Unpublished Translations

PETIT MORT POUR RIRE de Tristan Corbière (1845-75)


Va vite, léger peigneur de comètes !
Les herbes au vent seront tes cheveux ;
De ton œil béant jailliront les feux
Follets, prisonniers dans les pauvres têtes…

Go quick, light comber of comets!
The windblown grasses will be your hair;
From your gaping eye the foolish fires
Will leap, prisoners in poor heads…

Les fleurs du tombeau qu’on nomme Amourettes
Foisonneront plein ton rire terreux…
Et les myosotis, ces fleurs d’oubliettes… 

The tombstone flowers well known as flirts
Will flourish in your earthy laugh…
And forget-me-nots, those dungeon flowers…

Ne fais pas le lourd: cercueils de poètes
Pour les croque-morts sont de simples jeux,
Boîtes à violon qui sonnent le creux…
Ils te croiront mort — Les bourgeois sont bêtes —
Va vite, léger peigneur de comètes ! 

Don’t play the heavy: the coffins of poets
Are cheap tricks for morticians,
Violin boxes sounding the hollow…
They’re think you’re dead — the bourgeois have no wit —
Go quick, light comber of comets!

                                                             Translation 1977/2018

PARIAH by Tristan Corbière (1845-75)

Let them have their Republics,
Free men! — yokes round their necks —
Let them breed in their cozy nests! —
Me, I’m the skinny cuckoo.

Qu’ils se payent des républiques,
Hommes libres ! — carcan au cou —
Qu’ils peuplent leurs nids domestiques !...
— Moi je suis le maigre coucou.

— Me, —with eunuch heart, cut off
From what gets hard and what gets wet.…
What does their Freedom song
Sing to me? Always alone. Always free.

— Moi, — cœur eunuque, dératé
De ce qui mouille et ce qui vibre…
Que me chante leur Liberté,
À moi? toujours seul. Toujours libre.

My Homeland … it’s throughout the world;
And since the planet’s round,
I’m not afraid of seeing its end.…
My homeland’s wherever I lay it down:
Land or sea, wherever I stand,
Wherever I plant my feet — when I’m not lying down.

— Ma patrie… elle est par le monde;
Et, puisque la planète est ronde,
Je ne crains pas d’en voir le bout…
Ma patrie est où je la plante:
Terre ou mer, elle est sous la plante
De mes pieds — quand je suis debout.

When I’m lying down, my homeland
Is the lone and beat down bed
Where I go to force my other half,
Soulless like me, into my arms;
My other half: a woman …
A woman I do not have.

Quand je suis couché: ma patrie
Cést la couche seule et meurtrie
Où je vais forcer dans mes bras
Ma moitié, comme moi sans âme;
Et ma moitié: c’est une femme…
Une femme que je n’ai pas.

My ideal: a hollow dream,
My horizon — the unforeseen —
Homesickness eats away at me …
For a land I’ve never seen.

— L’idéal à moi: c’ést un songe
Creux; mon horizon — l’ímprévue —
Et le mal du pays me ronge…
Du pays que je n’ai pas vu.

Let the sheep keep to their ruts
From Carcassonne to Timbuktu....
My route follows me. No doubt
It will, wherever I go.

Que les moutons suivent leur route,
De Carcassonne à Tombouctou…
— Moi, ma route me suit. Sans doute
Elle me suivra n’ímporte où.

My national colors flutter above
With the sky overhead for a crown:
It’s the sea breeze though my hair …
And I can take a tirade
In whatever tongue you choose,
If I want to I can shut up too.

Mon pavillon sur moi frissonne,
Il a le ciel pour couronne:
C'est la brise dans mes cheveux…
Et, dans n’importe quelle langue;
Je puis subir une harangue;
Je puis me taire si je veux.

My thought is arid breath: it’s air.
And air belongs to me everywhere.
My speech, empty echo
Saying nothing — that’s all.

Ma pensée est un souffle aride:
C’est l’air. L’air est à moi partout.
Et ma parole est l’écho vide
Qui ne dit rien — et c’est tout.

