Poems in Translation-5





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]


      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


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


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; translated from French by Paul Schmidt


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; translated from French by Paul Schmidt


                            (five in the afternoon)

A week of walking had tom my boots to shreds.
I finally got to Charleroi and came
To the Green Cabaret; I ordered bread
And butter and a piece of half-cold ham.

I felt good, stretched out my legs under
A table and looked at the silly tapestries
Hanging on the wall.And what a wonder,
When a girl with enormous tits and shining eyes

-Hell, a kiss would never scare her off!

Laughed as she brought me the bread and butter
And a fancy platter of ham, half-cold-

Ham, all pink and white, it had a garlic
Taste--and filled my mug with beer, whose froth
A ray of fading sunlight turned to gold.

by Arthur Rimbaud; translated from French by Paul Schmidt




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



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



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



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 that day still
Don’t forget
A man was taking cover on a porch
And he cried your name
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
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



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




       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.









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



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).




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



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



                         on a day of funerals at Lyon*


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.


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



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!



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



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