Poems in Translation-5

POETS ON THIS PAGE: FRENCH POETS: FRANCOIS VILLON * CHARLES BAUDELAIRE * ARTHUR RIMBAUD * PAUL VERLAINE * VICTOR HUGO * TRISTAN CORBIERE * JACQUES PREVERT * JULES SUPERVIELLE * FRANCIS PONGE *  MARCELINE DESBORDES-VALMORE * JULES LAFORGUE * PAUL VALERY * GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE * GERMAN POETS: JOHANN WOLFGANG van  GOETHE * RAINER MARIA RILKE * HUGO VON HOFMANNSTHAL * JOSEPH VON EICHENDORFF * HANS MAGNUS ENZENBERGER * EDUARD MORIKE * CHRISTIAN MORGENSTERN * HEINRICH HEINE * HERMAN HESSE * GEORG TRAKL * PAUL CELAN * BERTOLT BRECHT * GUNTER EICH

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FRENCH POETS

Villon’s Epitaph (Ballade Of The Hanged Men)

O brother men who after us remain,
Do not look coldly on the scene you view,
For if you pity wretchedness and pain,
God will the more incline to pity you.
You see us hang here, half a dozen who
Indulged the flesh in every liberty
Till it was pecked and rotted, as you see,
And these our bones to dust and ashes fall.
Let no one mock our sorry company,
But pray to God that He forgive us all.

If we have called you brothers, don’t disdain
The appellation, though alas it’s true
That not all men are equal as to brain,
And that our crimes and blunders were not few.
Commend us, now that we are dead, unto
The Virgin Mary’s son, in hopes that He
Will not be sparing of His clemency,
But save our souls, which Satan would enthrall.
We’re dead now, brothers; show your charity
And pray to God that He forgive us all.

We have been rinsed and laundered by the rain,
And by the sunlight dried and blackened too.
Magpie and crow have plucked our eyeballs twain
And cropped our eyebrows and the beards we grew.
Nor have we any rest at all, for to
And fro we sway at the wind’s fantasy,
Which has no object, yet would have us be
(Pitted like thimbles) at its beck and call.
Do not aspire to our fraternity,
But pray to God that He forgive us all.
Prince Jesus, we implore Your Majesty
To spare us Hell’s distress and obloquy; 
We want no part of what may there befall.
And, mortal men, let’s have no mockery,
But pray to God that He forgive us all.

by Francois Villon, 1431-1463?; translated from French by Richard Wilbur

Ballade of Forgiveness

Brothers and sisters, Celestine,
Carthusian, or Carmelite,
Street-loafers, fops whose buckles shine,
Lackeys, and courtesans whose tight
Apparel gratifies the sight,
And little ladies'-men who trot
In tawny boots of dreadful height:
I beg forgiveness of the lot.

Young whores who flash their teats in sign
Of what they hawk for men's delight,
Ape-handlers, thieves and, soused with wine,
Wild bullies looking for a fight,
And Jacks and Jills whose hearts are light,
Whistling and joking, talking rot,
Street-urchins dodging left and right:
I beg forgiveness of the lot.

Excepting for those bloody swine
Who gave me, many a morn and night,
The hardest crusts on which to dine;
Henceforth I'll fear them not a mite.
I'd belch and fart in their despite,
Were I not sitting on my cot.
Well, to be peaceful and polite,
I beg forgiveness of the lot.

May hammers, huge and heavy, smite
Their ribs, and likewise cannon-shot.
May cudgels pulverize them quite.
I beg forgiveness of the lot.

by Francois Villon, 1431-1463?; translated from French by Richard Wilbur

[CLICK TO SEE FRANCOIS VILLON’S “BALLADE OF THE LADIES OF TIME PAST” (TR. BY RICHARD WILBUR)]  CLICK ARROWS AT SIDE OF FIRST PAGE TO SEE MORE

as translated by Richard Wilbur

text to the above poem:

The Albatross

Often, for pastime, mariners will ensnare
The albatross, that vast sea-bird who sweeps
On high companionable pinion where
Their vessel glides upon the bitter deeps.

Torn from his native space, this captive king
Flounders upon the deck in stricken pride,
And pitiably lets his great white wing
Drag like a heavy paddle at his side.

This rider of winds, how awkward he is, and weak!
How droll he seems, who late was all grace!
A sailor pokes a pipestem into his beak;
Another, hobbling, mocks his trammeled pace.

The Poet is like this monarch of the clouds
Familiar of storms, of stars, and of all high things;
Exiled on earth amidst its hooting crowds,
He cannot walk, borne down by his giant wings.

by Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867; translated from French by Richard Wilbur

The Fountain

My dear, your eyes are weary;
Rest them a little while.
Assume the languid posture
Of pleasure mixed with guile.
Outside the talkative fountain
Continues night and day
Repeating my warm passion
In whatever it has to say.

The sheer luminous gown
The fountain wears
Where Phoebe’s very own
Color appears
Falls like a summer rain
Or shawl of tears.

Thus your soul ignited
By pleasure’s lusts and needs
Sprays into heaven’s reaches
And dreams of fiery deeds.
Then it brims over, dying,
And languorous, apart,
Drains down some slope and enters
The dark well of my heart.

The sheer luminous gown
The fountain wears
Where Phoebe’s very own
Color appears
Falls like a summer rain
Or shawl of tears.

O you, whom night enhances,
How sweet here at your breasts
To hear the eternal sadness
Of water that never rests.
O moon, o singing fountain,
O leaf-thronged night above,
You are the faultless mirrors
Of my sweet, bitter love.

The sheer luminous gown
The fountain wears
Where Phoebe’s very own
Color appears
Falls like a summer rain
Or shawl of tears.

by Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867; translated from French by Anthony Hecht

Source: Poetry (September 2011)

To see Walter Martin’s translation of Baudelaire’s “La Geante” (The Giantess)  [CLICK HERE]

To see Anthony Hecht’s translation from Baudelaire’s French of  “Je n’ais pas oublié, voisine de la ville…” [“I remember it well enough, on the edge of town…”] [CLICK HERE]

THE SKELETON LABORER

      Written to the flayed and fleshless figures on an
      anatomical chart, from the 19th century French.

Out of the earth at which you spade,
Funeral laborers, tired and done,
Out of your straining, naked bone,
Out of your muscles bare and frayed,

Tell me, what harvest do you win?
Slaves snatched from the charnel ground,
Who is the farmer drives this round
To fill his barn? And what your sin?

You, the terrible sign we’re shown
Of our destiny’s greater dearth,
Wish you to say that in the earth
The promised sleep is never known?

That the end has betrayed us here,
That even death himself has lied?
That though eternity betide,
Alas! we have again to fear

That in some unknown land we’ll meet
A knotted earth that needs to be flayed—
To drive again the heavy spade
Beneath our bleeding, naked feet?

by Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867; translated from French by Yvor Winters

click here for more on Charles Baudelaire, 1821–1867


The Ragpickers’ Wine

In the muddy maze of some old neighborhood,
Often, where the street lamp gleams like blood,
As the wind whips the flame, rattles the glass,
Where human beings ferment in a stormy mass,
 
One sees a ragpicker knocking against the walls,
Paying no heed to the spies of the cops, his thralls,
But stumbling like a poet lost in dreams;
He pours his heart out in stupendous schemes.
 
He takes great oaths and dictates sublime laws,
Casts down the wicked, aids the victims' cause;
Beneath the sky, like a vast canopy,
He is drunken of his splendid qualities.
 
Yes, these people, plagued by household cares,
Bruised by hard work, tormented by their years,
Each bent double by the junk he carries,
The jumbled vomit of enormous Paris,—
 
They come back, perfumed with the smell of stale
Wine-barrels, followed by old comrades, pale
From war, mustaches like limp flags, to march
With banners, flowers, through the triumphal arch
 
Erected for them, by some magic touch!
And in the dazzling, deafening debauch
Of bugles, sunlight, of huzzas and drum,
Bring glory to the love-drunk folks at home!
 
