Tag Archives: translations

In the storm (from Théophile Gautier)

In the storm

from Théophile Gautier

The barque is small and the sea immense,
the wave throws us up to the sky in anger,
the sky, in madness, sends us back to the flood:
let us pray on our knees, next to the broken mast!

Between us and the tomb there is only a single plank:
perhaps this evening, in a bitter bed,
under a cold shroud, made of white foam,
we will go to sleep, our vigil kept by the lightning!

Flower of paradise, Our sainted Lady,
so good to sailors in peril of dying,
becalm the wind, make the waves go quiet,
and push with a finger our skiff towards the port.

We will give you, if you save us,
a beautiful dress made of silver paper,
a painted altar-candle weighing four pounds,
and, for your Jesus, a little Saint John.


Terza rima (from Théophile Gautier)

Terza rima

from Théophile Gautier

When Michelangelo had finished the Sistine Chapel,
and climbed, sublimely radiant,
down from the scaffold, into the Latin city,

he could lower neither eyes nor arms;
his feet no longer knew how to walk on earth;
in the skies, he had forgotten about the world.

Three long months he maintained this severe attitude;
he might have been taken for an angel in ecstasy before
the sacred golden triangle, in the moment of the mystery.

Brother, that is why poets so often
trip over every step on the world’s way;
with eyes fixed upon the sky they walk on dreaming;

the angels, shaking their blond hair,
bow down and stretch out arms to them,
wanting to kiss them with their rosebud mouths.

They walk without aim and take a thousand false steps;
they bump into passers-by, are crushed by wheels,
or fall into potholes they failed to see.

What are the passers-by, the rocks and the mud to them?
they are searching in the day for their nightly dream,
and the fire of wanting makes their cheek turn crimson.

They understand not a thing of earthly tedium,
and when they have finished their Sistine Chapel,
they emerge resplendent from their dark retreats.

A noble reflection of their divine labour
clings to their person and gilds their brow,
and the heaven they saw can be guessed at from their eyes.

Nights will follow days in long succession,
before their eyes and arms can be lowered,
and their feet, for the longest time, will stand unsteady.

All our palaces darken and decline beneath them;
their soul flies back to the dome, where their work is shining,
and it is only their bodies that are left to us.

Our day to them appears more sombre than night;
their eye always seeks out the blue sky of fresco,
and the painting left behind torments and follows them.

Like Buonarotti, the titanic painter,
they can no longer see except things seen from above,
and the marble sky their forehead almost touches.

Sublime blindness! Magnificent defect!

Untitled (from Mallarmé)

from Mallarmé

Stroked by success
and in the narrowest of gloves,
Édouard Dujardin requests
that around nine o’clock, the third

of March, not even your shadow endorsed
by a coat of diverse spitballs!
you visit, eleven, Chausée
D’Antin, his poetry bookshop:

THE REVIEW which is bruited
INDEPENDENT, Sir, is holding
a housewarming golden as
the gas in its elegant premises.



For a baptism (from Mallarmé)

For a baptism

from Mallarmé

If, subtle one, the little nose
dazzling, drowned in such
candour of guessed-at laughter
as this lace half-opens upon,

the filial instinct grabbed you,
prideful, but the second one
to resemble in her low-key
wit your blonde grandmother,

keep safe, from baptismal fonts,
that it might volatilise
miraculously into words
native and clear as a breeze,

mademoiselle Mirabel,
the grain of salt on your tongue.


The girdle (from Paul Valéry)

The girdle

                   from Paul Valéry

When the sky the colour of a cheek
at last allows eyes to cherish it
and when at the gilded point of dying
among roses time takes place,

before one mute with pleasure
enchained by such a painting,
there dances a Shade in a trailing girdle
the evening comes close to catching.

This girdle wandering
in aerial breath
makes the last link tremble
between my silence and this world…

Absent, present… I am truly alone,
and downcast, o sweet-talking shroud.


Disaster (from Paul Valéry)


                from Paul Valéry

What hour hurls at the timbers of the hull
this great stroke of shadow where our fate is cracked?
What impalpable power knocks together
in our apparel bones of death?

On the bare prow, the collapse of the waterspouts
washes the odour of life and wine:
the sea raises up and hollows out again tombs,
the same water hollows and fills the furrow.

Hideous man, in whom the heart capsizes,
strange drunkard astray on the sea
whose nausea tied to the ship
wrests from the soul a desire for hell,

total man, I tremble and I calculate,
brain too clear, capable of the moment
when, in a miniscule phenomenon,
time is broken like an instrument…

Cursed be the pig that rigged you,
rotten ark whose ballast is infested!
In your black depths, every created thing
beats your dead timbers drifting towards the East…

The abyss and I form a machine
that juggles with scattered memories:
I see my mother and my china cups,
the fat whore on the animal threshold of the bars;

I see Christ moored on the yardarm!…
he dances to death, sinking with his kind;
his bleeding eye lights for me this epitaph:


In the street (from Marceline Desbordes-Valmore)

In the street

                        from Marceline Desbordes-Valmore


We no longer have money to bury our dead.
The priest is there, writing down the cost of the funeral;
and the bodies stretched out, pierced by a swarm of bullets,
await a shroud, a cross, a word of remorse.

Murder is king. The victor whistles and passes.
Where is he going? To the Treasury, to fetch the prize for the blood.
He has spilled plenty of it! but his hand is not tired:
it has cut the throat of the passer-by without fighting.

God saw it. God gathered, like crumpled flowers,
the women, the children, who flew away to heaven.
The men… see them here in blood right up to the eyes.
The air was unable to carry so many angry souls.

They do not want to leave their dead limbs.
The priest is there, writing down the cost of the funeral;
and the bodies stretched out, pierced by a hail of bullets,
await a shroud, a cross, a word of remorse.

The living no longer dare take the risk of living.
Paid sentry in the middle of the way,
Death is a soldier who aims and who delivers
the rebellious witness who would talk tomorrow…


Let us take our black ribbons, let us take all our tears;
we have been prevented from carrying away our murdered:
they have only made a heap of their pale remains:
God! bless them all, they were all unarmed!

Lyon, 4th April 1834