Poems in Translation

 

“The Bones of Zhuangzi” by Zhang Heng (78-139 A.D.) as translated by Arthur Waley



 

“The Odyssey” by Homer as translated by Robert Fitzgerald



 

“The Aeneid” (Book 1) by Virgil as translated by Robert Fagles:

 

“The Inferno” by Dante Alighieri as translated by Mark Musa:

 


 

 

text to the above poem:

 

The Albatross

by Charles Baudelaire

 

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.

Translated by Richard Wilbur

 

The Fountain

by Charles Baudelaire

 

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.

 

translated by Anthony Hecht

Source: Poetry (September 2011)

 

To see Walter Martin’s translation of “La Geante” (The Giantess) click here

 

To see Ivor Winters’ translation of “Le Squelette Laboureur” (The Skeleton Laborer” click here (on pages 95 and 97)

 

click here for more on Charles Baudelaire, 1821–1867

 



for info on Georg Trakl and his poetry click here

 

De Profundis

by Georg Trakl (1887-1914)

as translated by James Wright

 

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.

 

GRODEK*

At nightfall the autumn woods cry out
With deadly weapon and the golden plains,
The deep blue lakes, above which more darkly
Rolls the sun; the night embraces
Dying warrior, 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; translated 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.[2] “Grodek” was either his last poem or one of his very last poems.[3] 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

 



 

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; translated by Paul Schmidt

 

The Ladies Who Look for Lice

 

by Arthur Rimbaud

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.

 

translated by Paul Schmidt

 




 

 

Romance Sonámbulo (Sleepwalking Ballad)

by Frederico Garcia Lorca

Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea
and the horse on the mountain.
With the shade around her waist
she dreams on her balcony,
green flesh, her hair green,
with eyes of cold silver.
Green, how I want you green.
Under the gypsy moon,
all things are watching her
and she cannot see them.

Green, how I want you green.
Big hoarfrost stars
come with the fish of shadow
that opens the road of dawn.
The fig tree rubs its wind
with the sandpaper of its branches,
and the forest, cunning cat,
bristles its brittle fibers.
But who will come? And from where?
She is still on her balcony
green flesh, her hair green,
dreaming in the bitter sea.

–My friend, I want to trade
my horse for her house,
my saddle for her mirror,
my knife for her blanket.
My friend, I come bleeding
from the gates of Cabra.
–If it were possible, my boy,
I’d help you fix that trade.
But now I am not I,
nor is my house now my house.
–My friend, I want to die
decently in my bed.
Of iron, if that’s possible,
with blankets of fine chambray.
Don’t you see the wound I have
from my chest up to my throat?
–Your white shirt has grown
thirsy dark brown roses.
Your blood oozes and flees a
round the corners of your sash.
But now I am not I,
nor is my house now my house.
–Let me climb up, at least,
up to the high balconies;
Let me climb up! Let me,
up to the green balconies.
Railings of the moon
through which the water rumbles.

Now the two friends climb up,
up to the high balconies.
Leaving a trail of blood.
Leaving a trail of teardrops.
Tin bell vines
were trembling on the roofs.
A thousand crystal tambourines
struck at the dawn light.

Green, how I want you green,
green wind, green branches.
The two friends climbed up.
The stiff wind left
in their mouths, a strange taste
of bile, of mint, and of basil
My friend, where is she–tell me–
where is your bitter girl?
How many times she waited for you!
How many times would she wait for you,
cool face, black hair,
on this green balcony!
Over the mouth of the cistern
the gypsy girl was swinging,
green flesh, her hair green,
with eyes of cold silver.
An icicle of moon
holds her up above the water.
The night became intimate
like a little plaza.
Drunken ‘Guardias Civiles’
were pounding on the door.
Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea.
And the horse on the mountain.

Translated by William Logan

 

The Unfaithful Married Woman

by Federico Garcia Lorca

I took her to the river,
believing her unwed;
the fact she had a husband
was something left unsaid.
St. Jame’s night is timely–
She would not let me wait–
The lights are put out early,
the fireflies light up late.

I roused her sleeping bosom
right early in our walk;
her heart unfolded for me
like hyacinths on the stalk.
Her starchy skirts kept rustling
and crackled in my ears
like sheets of silk cut crosswise
at once by twenty shears.

The dark unsilvered treetops
grew tall, as on we strode;
dogs barked, a whole horizon,
far from the river road.

When we had passed the brambles
and the thickets on our round,
her coiled hair made a pillow
in a hollow on the ground:
As I undid my necktie,
her petticoats left their place;
I shed my leather holster,
and she, four layers of lace.

Not nard nor snail had ever
texture of skin so fine,
nor crystal in the moonlight
glimmered with purer shine:
Her thighs slipped from beneath me
like little trout in fright,
half chilly (but not frigid),
half full of shining light.

The whole night saw me posting
Upon my lovely mare;
mother-of-pearl the saddle,
no need for bridle and spur;
and what her whispers told me
a man should not repeat
when perfect understanding
has made the mind discreet.

Dirty with sand and kisses
I brought her from the shore
as the iris poised green sabres
at the night wind once more.

To act in decent fashion
as loyal gypsy should,
I gave her a sewing-basket,
satin and straw, and good;
and yet I would not love her
in spite of what she said
when I took her to the river,
for she was not unwed.