Even so, wine pours its gold to frivolous
Humanity, a shining Pactolus;
Then through man's throat of high exploits it sings
And by its gifts reigns like authentic kings.
 
To lull these wretches' sloth and drown the hate
Of all who mutely die, compassionate,
God has created sleep's oblivion;
Man added Wine, divine child of the Sun.

 

by Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867; translated from French by C. F. MacIntyre

 

Spleen

I'm like the king of a rain-country, rich
but sterile, young but with an old wolf's itch,
one who escapes Fenelon's apologues,
and kills the day in boredom with his dogs;
nothing cheers him, darts, tennis, falconry,
his people dying by the balcony;
the bawdry of the pet hermaphrodite
no longer gets him through a single night;
his bed of fleur-de-lys becomes a tomb;
even the ladies of the court, for whom
all kings are beautiful, cannot put on
shameful enough dresses for this skeleton;
the scholar who makes his gold cannot invent
washes to cleanse the poisoned element;
even in baths of blood, Rome's legacy,
our tyrants' solace in senility,
he cannot warm up his shot corpse, whose food
is syrup-green Lethean ooze, not blood.

by Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867; loosely translated from French by Robert Lowell

from The Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1963); Marthiel & Jackson Matthews, eds.

 



Reader unknown. Music by Florence + the Machine – End of Love (Instrumental):

ASLEEP IN THE VALLEY

A small green valley where a slow stream runs
And leaves long strands of silver on the bright
Grass; from the mountaintop stream the Sun's
Rays; they fill the hollow full of light.

A soldier, very young, lies open-mouthed,
A pillow made of ferns beneath his head,
Asleep; stretched in the heavy undergrowth,
Pale in his warm, green, sun-soaked bed.

His feet among the flowers, he sleeps. His smile
Is like an infant's--gentle, without guile.
Ah, Nature, keep him warm; he may catch cold.

The humming insects don't disturb his rest;
He sleeps in sunlight, one hand on his breast;
At peace. In his side there are two red holes.

by Arthur Rimbaud, 1854-1891; translated from French by Paul Schmidt

 

EVIL

When the gobs spat by flaming cannon
Whistle all day beneath a clear blue sky,
And the King cracks jokes as he looks on,
And red or green battalions march and die;

While a terrifying, pounding madness
Turns tens of thousands into smoking garbage
In the grass, in summer, in your gladness,
Nature, who made these men in His image!

There is a God, who laughs at silk and linen,
Altars, incense, and gold chalices,
Who falls asleep when choirs sing His praises,

And wakes when all the mothers shuffle in
With their old black bonnet and their grief,
And give him a big penny tied in a kerchief.

Arthur Rimbaud, 1854-1891; translated from French by Louis Simpson

 

The Ladies Who Look for Lice

When the child's forehead, red and full of pain,
Dreams of ease in the streaming of white veils,
To the side of his bed two lovely sisters come
With delicate fingers and long silvery nails.

They take the child with them to an immense
Window, where the blue air bathes a flowery grove,
And through his heavy hair, as the dew descends,
Their terrible, enchanting fingers probe.

He listens to their fearful slow breath vibrate,
Flowering with honey and the hue of roses,
Broken now and then with whispers, saliva
Licked back on their lips, a longing for kisses.

He hears their lashes beat the still, sweet air;
Their soft electric fingers never tire--
Through his gray swoon, a crackling in his hair—
Beneath their royal nails the little lice expire.

Within him then surges the wine of Idleness,
like the sweet deluding harmonica’s sigh;
And the child can feel, beneath their slow caresses,
Rising, falling, an endless desire to cry.

by Arthur Rimbaud, 1854-1891; translated from French by Paul Schmidt

 

AT THE GREEN CABARET
                            (Five in the Evening)

For eight days I wore out my shoe leather
On graveled roads, and came to Charleroi,
The Green Cabaret. I ordered bread and butter,
And ham . . . I’d prefer it cold I told her.

Happy, I stretched my legs under the table
Which was green; looked at the simple stories
On the tapestry. And it was adorable
When the girl with big breasts and lively eyes—

That one, it wouldn’t be a kiss that scared her!—
Laughing, appeared with my bread and butter
And the ham, warm, on a colored plate.

Ham, rosy and white, that is flavored
With garlic, and a mug with a foaming head,
Gold in a ray of sunlight, falling late.

Arthur Rimbaud, 1854-1891 ; translated from French by Louis Simpson

 

THE HANGED MEN DANCE

       On old one-arm, black scaffolding,
       The hanged men dance;
       The devil's skinny advocates,
       Dead soldiers' bones.

Beelzebub jerks ropes about the necks
Of small black dolls who squirm against the sky;
With slaps, with whacks and cuffs and kicks
He makes them dance an antique roundelay!


Excited jumping jacks, they join thin arms;
Black organ lofts, their fretwork breasts
That once beat fast at beauteous damsels' charms
Now clack together in a perverse embrace.

Hurrah the jolly dancers, whose guts are gone!

About the narrow planks they jerk and prance!
Beelzebub roars the rasping fiddles' song!
Hop! They cannot tell the battle from the dance!


Hard heels, that never wear out shoes!
They've all put off their overcoat of skin;
What's left beneath is hardly worth excuse
Their skulls are frail and white beneath the rain.


A crow provides a crest fur these cracked heads,
A strip of flesh shakes on a skinny chin;

They swing about in somber skirmishes
Like heroes, stiff, their armor growing thin.


And the breeze blows for the skeletons' ball!
The gibbet groans like an organ of iron;

In violet forests the wolves wail;
The distant sky flames with hell's own fires!


Oh, shake me these dark commanders down!
Who slyly rake through broken fingertips
Love's rosary across their pale ribs:
This is no monastery, you dead men!


And there in the midst of the danse macabre
One wild skeleton leaps in the scarlet clouds,
Stung with madness like a rearing horse

With the rope pulled stiff above his head.

He tightens bony fingers on his cracking knees
With squeals that make a mock of dead men's groans,
And, like a puppet flopping in the breeze,
Whirls in the dance to the sound of clacking bones.


On old one-arm, black scaffolding,
       The hanged men dance;
       The devil's skinny advocates,
       Dead soldiers' bones.



by Arthur Rimbaud, 1854-1891 ; translated from French by Paul Schmidt

 

TO SEE THE TRANSLATION BY WALLACE FOWLIE OF RIMBAUD’S “THE DRUNKEN BOAT” [CLICK HERE]

 


 

THE YOUNG FOOLS

High-heels were struggling with a full-length dress
So that, between the wind and the terrain,
At times a shining stocking would be seen,
And gone too soon. We liked that foolishness.

Also, at times a jealous insect's dart
Bothered our beauties. Suddenly a white
Nape flashed beneath the branches, and this sight
Was a delicate feast for a young fool's heart.

Evening fell, equivocal, dissembling.
The women who hung dreaming on our arms
Spoke in low voices, words that had such charms
That ever since our stunned soul has been trembling.

by Paul Verlaine, trans. from the French by Louis Simpson

 

Moonlight

Your soul is like a painter's landscape where
charming masks in shepherd mummeries
are playing lutes and dancing with an air
of being sad in their fantastic guise.
Even while they sing, all in a minor key,
of love triumphant and life's careless boon,
they seem in doubt of their felicity,
their song melts in the calm light of the moon,
the lovely melancholy light that sets
the little birds to dreaming in the tree
and among the statues makes the jets
of slender fountains sob with ecstasy.

Paul Verlaine; translated from French by C. F. MacIntyre

 

WOMAN AND CAT

They were just playing, lady and cat,
Their sport was a marvelous sight:
White hand, white paw, tit-for-tat,
In the shadow of gathering night.