My past: it’s what I forget.
The only thing binding me
Is my hand in my other hand....
My memory — Nothing — My tracks.
My present, everything passing me by;
My future — Tomorrow … tomorrow.

Mon passé: c’est ce que j’oublie.
Et la seule chose qui me lie
C’est ma main dans mon autre main.
Mon souvenir — Rien — C’est ma trace.
Mon présent, c’est tout ce qui passe
Mon avenir — Demain… demain.

I don’t know of my like;
Me, I’m what I make of myself.
— “The human ego is despicable....”
— I neither love nor hate myself.

Je ne connais pas mon semblable ;
Moi, je suis ce que je me fais.
— Le Moi human, est haïssable…
— Je ne m’aime ni me hais.

All right, so life’s a girl
Who took me for a ride …
To see her reduced to rags is my delight,
To whore her, without desire.

— Allons! La vie est une fille
Qui m’a pris à son bon plaisir…
Le miens, c’est : le mettre en guenille,
La prostituer sans désir.

— Gods? … — I was born by chance;
Maybe there are some — by chance.…
If they want to get to know me,
They’ll find me somewhere.

— Des dieux?... — Par hasard j’ái pu naître;
Peut-être en est-il — par hasard…
Ceux-là, s’ils veulent me connaître,
Me trouveront bien quelque part.

— Wherever I die, without my asking,
My homeland will open wide,
Wide enough, that is, for my shroud.…
Still talking shrouds: what for?
Since my home is in the earth
My bare bones will do just fine.

— Où que je meure: ma patrie
S’ouvrira bien, sans qu’on l’en prie,
Assez grande pour mon linceul…
Un linceul encor: pour que faire ?...
Puisque ma patrie est en terre
Mon os ira bien là tout seul…

Translation 1978/2012

VERS DORES de Les Chimères de Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855)
GOLDEN LINES from Les Chimères by Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855)

                                                    « Eh quoi, tout est sensible!»  ‒ Pythagoras

Man, free thinker ! Do you think you alone are thinking
In this world where life bursts in all things?
Your freedom makes your strengths available,
Yet from all your councils the universe is absent.

Homme, libre penseur! Te crois-tu seul pensant
Dans ce monde où la vie éclate en toute chose ?
Des forces que tu tiens ta liberté dispose,
Mais de tous tes conseils l’univers est absent.

Respect an active spirit in the beasts:
Each flower is a soul unfolding to Nature;
A mystery of love lies resting in metal;
“Everything is sentient!” And everything has power over your being.

Respecte dans la bête un espirit agissant;
Chaque fleur est un âme à la Nature éclose;
Un mystère d’amour dans le métal repose ;
« Tout est sensible ! » Et tout sur ton être est puissant.

Beware a spying eye in the blind wall:
To matter itself a verb is attached….
Don’t put it to some impious use!

Crains, dans le mur aveugle, un regard qui t’épie:
A la matière même un verbe est attaché…
Ne la fais pas servir à quelque usage impie !

Often a hidden God lives in obscurity;
And like an eye born covered by its lid,
A pure spirit grows beneath the crust of stones!

Souvent dans l’être obscure habite un Dieu caché ;
Et comme un œil naissant couvert par ses paupières,
Un pur esprit s’accroît sous l’écorce des pierres!

Translation 1973/2000


VOYANTS? de Guillevic (1968)

Many people are upset that poets think and speak of themselves as discovers of the true, carriers of the new law, visionaries. Why them? What Providence endowed them? Who consecrated them? It is time to de-sanctify the poet, they say. Let us try to see a bit clearer.

Since he is a man, the poet is man, and so he is like other men, like everyone. This is obvious—and not quite true.

Because the poet is the one who has the power to make certain combinations with the language of his native land that other men need in order to find themselves, to find the world—in order to live.

Where does this singular power come from? A mystery, no doubt. But surely he would not have this power if her were not also gifted with a great sensitivity with regard to everything that constitutes his native tongue: words, syntax, usages.

It is due to this sensitivity that he can, with the elements of his native tongue, make a language which permits him to say more than those elements in their usual combinations allow to be said.