 

translated by Rolfe Humphries



 

A visual interpretation of Pablo Neruda‘s “Ode to my Socks” by Emma Wood:

 

To see the Stephen Mitchell translation of Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to the Artichoke” click here.

Please note that the English version appears on alternate pages with the Spanish.

 

Neruda’s poem (translator unknown) is read by Tom O’Bedlam:

 

 



 

The Panther

by Rainer Maria Rilke

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.

 

translated by Stephen Mitchell

Black Cat

by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926

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.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

 

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

 



 

A Little Girl Tugs at the Tablecloth

 

She’s been in this world for over a year,

and in this world not everything’s been examined

and taken in hand.

 

The subject of today’s investigation

is things that don’t move by themselves.

 

They need to be helped along,

shoved, shifted,

taken from their place and relocated.

 

They don’t all want to go, e.g., the bookshelf,

the cupboard, the unyielding walls, the table.

 

But the tablecloth on the stubborn table

—when well-seized by its hems—

manifests a willingness to travel.

 

And the glasses, plates,

creamer, spoons, bowl,

are fairly shaking with desire.

 

It’s fascinating,

what form of motion will they take,

once they’re trembling on the brink:

will they roam across the ceiling?

fly around the lamp?

hop onto the windowsill and from there to a tree?

 

Mr. Newton still has no say in this.

Let him look down from the heavens and wave his hands.

This experiment must be completed.

And it will.

—Wisława Szymborska

 

from MONOLOGUE OF A DOG: New Poems by Wisława Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

English translation copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

 

The End and the Beginning

 

After every war

someone has to clean up.

Things won’t

straighten themselves up, after all.

 

Someone has to push the rubble

to the side of the road,

so the corpse-filled wagons

can pass.

 

Someone has to get mired

in scum and ashes,

sofa springs,

splintered glass, and bloody rags.

 

Someone has to drag in a girder

to prop up a wall,

Someone has to glaze a window,

rehang a door.

 

Photogenic it’s not,

and takes years.

All the cameras have left

for another war.

 

We’ll need the bridges back,

and new railway stations.

Sleeves will go ragged

from rolling them up.

 

Someone, broom in hand,

still recalls the way it was.

Someone else listens

and nods with unsevered head.

But already there are those nearby

starting to mill about

who will find it dull.

 

From out of the bushes

sometimes someone still unearths

rusted-out arguments

and carries them to the garbage pile.

 

Those who knew

what was going on here

must make way for

those who know little.

And less than little.

And finally as little as nothing.

 

In the grass that has overgrown

causes and effects,

someone must be stretched out

blade of grass in his mouth

gazing at the clouds.

 

—Wisława Szymborska

from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wisława Szymborska, 2001
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak

Copyright 2001 by Wisława Szymborska.
All rights reserved.

 

To see Hitler’s baby picture click here

Hitler’s First Photograph

And who’s this little fellow in his itty-bitty robe?
That’s tiny baby Adolf, the Hitlers’ little boy!
Will he grow up to be an LL.D.?
Or a tenor in Vienna’s Opera House?
Whose teensy hand is this, whose little ear and eye and nose?
Whose tummy full of milk, we just don’t know:
printer’s, doctor’s, merchant’s, priest’s?
Where will those tootsy-wootsies finally wander?
To garden, to school, to an office, to a bride,
maybe to the Burgermeister’s daughter?

Precious little angel, mommy’s sunshine, honeybun,
while he was being born a year ago,
there was no dearth of signs on the earth and in the sky:
spring sun, geraniums in windows,
the organ-grinder’s music in the yard,
a lucky fortune wrapped in rosy paper,
then just before the labor his mother’s fateful dream:
a dove seen in dream means joyful news,
if it is caught, a long-awaited guest will come.
Knock knock, who’s there, it’s Adolf’s heartchen knocking.

A little pacifier, diaper, rattle, bib,
our bouncing boy, thank God and knock on wood, is well,
looks just like his folks, like a kitten in a basket,
like the tots in every other family album.
Shush, let’s not start crying, sugar,
the camera will click from under that black hood.

The Klinger Atelier, Grabenstrasse, Braunau,
and Braunau is small but worthy town,
honest businesses, obliging neighbors,
smell of yeast dough, of gray soap.
No one hears howling dogs, or fate’s footsteps.
A history teacher loosens his collar
and yawns over homework.

Wislawa Szymborska

Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wisława Szymborska. Copyright 2001 by Wisława Szymborska.



 

musical poem by a Holocaust survivor:

DEATH FUGUE

by Paul Celan

 

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

Trans. Michael Hamburger



 

Barbara

by Jacques Prevert

 

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.

 

translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

 

FAMILIAL

by Jacques Prevert

 

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.

 

translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti



 

            Rain and the Tyrants

by Jules Supervielle
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.

translated by David Gascoyne

 



 

A prose poem (translator unknown):

IF SHARKS WERE PEOPLE

 

By Bertolt Brecht

“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.

 



 

THE HORSE by Francis Ponge

 

       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…

 

[translated 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

“The Candle”: Translated by John Ashbery. This poem by Francis Ponge included in Collected French Translations: Poetry, by John Asbery, edited by Rosanne Wasserman and Eugene Richie (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014).