She tried to conceal (to little avail)
Beneath gloves of the finest black net
A set of deadly agate-hard nails
Honed sharper than razors can whet.

And sweet as sugar, or so it seemed,
The other tucked claws away too;
But let's give the devil, as ever, his due . . .

And suddenly in the boudoir, where
A froth of laughter had filled the air,
Four dazzling points of phosphor gleamed.

by Paul Verlaine, trans. from French by John S. Major and Katharine Washburn



Russia 1812

The snow fell, and its power was multiplied. 
For the first time the Eagle bowed its head — 
dark days! Slowly the Emperor returned — 
behind him Moscow! Its onion domes still burned. 
The snow rained down in blizzards — rained and froze. 
Past each white waste a further white waste rose.

None recognized the captains or the flags. 
Yesterday the Grand Army, today its dregs! 
No one could tell the vanguard from the flanks. 
The snow! The hurt men struggled from the ranks, 
hid in the bellies of dead horse, in stacks 
of shattered caissons. By the bivouacs, 
one saw the picket dying at his post, 
still standing in his saddle, white with frost, 
the stone lips frozen to the bugle’s mouth! 
Bullets and grapeshot mingled with the snow, 
that hailed ... The Guard, surprised at shivering, march 
in a dream now; ice rimes the grey moustache. 
The snow falls, always snow! The driving mire 
submerges; men, trapped in that white empire, 
have no more bread and march on barefoot — gaps!

They were no longer living men and troops, 
but a dream drifting in a fog, a mystery, 
mourners parading under the black sky. 
The solitude, vast, terrible to the eye, 
was like a mute avenger everywhere, 
as snowfall, floating through the quiet air, 
buried the huge army in a huge shroud. 
Could anyone leave this kingdom? A crowd — 
each man, obsessed with dying, was alone. 
Men slept — and died! The beaten mob sludged on, 
ditching the guns to burn their carriages. 
Two foes. The North, the Czar. The North was worse. 
In hollows where the snow was piling up, 
one saw whole regiments fallen asleep. 
Attila’s dawn, Cannaes of Hannibal! 
The army marching to its funeral! 
Litters, wounded, the dead, deserters — swarm, 
crushing the bridges down to cross a stream.

They went to sleep ten thousand, woke up four. 
Ney, bringing up the former army’s rear, 
hacked his horse loose from three disputing Cossacks ... 
All night, the quivive? The alert! Attacks; 
retreats! White ghosts would wrench away our guns, 
or we would see dim, terrible squadrons, 
circles of steel, whirlpools of savages, 
rush sabring through the camp like dervishes. 
And in this way, whole armies died at night.

The Emperor was there, standing — he saw. 
This oak already trembling from the axe, 
watched his glories drop from him branch by branch: 
chiefs, soldiers. Each one had his turn and chance — 
they died! Some lived. These still believed his star, 
and kept their watch. They loved the man of war, 
this small man with his hands behind his back, 
whose shadow, moving to and fro, was black 
behind the lighted tent. Still believing, they 
accused their destiny of lèse-majesté.

His misfortune had mounted on their back. 
The man of glory shook. Cold stupefied 
him, then suddenly he felt terrified. 
Being without belief, he turned to God: 
‘God of armies, is this the end?’ he cried.

And then at last the expiation came, 
as he heard someone call him by his name, 
someone half-lost in shadow, who said, ‘No, 
Napoleon.’ Napoleon understood, 
restless, bareheaded, leaden, as he stood 
before his butchered legions in the snow.

by Victor Hugo (1802-1885); loosely translated from the French by Robert Lowell from Hugo’s “L’Expiation.”

 A closer translation of the same poem:

Expiation [L’Expiation]

1

It was snowing. For the first time, conquered
By his conquest, the eagle bowed his head.
Dark days! Slowly the emperor returned,
Leaving behind a Moscow that smoked and burned.
It was snowing. At the end of the white plain
Another stretched, as white and vast again.
The leaders and the flags were swept away . . .
An army yesterday, a herd today.
No longer could one see the wings and center.
It was snowing. Wounded men sought shelter
In the belly of dead horses. Where they camped
One saw buglers frozen, stone mouths clamped
To copper trumpets, silent, white with frost,
Still upright in the saddle at their post.
Ball, grape, and shell were falling with the snow.
The grenadiers, surprised that they shook so,
Marched pensively, ice on the gray moustache.
It was snowing, always snowing! The cold lash
Whistled. These warriors had no bread to eat,
They walked across the ice with naked feet.
No longer living hearts, they seemed to be
A dream lost in a fog, a mystery.
A march of shadows under a black sky.
Vast solitudes, appalling to the eye,
Stretched out, mute and revengeful, everywhere.
The sky was weaving silently, of air,
A shroud for the Grand Army. And each one
Could feel that he was dying, and alone.
"Shall we ever leave this empire of the Czar?
The Czar and the North . . .The North is worse by far."
They jettisoned the guns to burn the wood.
To lie down was to die. Confused, they fled
And were devoured in the fields of snow.
One saw by mounds and ridges that below
Whole regiments were sleeping. Oh the falls
Of Hannibal! The days after Attila!
Fugitives, wounded, caissons, shafts, the mass
Crushed at the bridges as it strove to pass . . .
A hundred woke, then thousand were left sleeping.
Ney, who had led an army, was escaping,
Fighting to save his watch from three cossacks,
Every night "Qui vive!" Alerts, alarms, attacks!
These phantoms grasped their rifles . . . terrifying
Shadows were rushing towards them, crying
Like vultures. Squadrons of savage men
Struck like a whirlwind and were gone again.
So a whole army would be lost by night.
The emperor was there, he watched, upright
As a tree that must endure the woodsman's blow.
On this giant, a greatness spared till now,
Misfortune the grim woodsman climbed. Each stroke
Of the axe insulted the man, the living oak.
He trembled at the vengeances, each blow
Saw a branch falling to the earth below.
Leaders and soldiers, each in his turn fell.
While love around his tent stood sentinel,
Watching his shadow on the canvas wall,
And those to his bright star remaining loyal
Accused the heavens of lese-majeste,
Suddenly his inmost soul gave way.
Stunned by disaster, reft of all belief,
The emperor turned to God; the glorious chief
Trembled; he thought that he was expiating
Something perhaps, and contemplating
His legions of the dying and the dead,
"God of the armies," Napoleon said,
"Is this my punishment?" And from the snow
And darkness all around, a voice said, "No."

 --Part 1

by Victor Hugo (1802-1885); translated from French by Louis Simpson

 



CABIN-KID

Your old man's a sailor, I suppose? . . .
--A fisherman. A long time dead.
He left my mother's side one night,
And sleeps in the breakers now instead.

Up in the graveyard there's a tomb
Ma keeps for him-it's empty, though-
I'm all the husband that she has
To help her while the children grow.

Two little ones. -Nothing was found
Along the beach where he was drowned? . . .
--Only his pipe-case and a shoe . . .

When Sundays come, Mother can stop
And cry for rest . . . But when I grow up
I'll get revenge--a sailor too!

by Tristan Corbiere, 1845—1875; translated from French by Dudley Fitts 

 

TO MOUNT AETNA           

                 Sicelides Musae, paulo majora canamus.*
--Virgil

Aetna--I've been up Vesuvius . . .
Vesuvius has shrunk, it seems:
There was more heat in me than streams
From that wounded crater in hot pus . . .

--They say you're like a woman. -What?
--Your age, I suppose-? or maybe that cooked
Pebble, your heart? . . . Well, it's a thought . . .
Laugh? I thought I'd come apart!

--That dirty grin of yours, that cough
Thick as the phlegm of a senile lust;
Your old breast cancer draining off
Lava from under its scabby crust.

