternoon and which bathes, to the exclusion of all others, certain poems of Poe, such as ‘Ulalume’.
At André Masson’s, in the heart of a little wood, it was a wonderful surprise to discover the little ‘Indian pipe‘, so timorous, so ambiguous, which more than any other plant is part of that light. With him, too, I admired, freely inflecting all the shades of leafage, the scarlet tanager. Truly surrealist flora has been enriched, as far as I am concerned, with a new species shown me by Kay and Yves Tanguy: a staghorn fern suspended in its superb turtleshell.
But, above all, I have begun my initiation into the mysteries of American butterflies. The lunar moth – what splendour, how enigmatic! Don’t you find it inadmissible that one cares so little for the butterfly? Ought the description of a plant omit that of the caterpillar (the magnificent caterpillar of the samia cecropia which I found here seems one of the sources of that uncertain opaline bluish light to which I referred above) or the larva which, more or less electively, lives upon it? The affinity of an animal organism with such a species – is it not as significant as its type of inflorescence, for instance? But the mania for classification tends to get the upper hand over all real methods of knowledge. I’m really afraid that natural philosophy has not advanced a step since Hegel.
From an interview in View magazine, no. 7-8, Oct-Nov 1941.