Such sensitivity does not come without an equal sensitivity to things other than language. The poet is a man with the sensitivity of a flower and leaf to everything making up the outer and inner world. I think it is this sensitivity which permits him his rapports with the language and which binds him to those rapports.

Is this explanation sufficient? Does it show why the poet is a man who needs happiness—his own and others—so very badly? Does it show why, in the speech of poets, we seem to go twice that much deeper into life?

For the poet there is always a ways to go before living on life’s true side, that side finally admissible—until now seen only in exceptional moments and, in particular, during the writing and reading of poems.

I am willing to believe that the poet’s interrogation is linked to his ties to language, because his raw material has been woven over the centuries as if on life’s underside with the needs, aspirations, dreams, and certitudes of men. It is in their language that men dream of what their lives should be. Language is the confessional of the people.

That is why the poet—who more than anyone else has right of access to the confessional—can speak.

The poet is visionary because he listens where others speak and have spoken. To the extent that he can listen, the poet can speak for everyone, he can announce.

And it goes without saying that when I say “poet” I do not mean the versifier but that man who writes a tortured language where other men—and language itself— recognize themselves as real.

In our time prose and poetry long for a renewed marriage at the border of speech and silence.

Translation 1977

COMPLAINTE DE VINCENT by Jacques Prévert (1900-77)


A Arles où roule le Rhône

At Arles where the Rhône rolls

Dans l’atroce lumière de midi

In the atrocious light of noon

Un homme de phosphore et de sang

A man of phosphorous and blood

Pousse une obsédante plainte

Lets loose a haunting moan

Comme une femme qui fait son enfant

Like a woman giving birth to a child

Et le linge devient rouge

And the sheets get red

Et l’homme s’enfuit en hurlant

And the man runs howling away

Pourchassé par le soleil

Pursued by the sun

Un soleil d’un jaune strident

A sun of shrill yellow

Au bordel tout près du Rhône

To the whorehouse near the Rhône

L’homme arrive comme un roi mage

The man arrives like a Magi

Avec son absurde présent

With his absurd gift

Il a le regard bleu et doux

He has the blue and gentle look

Le vrai regard lucide et foux

The true lucid and crazy look

De ceux qui donnent tout à la vie

Of those who give life everything

De ceux qui ne sont pas jaloux

Of those who are not jealous

Et montre à la pauvre enfant

And shows the poor child

Son oreille couchée dans le linge

His ear lying in the linen

Et elle pleure sans rien comprendre

And she weeps without understanding anything

Songeant à de tristes presages

Thinking sad omens

Et regarde sans oser de prendre

And regards without daring to take it

L’affreux et tendre coquillage

The horrible and tender seashell

Où les plaintes de l‘amour mort

Where the cries of dead love

Et les voix inhumaines de l’art

And the inhumane voices of art

Se mêlent aux murmures de la mer

Mix with the murmurs of the sea

Et vont mourir sur le carrelage

And are dying on the floor tiles

Dans la chambre où l’édredon rouge

In the room where the red eiderdown

D’un rouge soudain éclatant

In a suddenly bursting red

Mélange ce rouge si rouge

Blends that red so red

Au sang bien plus rouge encore

With the even redder blood

De Vincent à demi mort

Of half-dead Vincent

Et sage comme l’image même

And wise as the very image

De la misère et de lámour

Of misery and of love

L’enfant nue toute seule sans âge

The child naked ageless all alone

Regarde le pauvre Vincent

Watches poor Vincent

Foudroyé par son proper orage

Thunderstruck by his own storm

Qui s’écroule sur le carreau

Collapsed on the tiles

Couché dans son plus beau tableau

Laid down in his most beautiful tableau

Et l'orage s’en va calmé indifférent

And the storm subsides calmed indifferent

En roulant devant lui ses grand tonneaux de sang

Rolling great casks of blood out before him

L’éblouissant orage du génie de Vincent

The dazzling storm of Vincent’s genius

Et Vincent reste là dormant rêvant râlant

And Vincent remains there sleeping dreaming rattling

Et le soleil au-dessus du bordel

And above the whorehouse the sun

Comme une orange folle dans un désert sans nom

Like a crazy orange in a nameless desert

Le soleil sur Arles

The sun over Arles

En hurlant tourne en rond.