Comrade, let's go to bed together,
My hide against your sick hide; yes,
I swear by Venus you're my brother,
Vulcan! . . .
A little more . . . or less . . .

*Sicilian Muses, Let us sing of greater things.

by Tristan Corbiere, 1845—1875; translated from French by Dudley Fitts 



 

Barbara

Remember Barbara
It rained all day on Brest that day
And you walked smiling
Flushed enraptured streaming-wet
In the rain
Remember Barbara
It rained all day on Brest that day
And I ran into you in Siam Street
You were smiling
And I smiled too
Remember Barbara
You whom I didn’t know
You who didn’t know me
Remember
Remember that day still
Don’t forget
A man was taking cover on a porch
And he cried your name
Barbara
And you ran to him in the rain
Streaming-wet enraptured flushed
And you threw yourself in his arms
Remember that Barbara
And don’t be mad if I speak familiarly
I speak familiarly to everyone I love
Even if I’ve seen them only once
I speak familiarly to all who are in love
Even if I don’t know them
Remember Barbara
Don’t forget
That good and happy rain
On your happy face
On that happy town
That rain upon the sea
Upon the arsenal
Upon the Ushant boat
Oh Barbara
What shitstupidity the war
Now what’s become of you
Under this iron rain
Of fire and steel and blood
And he who held you in his arms
Amorously
Is he dead and gone or still so much alive
Oh Barbara
It’s rained all day on Brest today
As it was raining before
But it isn’t the same anymore

And everything is wrecked
It’s a rain of mourning terrible and desolate
Nor is it still a storm
Of iron and steel and blood
But simply clouds
That die like dogs
Dogs that disappear
In the downpour drowning Brest
And float away to rot

A long way off
A long long way from Brest
Of which there's nothing left.

by Jacques Prevert

translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

 

FAMILIAL

The mother does knitting
The son fights the war
She finds this quite natural the mother
And the father what does he do the father?
He does business
His wife does knitting
His son the war
He business
He finds this quite natural the father
And the son and the son
What does the son find the son?
He finds absolutely nothing the son
His mother does knitting his father business he war
When he finishes the war
He'll go into business with his father
The war continues the mother continues she knits
The father continues he does business
The son is killed he continues no more
The father and the mother go to the graveyard
They find this quite natural the father and mother
Life continues life with knitting war business
Business, war knitting, war
Business business business
Life with the graveyard.

by Jacques Prevert; translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

 



            Rain and the Tyrants

I stand and watch the rain
Falling in pools which make
Our grave old planet shine;
The clear rain falling, just the same
As that which fell in Homer's time
And that which dropped in Villon's day
Falling on mother and on child
As on the passive backs of sheep;
Rain saying all it has to say
Again and yet again, and yet
Without the power to make less hard
The wooden heads of tyrants or
To soften their stone hearts,
And powerless to make them feel
Amazement as they ought;
A drizzling rain which falls
Across all Europe's map,
Wrapping all men alive
In the same moist envelope;
Despite the soldiers loading arms,
Despite the newspapers' alarms,
Despite all this, all that,
A shower of drizzling rain
Making the flags hang wet.

by Jules Supervielle; translated by David Gascoyne



 

THE HORSE

 

       Many times the size of a man, the horse has flaring nostrils, round eyes under half-closed lids, cocked ears and long muscular neck.

       The tallest of man’s domestic animals, and truly his designated mount.

       Man, somewhat lost on an elephant, is at his best on a horse, truly a throne to his measure.

       We will not do away with the horse, I hope?

       He will not become a curiosity in a zoo?

       …Already now, in town, he is no more than a miserable substitute for the automobile, the most miserable means of traction.

       Ah, the horse is also—does man suspect it?—something else besides! He is impatience nostrilized.

       His weapons are running, biting, bucking.

       He seems to have a keen nose, keen ears, and very sensitive eyes.

       The greatest tribute one can pay him is having to fit him with blinders.

       But no weapon…
Whereby the temptation to add one. One only. A horn. Thereby the unicorn.

 

       The horse, terribly nervous, is aerophagous.

       Hypersensitive, he clamps his jaws, holds his breath, then releases it, making the walls of his nasal cavities vibrate loudly.

       That is why this noble beast, who feeds on air and grass alone, produces only straw turds and thunderous fragrant farts.

       Fragrant thunderisms.

 

       What am I saying, feeds on air? Gets drunk on it. Sniffs it, savors it, snorts it.

       He rushes into it, shakes his mane in it, kicks up his hind legs in it.

       He would evidently like to fly up into it.

       The flight of clouds inspires him, urges him to imitation.

       He does imitate it: he tosses, prances…

       And when the whip’s lightning claps, the clouds gallop faster and rain tramples the earth…

 

       Out of your stall, high-spirited over-sensitive armoire, all polished and smoothed!

       Great beautiful period piece!

       Polished ebony or mahogany.

       Stroke the withers of this armoire and immediately it has a faraway look.

       Dust cloth at the lips,feather mop at the rump, key in the lock of the nostrils.

 

       His skin quivers, irritably tolerating flies, his shoe hammers the ground.

       He lowers his head, leans his muzzle toward the ground and consoles himself with grass.

       A stepstool is needed to look on the upper shelf.

       Ticklish skin, as I was saying…but his natural impatience is so profound, that inside his body the parts of his skeleton behave like pebbles in a torrent!

 

       Seen from the apse, the highest animal nave in the stable…

 

       Great saint! Great horse! Beautiful behind in the stable…

       What is this splendid courtesan’s behind that greets me, set on slim legs, high heels?

       Giant goose of the golden eggs, strangely clipped.

       Ah, it is the smell of gold that assails my nostrils!

       Leather and manure mixed together.

       Strong-smelling omelette, from the goose of the golden eggs.

       Straw omelette, earth omelette, flavored with the rum of your urine, dropping from the crack under your tail…

       As though fresh from the oven, on a pastry sheet, the stable’s rolls and rum balls.

       Great saint, with your Byzantine eyes, woeful, under the harness…

       A sort of saint, humble monk at prayer, in the twilight.

       A monk? What am I saying?…A pontiff, on his excremental palanquin! A pope—exhibiting to all comers a splendid courtesan’s behind, generously heart-shaped, on slender legs ending elegantly in high-heeled shoes.

       WHAT IS THIS CLACKING OF THE BIT?

       THESE DULL THUDS IN THE STALL?

       WHAT’S GOING ON?

       PONTIFF AT PRAYER?

       SCHOOLBOY IN DETENTION?

       GREAT SAINTS! GREAT HORSES (HORSES OR HEROES?), OF THE BEAUTIFUL BEHIND IN THE STABLE,

WHY, SAINTLY MONK, ARE YOU WEARING RIDING BREECHES?

—INTERRUPTED DURING HIS MASS, HE TURNED HIS BYZANTINE EYES TOWARD US…

by Francis Ponge; translated from French by Beth Archer, c1972

 

THE CANDLE

Sometimes night revives a singular plant whose gleam breaks up rooms and their furniture into solid masses of shadow.
Its leaf of gold clings impassively to the hollow of a little alabaster column by means of a very black stem.
Seedy moths attack it in preference to the too-high moon, which is vaporizing the woods. But, instantly singed or worn out by the struggle, they lie trembling, on the verge of a madness that is close to stupor.
Meanwhile the candle encourages the reader with the flickering light it throws on his book at each sudden release of an unusual smoke — and then bends over its plate to drown itself in its food.

by Francis Ponge; translated from French by John Ashbery

Included in Collected French Translations: Poetry, by John Ashberry, edited by Rosanne Wasserman and Eugene Richie (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014).

 



 
 

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (20 June 1786 – 23 July 1859) was born in Douai [Flanders]. Following the French Revolution, her father’s business was ruined, and she traveled with her mother to Guadeloupe in search of financial help from a distant relative. Marceline’s mother died of yellow fever there, and the young girl somehow made her way back to France. At age 16, back in Douai, she began a career on stage. In 1817 she married her husband, the actor Prosper Lanchantin-Valmore.

She published Élégies et Romances, her first poetic work, in 1819. Her melancholy, elegiacal poems are admired for their grace and profound emotion.

Marceline appeared as an actress and singer in Douai, Rouen, the Opéra-Comique in Paris, and the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, where she notably played Rosine in Beaumarchais’s Le Barbier de Séville. She retired from the stage in 1823. She later became friends with the novelist Honoré de Balzac, and he once wrote that she was an inspiration for the title character of La Cousine Bette.

The publication of her innovative volume of elegies in 1819 marks her as one of the founders of French romantic poetry. Her poetry is also known for taking on dark and depressing themes, which reflects her troubled life. She is the only female writer included in the famous Les Poètes maudits anthology published by Paul Verlaine in 1884. A volume of her poetry was among the books in Friedrich Nietzsche’s library.–condensed from Wikipedia.com

 

IN THE STREET

                         on a day of funerals at Lyon*

THE WOMAN

We have run out of money to bury our dead.
The priest is there, figuring what the price will be,
And the corpses stretched out, holed by artillery,
Want a shroud, a cross, remorseful words to be said.

Murder is king. The victor whistles as he goes
To the Treasury, to be paid for blood he shed.
He has shed plenty, but his hand is not tired
From fighting. There was no fighting at all, God knows.

God picked up each soul like a perishing flower.
Women and children went flying up to the skies,
And men…there they are, in blood up to their eyes.
Angry souls, too many to be borne by the air.

They don’t want to leave their members behind, the dead.
The priest is there, figuring what the price will be,
And the corpses stretched out, holed by artillery,
Want a shroud, a cross, remorseful words to be said.

Those who are still alive do not know where to go.
A paid sentinel in the middle of the way,
Death is a soldier who aims and they take away
The rebel who would stand witness tomorrow.


THE WOMEN

Let us take our black ribbons, and wear one on the arm.
It has been forbidden to take the pale remains
Of our murdered. They have heaped them on the stones.
God bless them all! They were all of them unarmed.

*funerals at Lyon: Lyon was again convulsed by violence when, during the French Revolution, the citizenry rose up against the National Convention and supported the Girondins. The city was besieged by Revolutionary armies for over two months before surrendering in October 1793. Many buildings were destroyed, especially around the Place Bellecour, while Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois and Joseph Fouché administered the execution of more than 2,000 people. –Wikipedia.com

 

APART

Do not write. I am sad, and want my light put out. 
Summers in your absence are as dark as a room. 
I have closed my arms again. They must do without. 
To knock at my heart is like knocking at a tomb. 
              Do not write! 

Do not write. Let us learn to die as best we may. 
Did I love you? Ask God. Ask yourself. Do you know? 
To hear that you love me when you are far away, 
Is like hearing from heaven and never to go. 
              Do not write! 

Do not write. I fear you. I fear to remember, 
For memory holds the voice I have often heard. 
To the one who cannot drink, do not show water, 
The beloved one’s picture in the handwritten word.
              Do not write! 

Do not write those gentle words that I dare not see, 
It seems that your voice is spreading them on my heart, 
Across your smile, on fire, they appear to me, 
It seems that a kiss is printing them on my heart.
              Do not write!


 

COMPLAINT ON THE OBLIVION OF THE DEAD

Ladies and gentlemen
Whose mother is no more,
The old gravedigger
Scratches at your door.

    Six feet down
    Is a dead man's place;
    He hardly ever
    Shows his face.

You blow smoke into your beer,
You wind up your love affair,
Yonder crows chanticleer,
Poor dead beyond the pale!

His finger at his temple,
Look at Grandpa half asleep,
Sister busy with her knitting,
Mother turning up the lamp.

        One who is dead
    Is quite discreet,
        He goes to bed
    Right in the street.

The meal was good, was it?
Now how is everything?
The little stillborn
Get almost no fondling.

On one side of your ledger
Enter the cost of the dance;
On the other, the undertakers fee
To make your books balance.

        Life's a ditty
    With a hey-nonny-no.
        Eh what, my pretty,
    Do you find it so?

Ladies and gentlemen,
Whose sister is no more,
Open up for the gravedigger
Who raps at your door.

Show him no pity,
He will come all the same
To drag you out by the heels
When the moon is full.

    Importunate wind,
    Howl on.
    Where are the dead?
    They're gone.

by Jules Laforgue, 1860-1887; translated from French by William Jay Smith

 

ANOTHER COMPLAINT OF LORD PIERROT

The one who keeps me informed how a woman feels, 
I shall say to her first, with my least frigid air, 
“The sum of the angles of a triangle equals 
Two right angles, my dear.”

And if this cry escapes her: “God, how I love you!”
“God rewards his own.” Or sadly contemplative: 
“Keyboards have a heart. My theme is always of you.”
I: “All is relative.”

With blazing eyes, aware of being tedious:  
“Ah, you don’t love me! But so many others do!” 
 I with an eye racing toward the Unconscious: 
 “Well enough, thanks. And you?” 

“Let’s see which can be more faithful.” “What’s the idea?” 
“The one who loses wins.” Then another couplet:  
“Ah, you would be the first to grow tired, I swear . . .”  
“Go ahead. Place your bet.”  

Finally, still pretending that I don’t believe,  
If one evening she should die, and not make a fuss,  
I shall say, “How so? We had what it takes to live!  
Then it was serious?”

by Jules Laforgue, 1860-1887; translated from French by Louis Simpson

 


 

 

TO SEE AND HEAR PAUL VALERY’S POEM “HELEN” (TR. BY RICHARD WILBUR) CLICK HERE  Read by Alan Reinhardt

 


 

The Pretty Redhead

I stand here in the sight of everyone a man full of sense
Knowing life and knowing of death what a living man can know
Having gone through the griefs and happinesses of love
Having known sometimes how to impose his ideas
Knowing several languages
Having travelled more than a little
Having seen war in the artillery and the infantry
Wounded in the head trepanned under chloroform
Having lost his best friends in the horror of battle

I know as much as one man alone can know
Of the ancient and the new
And without troubling myself about this war today
Between us and for us my friends
I judge this long quarrel between tradition and imagination
Between order and adventure

You whose mouth is made in the image of God's mouth
Mouth which is order itself
Judge kindly when you compare us
With those who were the very perfection of order
We who are seeking everywhere for adventure

We are not your enemies
Who want to give ourselves vast strange domains
Where mystery flowers into any hands that long for it
Where there are new fires colors never seen
A thousand fantasies difficult to make sense out of
They must be made real
All we want is to explore kindness the enormous country where
     everything is silent
And there is time which somebody can banish or welcome home
Pity for us who fight always on the frontiers
Of the illimitable and the future
Pity our mistakes pity our sins

Here summer is coming the violent season
And so my youth is as dead as spring
Oh Sun it is the time of reason grown passionate
And I am still waiting
To follow the forms she takes noble and gentle
So I may love her alone

She comes and draws me as a magnet draws filaments of iron
She has the lovely appearance
Of an adorable redhead
Her hair turns golden you would say
A beautiful lightning flash that goes on and on
Or the flames that spread out their feathers
In wilting tea roses

But laugh laugh at me
Men everywhere especially people from here
For there are so many things that I don't dare to tell you
So many things that you would not let me say
Have pity on me

by Guillaume Apollinaire, 1880-1918; translated from French by James Wright

 

TO SEE GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE’S POEM “CHURCH BELLS” (TR. BY ANTHONY HECHT) [CLICK HERE]

 

THE DOLPHIN

Dolphins, you play in the sea,
But the waves are always bitter.
Do I sometimes laugh with joy?
Life is still cruel.

by Guillaume Apollinaire, 1880-1918; translated from French by Pepe Karmel

from Bestiary: or The Parade of  Orpheus by Guillaume Apollinaire, c1980; David R. Godine, publisher

 

*****************************************************************************

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GERMAN POETS

Erlkönig (c. 1782) [The Erl-king]

Who rides by night in the wind so wild?
It is the father, with his child.
The boy is safe in his father’s arm,
He holds him tight, he keeps him warm.