Howling makes its rounds.

                                                   Translation 1973

THE UNIVERSE IS A SPIRAL by Iannis Xenakis in Le Nouvel Observateur, 25 May 84

Musician from Greece who studied under Messiaen and was a disciple of and collaborator with Le Corbusier, just elected to the Academy of Beaux-Arts. Musician-architect, he has created large audiovisual spaces, his famous Polytopes. But even if he is the inventor of calculated musics—an adept of the computer—he is the first to declare that “Intuition is fundamental.”

Innumerable forms populate our visible and invisible universe. In the galaxies, in living matter, in our terrestrial environment—these forms have been discovered by virtue of powerful technological and theoretical means. The richness and variety of these forms—those static (outside of time) or those in evolution (in time)—seem truly endless.

A keen question: could man be condemned to be but a simpler discoverer, could he be condemned but to explore? Or, on the contrary, might he not have a certain margin of originality? In other words, could everything in our universe be predetermined, given once and for all, even if chance does play a part in this miraculous machine which is the cosmos? In Plato’s POLITICS we can read the beautiful theory of the inversions of time with the assistance of godly masters-of-ceremonies during terrestrial periods, in conflict with the increasing entropy of an automated system.

Parmenides symmetrically said, “Being is the same as thinking.” Asymmetrically, Descartes and the solipsism of Berkeley take off from thought in order to establish the real: “I think therefore I am.” Inversely, the materialists take off from the real in order to form thought. The modern discussion extends to the confrontation between the genetic patrimony of the species and of nature.

But the artist, the thinker, the human being—all have the imperious need of a surprise hope: to be able to invent, to create, not just to discover or unveil, as Heidegger says. Yes, originality is an absolute necessity for the survival of the human species. I would add that it is a necessity for the survival of the cosmos. There must be creation in the universe. Einstein’s God was supposed to possess such a power which encompassed the apparent opposition between determinism and incertitude. This god, that is, ourselves, the cosmos. But what to do to know this god? How to sort out the creation, the absolute originality of an imitation, of a copy which itself is infinitely complex?

It is only in the last few millenniums that man has begun to inventory the terrestrial and conceptual forms using the taxonomic dichotomy of Plato. To inventory, to classify is a necessary tool. What’s more, it is a primary tool, completely programmed into our mentality and bringing with it logic, mathematics, science, and even the arts. The artist juggles with forms just like the scientist or the believer. The musician does so even more systematically since he lives in the microcosm of sound and the macrocosm of vaster architectures—simultaneously.

The stupefying proliferation of forms in the universe might perhaps reduce itself to a few archetypes from which all others result. For the mind, the spiral is one of the most engaging among the forms. Simple, double, multiple, in pairs, or in several dimensions—spirals are found throughout the universe, in the whirlpools of seaborne flows and in the whirlpools of gases, in the tendrils of plants, in DNA, in synchrotronic radiations in the shells of snails, in cyclones, in galaxies, in the horns of mountain goats. The spiral can readily be seen in the meanderings of rivers and serpents.

But what is strange is the place that the motif of the spiral occupies as an esthetic ornament in a geographical distribution across the earth during epochs of antiquity several millenniums before our era. The spiral is found on the beautiful vases of Joman Japan, in China, in the Cyclades, among the Minoan, the Mycenaean, in Africa, on the megaliths of Malta and in Brittany, in Incan Peru and even—although latterly and in orthogonal format—among the Mayan. It is an astonishing thing: how civilizations, so far apart and without reciprocal influence, found such similar and esthetically expressive versions of the spiral. Its blossoming is especially evident during the 3rd and 2nd millennium before the Christian era.

What were its magic or symbolic significations? It is time to try to establish a morphological science which begins with a taxonomy of the forms of the universe as well as their tablatures, that is, their causalities.

[Translation July 1984]