My son, what is it, why cover your face?
Father, you see him, there in that place,
The elfin king with his cloak and crown?
It is only the mist rising up, my son.

“Dear little child, will you come with me?
Beautiful games I’ll play with thee;
Bright are the flowers we’ll find on the shore,
My mother has golden robes fullscore.”

Father, O father, and did you not hear
What the elfin king breathed into my ear?
Lie quiet, my child, now never you mind:
Dry leaves it was that click in the wind.

“Come along now, you’re a fine little lad,
My daughters will serve you, see you are glad;
My daughters dance all night in a ring,
They’ll cradle and dance you and lullaby sing.”

Father, now look, in the gloom, do you see
The elfin daughters beckon to me?
My son, my son, I see it and say:
Those old willows, they look so gray.

“I love you, beguiled by your beauty I am,
If you are unwilling I’ll force you to come!”
Father, his fingers grip me, O
The elfin king has hurt me so!

Now struck with horror the father rides fast,
His gasping child in his arm to the last,
Home through thick and thin he sped:
Locked in his arm, the child was dead.

by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; translated from German by Christopher Middleton

 

TO SEE JOHN FREDERICK NIMS’ TRANSLATION OF GOETHE’S “THE DEATH OF A FLY” [CLICK HERE]

 



 

The Panther

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else.
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly--.
An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

 by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926; translated from German by Stephen Mitchell

 

Black Cat

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926; translated from German by Stephen Mitchell

 

EVE

Look how she stands, high on the steep facade
of the cathedral, near the window-rose,
simply, holding in her hand the apple,
judged for all time as the guiltless-guilty

for the growing fruit her body held
which she gave birth to after parting from
the circle of eternities. She left
to face the strange New Earth, so young in years.

Oh, how she would have loved to stay a little
longer in that enchanted garden, where
the peaceful gentle beasts grazed side by side.

But Adam was resolved to leave, to go
out into this New Earth, and facing death
she followed him. God she had hardly known.

by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926; translated from German by Albert Ernest Flemming

 

For Rilke’s “The Blind Man’s Song” as translated from German by Randall Jarrell, click here

 

The Spanish Dancer

As in the hand a match glows, swiftly white
before it bursts in flame and to all sides
licks its quivering tongues: within the ring
of spectators her wheeling dance is bright,
nimble, and fervid, twitches and grows wide.

And suddenly is made of pure fire.

Now her glances kindle the dark hair;
she twirls the floating skirts with daring art
into a whirlwind of consuming flame,
from which her naked arms alerty strike,
clattering like fearful rattlesnakes.

Then, as the fire presses her too closely,
imperiously she clutches it and throws it
with haughty gestures to the floor and watches
it rage and leap with flames that will not die–
until, victorious, surely, with a sweet
greeting smile, and holding her head high,
she tramples it to death with small, firm feet.


by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926; translated from German by C.F. MacIntyre

 


 

TWILIGHT OF THE OUTWARD LIFE

And children still grow up with longing eyes,
That know of nothing, still grow tall and perish,
And no new traveler treads a better way;

And fruits grow ripe and delicate to cherish
And still shall fall like dead birds from the skies,
And where they fell grow rotten in a day.

And still we feel cool winds on limbs still glowing,
That shudder westward; and we turn to say
Words, and we hear words; and cool winds are blowing

Our wilted hands through autumns of unclutching.
What use is all our tampering and touching?
Why laughter, that must soon turn pale and cry?

Who quarantined our lives in separate homes?
Our souls are trapped in lofts without a skylight;
We argue with a padlock till we die

In games we never meant to play for keeps.
And yet how much we say in saying: "twilight,"
A word from which man's grief and wisdom seeps

Like heavy honey out of swollen combs.

by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 1874-1929

translated from the German by Peter Viereck

 

ON THE TRANSITORY

My cheeks still feel their breath: how can it be
That these most recent days, these days just past,
Are gone, forever gone, gone totally.

Here is a thing no one can wholly grasp, 
Too terrible for tears or for complaint:
That all goes by, that all goes flowing past,

And that this Self of mine, all unconstrained,
Came gliding straight to me from a small child,
Came like a dog uncanny mute and strange,

And: that a hundred years ago, I was,
And my ancestors in their death-shrouds are
As close to me as my own hair is close,

As much a part of me as my own hair.

by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 1874-1929

translated from the German by Naomi Replansky

 

[CLICK HERE TO SEE “ON MY CHILD’S DEATH” BY JOSEPH VON EICHENDORFF, 1788-1857 (Trans. W. D. SNODGRASS)]

 

THE DIVORCE

At first it was only an imperceptible quivering of the skin –
‘As you wish’ – where the flesh is darkest.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ – Nothing. Milky dreams
of embraces; next morning, though,
the other looks different, strangely bony.
Razor-sharp misunderstandings. ‘That time, in Rome –’
I never said that. A pause. And furious palpitations,
a sort of hatred, strange. ‘That’s not the point.’
Repetitions. Radiantly clear, this certainty:
From now on all is wrong. Odourless and sharp,
like a passport photo, this unknown person
with a glass of tea at table, with staring eyes.
It’s no good, no good, no good:
litany in the head, a slight nausea.
End of reproaches. Slowly the whole room
Fills with guilt right up to the ceiling.
This complaining voice is strange, only not
the shoes that drop with a bang, not the shoes.
Next time, in an empty restaurant,
slow motion, bread crumbs, money is discussed,
laughing. The dessert tastes of metal.
Two untouchables. Shrill reasonableness.
‘Not so bad really.’ But at night
the thoughts of vengeance, the silent fight, anonymous
like two bony barristers, two large crabs
in water. Then the exhaustion. Slowly
the scab peels off. A new tobacconist,
a new address. Pariahs, horribly relieved.
Shades growing paler. These are the documents.
This is the bunch of keys. This is the scar.

by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 1929- ; translated from German by Michael Hamburger

 

HONG KONG 1997

Have you seen the builders of this city,
illiterate acrobats climbing up skyhigh
on bamboo scaffolding?
Have you bought the cheapest jeans
and slept in the most expensive beds on earth?
Did you cough in the incense-filled temples
and smell the clouds of French perfume
hanging over the sewers?
Have you heard the clatter of gambling dens
and the roar at the stock exchange?
And the tourists, did you notice them
rubbing their eyes, exhausted from shopping,
like giant pink shrimps
behind tinted bus windows?

No. This town, in which a thousand flowers wither,
which has got over its Great Leap Forward
long ago, is beyond belief. It is a phantom,
a portent, a hallucination, a science-fiction opera,
a miraculous fake.

by Hans Magnus Enzenberger, 1929- ; translated from German by Anni Dyck

 

[CLICK HERE TO SEE “FORSAKEN GIRL” BY EDUARD MORIKE, 1804-1875 (trans. RANDALL JARRELL)]



 

Anxiety for the Future

Korf, whom worry easily attacks,
Can already see the skies
Filled by balloons of every size,
So all day he prepares whole stacks
Of draughts for bylaws and statutes
Of a society for resolute
Maintenance of a zone designed
To keep balloon-egress confined.

Yet even now he can smell doom:
His club already falls behind;
The air, it seems to him, goes blind,
All the landscape turns gloom and tomb.
Therefore he puts down his pen,
Turns on the light (they all will, THEN!)
And goes at once to Palmstrom's place;
They sit together, face to face.

After four long hours, finally,
This nightmare is overcome.
First to break the spell is Palmstrom:
"Be a man now, Korf;" says he,
"You've got hold of the wrong era;
As yet, this is a vain chimera
That tricks your intellect away,
Bobbing over your head today."

Korf recovers his own clear sight–
No one is flying in the golden light!
He snuffs his candle, silently;
Then, points to the sun suddenly
And speaks: "If not today, sometime!
One day you will no longer shine,
At least for us–it makes one's teeth
Chatter–the masses underneath! . . ."

Thereafter, von Korf once again
Sits in his room and takes his pen
Drawing up a vast design
For the protection of sunshine.

by Christian Morgenstern, 1871-1914; translated from the German by W. D. Snodgrass

 

SUMMONS

Korf receives one day from the coppers
one of those B-9 forms, so-called because they aren't:
Who? Where? How? Why? And other such stumpers and stoppers.

Married? Single? Divorced? Separated? Other?
(Supply all relevant and requisite documentation
to support these claims.) And the Maiden Name of your Mother?

Visa? Permit de sejour? Papieren? Pass?
Credit rating? Or bluntly and plainly, are you a legitimate person
or are you perhaps nothing? A no-one? A member even of the torturable 
      class?

Failure to fill out the form will subject the subject
to penalties only some of which are specified hereinunder—
forfeitures, fines, confinement, etc. Signed, Oberuntergruppenfüher 
      Hecht.

Clearing his throat, with a discreet, "Korf!" he replies, "I insist,
on my right, notwithstanding any covenants and codicils to the 
      contrary,
and as the party of the first part, to deny that I officially exist."

Agape, aghast, a-gasp, the deputy superintendent clutches in what 
      could be a coronary.

by Christian Morgenstern, 1871-1914; translated from the German by David R. Slavitt

 

MAIDS ON SATURDAY

They hang them over the ledge,
The carpets large and small;
In their minds they start to beat
Up masters, one and all.

Wild with satisfaction,
In rage and berserk,
They cool their souls off for
One week full of hard work.

They beat an infernal rhythm
Until their canes split;
Ears at the front of the house
Take no account of it

But in the back are wailing,
Torn by punch and by thump,
The runners, the Persian pillows,
The eiderdown, German and plump.

by Christian Morgenstern,1871-1914; translated from the German by Lore Segal and W. D. Snodgrass.

From Poets Translate Poets: A Hudson Review Anthology, edited by Paula Deitz, with an introduction by Mark Jarman. © 2013 by Syracuse University.

 

PALMSTROM

Palmstrom, standing beside the brook,
Unfolds a handkerchief wide and red
On which a mighty oak is shown
And someone with an open book.

Blow his nose?—he would not dare!
For he belongs to that sort of men
Who are so often, nakedly,
Stricken by beauty, unaware.

What he has only just outspread,
Tenderly, now, he has to close;
No sensitive spirit will condemn
Him, marching on with unblown nose.

by Christian Morgenstern, 1871-1914; translated from the German by W. D. Snodgrass


 

DEATH IS THE  TRANQUIL NIGHT

Death is the tranquil night.
Life is the sultry day.
It darkens; I will sleep now;
The light has made me weary.

Over my head rises a tree
Wherein sings the young nightingale.
It sings of constant love.
Even in this dream I hear it.

Heinrich Heine, 1797-1856; translated from German by Louise Bogan

 

TO THE WORLD WE MUST APPEAR

To the world we must appear
A most peculiar couple:
The lady is weak in the legs,
Her lover can barely hobble. She is an ailing kitten, He sick as a dog, and I think Their heads should both be examined By some responsible shrink. "I am a lotus blossom" Is the notion fixed in her brain, While her pallid companion Fancies himself The Moon. She opens her little cup Awaiting the lunar bonanza, But instead of the life-giving touch All she will get is a stanza.

Heinrich Heine, 1797-1856; translated from German by Francis Golffing

 


 

A SWARM OF GNATS

 
Many thousand glittering motes 
Crowd forward greedily together
In trembling circles.
Extravagantly carousing away
For a whole hour rapidly vanishing,
They rave, delirious, a shrill whir, Shivering with joy against death.
While kingdoms, sunk into ruin,
Whose thrones, heavy with gold, instantly scattered
Into night and legend, without leaving a trace,
Have never known so fierce a dancing.

by Herman Hesse, 1877–1962; translated from German by James Wright

 

DEPARTURE FROM THE JUNGLE

With my suitcase, I sit on the beach;
Below me, on the streamer, Indians,
Chinese, Malayans are shouting,
Laughing loudly and trading their knickknacks.

Behind me, feverish nights, and days
Of glowing life, that even now I carry
Carefully as treasures in my deepest thoughts,
As though I still wet my feet in the jungle stream.

I know many countries and cities are still waiting,
But never again will the night of the forests,
The wild fermenting garden of the earliest world
Lure me in, and horrify me with its magnificence.

Here in this endless and gleaming wilderness
I was removed farther than ever from the world of men-–
And I never saw so close and so clearly
The image in the mirror of my own soul.

by Herman Hesse, 1877–1962; translated from German by James Wright

 

WITHOUT YOU

My Pillow gazes upon me at night 
Empty as a gravestone;
I never thought it would be so bitter
To be alone,
Not to lie down asleep in your hair.

I lie alone in a silent house,
The hanging lamp darkened,
And gently stretch out my hands
To gather in yours,
And softly press my warm mouth
Toward you, and kiss myself, exhausted and weak-
Then suddenly I'm awake
And all around me the cold night grows still.
The star in the window shines clearly-
Where is your blond hair,
Where your sweet mouth?

Now I drink pain in every delight
And poison in every wine;
I never knew it would be so bitter
To be alone,
Alone, without you.
 
 

by Herman Hesse, 1877–1962; translated from German by James Wright

 

 


 

for info on GEORG TRAKL and his poetry [CLICK HERE]

 

DE PROFUNDIS

It is a stubble field, where a black rain is falling.
It is a brown tree, that stands alone.
It is a hissing wind, that encircles empty houses.
How melancholy the evening is.

Beyond the village,
The soft orphan garners the sparse ears of corn.
Her eyes graze, round and golden, in the twilight
And her womb awaits the heavenly bridegroom.

On the way home
The shepherd found the sweet body
Decayed in a bush of thorns.

I am a shadow far from darkening villages.
I drank the silence of God
Out of the stream in the trees.

Cold metal walks on my forehead.
Spiders search for my heart.
It is a light that goes out in my mouth.

At night, I found myself in a pasture,
Covered with rubbish and the dust of stars.
In a hazel thicket
Angels of crystal rang out once more.

by Georg Trakl, 1887-1914; translated from German by James Wright

 

GRODEK*

At nightfall the autumn woods cry out
With deadly weapons and the golden plains,
The deep blue lakes, above which more darkly
Rolls the sun; the night embraces
Dying warriors, the wild lament
Of their broken mouths.
But quietly at the meadow’s end
Red clouds in which an angry God resides,
The shed blood gathers, lunar coolness.
Every road leads to blackest carrion.
Under golden twigs of the night and stars
The sister's shade now sways through the silent copse
To greet the ghosts of the heroes, the bleeding heads;
And softly the dark flutes of Autumn sound in the reeds.
O prouder grief! You brazen altars,
Today a great pain feeds the hot flame of the spirit,
The grandsons yet unborn.

by Georg Trakl, 1887-1914; translated from German by Michael Hamburger

*”Georg Trakl enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army as a medic in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. He personally witnessed the carnage of the battle at Grodek, in which the Austrian army suffered a bloody defeat at the hands of the Russians. One evening following the battle he ran outside and attempted to shoot himself to avoid the cries of the wounded and dying; he was prevented from doing so and was sent to a mental hospital. “Grodek” was either his last poem or one of his very last poems. He died of a self-administered overdose of cocaine in the psychiatric ward of a military hospital in Cracow; while it is often assumed that Trakl chose to end his life, it is unclear whether the overdose was intentional or accidental. He was 27 at the time of his death.” –Wikipedia

To see Michael Hamburger’s translation of Trakl’s “Sebastian in Dream” click here

 



musical poem by a Holocaust survivor:

 

DEATH FUGUE

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are flashing he 
     whistles his pack out
he whistles his Jews out in earth has them dig for a grave
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink in the morning at noon we drink you at sundown
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith we dig a grave in the breezes there one 
     lies unconfined.

He calls out jab deeper into the earth you lot you others sing now 
     and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he waves it his eyes are blue
jab deeper you lot with your spades you others play on for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon in the morning we drink you at sundown
we drink you and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master from Germany
he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then as smoke you 
     will rise into air
then a grave you will have in the clouds there one lies unconfined

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink and we drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in the air
he plays with the serpents and daydreams death is a master from 
     Germany
your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith

by Paul Celan; translated from German by Michael Hamburger



 

A prose poem:

IF SHARKS WERE PEOPLE

“If sharks were people,” Mr. K. was asked by his landlady’s little girl, “would they be nicer to the little fishes?”

“Certainly,” he said. “If sharks were people, they would build enormous boxes in the ocean for the little fish, with all kinds of food inside, both vegetable and animal. They would take care that the boxes always had fresh water, and in general they would make all kinds of sanitary arrangements. If, for example, a little fish were to injure a fin, it would immediately be bandaged, so that it would not die and be lost to the sharks before its time. So that the little fish would not become melancholy, there would be big water festivals from time to time; because cheerful fish taste better than melancholy ones.

“There would, of course, also be schools in the big boxes. In these schools the little fish would learn how to swim into the sharks’ jaws. They would need to know geography, for example, so that they could find the big sharks, who lie idly around somewhere. The principal subject would, of course, be the moral education of the little fish. They would be taught that it would be the best and most beautiful thing in the world if a little fish sacrificed itself cheerfully and that they all had to believe the sharks, especially when the latter said they were providing for a beautiful future. The little fish would be taught that this future is assured only if they learned obedience. The little fish had to beware of all base, materialist, egotistical and Marxist tendencies, and if one of their number betrayed such tendencies they would have to report it to the sharks immediately.

“If sharks were people, they would, of course, also wage wars against one another, in order to conquer other fish boxes and other little fish. The wars would be waged by their own little fish. They would teach their little fish that there was an enormous difference between themselves and the little fish belonging to the other sharks. Little fish, they would announce, are well known to be dumb, but they are silent in quite different languages and hence cannot possibly understand one another. Each little fish that killed a couple of other little fish in a war, enemy fishes, silent in their own language, would have a little medal made of seaweed pinned to it and be awarded the title of Hero.

“If sharks were people, there would, of course, also be art. There would be beautiful pictures, in which the sharks’ teeth would be portrayed in magnificent colours and their jaws as pure pleasure gardens, in which one could romp about splendidly. The theatres at the bottom of the sea would show heroic little fish swimming enthusiastically into the jaws of sharks, and the music would be so beautiful that to the accompaniment of its sounds, the orchestra leading the way, the little fish would stream dreamily into the sharks’ jaws, lulled by the most agreeable thoughts.

“There would also be a religion, if sharks were people. It would teach that little fish only really begin to live properly in the sharks’ stomachs.

“Furthermore, if sharks were people little fish would no longer be equal, as is the case now. Some would be given important offices and be placed above the others. Those who were a little bigger would even be allowed to eat up the smaller ones. That would be altogether agreeable for the sharks, since they themselves would more often get bigger bites to eat. And the bigger little fish, occupying their posts, would ensure order among the little fish, becoming teachers, officers, engineers in fish box construction, etc.

“In short, the sea would only begin to be civilized if sharks were people.

by Bertolt Brecht; translated from German by Martin Chalmers

 

Marianne Faithfull performs a Kurt Weill song with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht:

MACK THE KNIFE

Oh, the poor shark
Yes, the sweet shark
It has big teeth
Buried deep
Then there's Macheath
With his big knife
But it's hidden
In his slip

And this same shark
This poor sweet shark
It sheds red blood
When it bleeds
Mackie Big Knife
Wears a white glove
Pure in word and
Pure in deed

Sunday morning
Lovely blue sky
There's a corpse stretched
On the Strand
Who's the man cruisin'
The corner?
Well, it's Mackie
Knife in hand

Jenny Towler
Poor wee Jenny
There they found her
Knife in breast
Mackie's wandering
On the West Pier
Hoping only
For the best

Mind, that fire burnt
All through Soho
Seven kids dead
One old flower
Hey there, Mackie
How is she cuttin'?
Have another
Hold your hour

And those sweet babes
Under sixteen
Story goes that
Black and blue
For the price of
One good screwing
Mackie, Mackie
How could you?

For the price of
One good screwing
Mackie, Mackie
How could you? Oh, the poor shark
Yes, the sweet shark
It has big teeth
Buried deep
Then there's Macheath
With his big knife
But it's hidden
In his slip

And this same shark
This poor sweet shark
It sheds red blood
When it bleeds
Mackie Big Knife
Wears a white glove
Pure in word and
Pure in deed

Sunday morning
Lovely blue sky
There's a corpse stretched
On the Strand
Who's the man cruisin'
The corner?
Well, it's Mackie
Knife in hand

Jenny Towler
Poor wee Jenny
There they found her
Knife in breast
Mackie's wandering
On the West Pier
Hoping only
For the best

Mind, that fire burnt
All through Soho
Seven kids dead
One old flower
Hey there, Mackie
How is she cuttin'?
Have another
Hold your hour

And those sweet babes
Under sixteen
Story goes that
Black and blue
For the price of
One good screwing
Mackie, Mackie
How could you?

For the price of
One good screwing
Mackie, Mackie
How could you?

Original German lyrics by Bertolt Brecht; translated by Frank McGuinness; music by Kurt Weill; from the music drama: The Threepenny Opera.




 

DEFINITIVE

And let the snow
come through the door-cracks,
the wind blows, that's his job.

And let Lena be forgotten,
the girl who drank
the spirits from the lamp.

Went into the il-
lustrations of Meyer's Lexicon,
Brehm's Wildlife.

Intestines, mountainranges, beach carrion,
and let the snow
come through the door-cracks

up to the bed, up to the spleen,
where the memory sits,
where Lena sits,

the leopard, the feverish gull,
arithmetic puzzles in yellow
wrappers, by subscription.

And let the wind blow
because that's all he can do
and don't begrudge Lena

one more swig from the lamp
and let the snow
come through the door-cracks.

 by Gunter Eich, 1907-1972; translated from German by David Young

Copyright c 1981 by Oberlin College.

 

Insight

Everyone knows
that Mexico is an imaginary country.

As I opened the kitchen cupboard
I found the truth
hidden
in labeled canisters.

The rice grains
are resting up from the centuries.
Beyond the window
the wind continues on its way.

Günter Eich, 1907-1972; translated from German by David Young

from Valuable Nail. Field Translation Series 5, Oberlin College 1981

 

An art exhibition of work inspired by World War II prisoner-of-war Gunter Eich’s poem “inventory:

[CLICK HERE] TO SEE “INVENTORY” BY GUNTER EICH (1907-1972) & TRANSLATED FROM GERMAN BY DAVID YOUNG.  NOTE: THE POEM TRANSLATION IS ON PAGES 109 AND 111.