pour manquer
October 1, 2012

Fireworks, inexplicably,
over a new, shivering city,

all things on the verge
of tears and light.

What to do when the bed
is taken from the room,

what to do when your stomach
is all sugar and fear…

Smell the smoke.
Blow the candle out.


Je t’aime d’être faible…
January 15, 2012

Poème original de Renée Vivien
Traduction anglaise d’ Hannah Trees

Je t’aime d’être faible…

Je t’aime d’être faible et câline en mes bras
Et de cherche le sûr refuge de mes bras
Ainsi qu’un berceau tiède où tu reposeras.

Je t’aime d’être rousse et pareille à l’automne,
Frêle image de la Déesse de l’automne
Que le soleil couchant illumine et couronne.

Je t’aime d’être lente et de marcher sans bruit
Et de parler très bas et de haïr le bruit,
Comme l’on fait dans la présence de la nuit.

Et je t’aime surtout d’être pâle et mourante,
Et de gémir avec des sanglots de mourante,
Dans le cruel plaisir qui s’acharne et tourmente.

Je t’aime d’être, ô sœur des reines de jadis,
Exilée au milieu des splendeurs de jadis,
Plus blanche qu’un reflet de lune sur un lys…

Je t’aime de ne point t’émouvoir, lorsque blême
Et tremblante je ne puis cacher mon front blême,
O toi qui ne sauras jamais combien je t’aime !

I love you in being weak…

I love you in being weak and affectionate in my arms
And in looking for the sure refuge of my arms
Where you will rest as in a warm cradle.

I love you in being red and like the autumn,
Frail image of the Goddess of autumn
That the setting sun lights and crowns.

I love you in being slow and in walking without noise
And in speaking low and in hating noise,
As does the presence of the night.

And I love you most of all in being pale and dying,
And in moaning with sobs of dying,
In the cruel pleasure that perseveres and torments.

I love you in being, oh sister of the queens of the past,
Exiled amidst the splendors of the past,
More white than the reflection of moonlight on a lily…

I love you not to move you, when pale
And trembling I cannot hide my face so pale,
Oh you who will never know how much I love you!

Ce poème est de la collection de Vivien, A l’heure des mains jointes.  Lisez-la ici (sans traduction en anglais).  Et trouvez ici son œuvre complète.

lost in translation
October 21, 2011

Here’s something I’ve never tried before: translation.  This is a new and exciting poetic frontier for me.  I recently came across the work of Renée Vivien, a lesbian poet writing in Paris at the turn of the century.  I wasn’t able to find many translations of her work, and obviously Google translate doesn’t really do a good job of translating “normal” prose, let alone poetry.  So here is one of her poems, in the original French and followed by my (admittedly amateur) translation.  In the French, there is an abab rhyme scheme, which I did not even remotely try to conserve in the translation.  There is also a hendecasyllabic meter (meaning that there are 11 syllables per line) in the original, which I also did not make an attempt at in English.  And lastly, the line that gave me the most trouble just in terms of preserving the meaning and the sense of it was “Toi qui ressembles aux royales amoureuses.”  If anyone with a greater fluency in French has a better translation than what I have rendered, please feel free to correct me!

Où donc irai-je ?…

Nul flot ne bouge, nul rameau ne se balance…
Le gris se fait plus gris, le noir se fait plus noir,
Et le chant des oiseaux ne vaut pas le silence…
Où donc irai-je, avec mon cœur, par ce beau soir ?

Dans le ciel du couchant triomphal, les nuages
Roulent, lourds et dorés comme des chariots…
Je suis lasse des jours, des voix et des visages
Et des pleurs refoulés et des muets sanglots…

Toi qui ressembles aux royales amoureuses,
Revis auprès de moi les bonheurs effacés…
A l’avenir chargé de ses roses fiévreuses
Je préfère la pourpre et l’or des temps passés…

Soyons lentes, parmi les choses trop hâtives…
Il ne faut rien chercher… Il ne faut rien vouloir…
Allons en pleine mer, sans aborder aux rives…
Me suivras-tu, vers l’infini, par ce beau soir ?…

So where will I go?…

No stream flows, no branch falls…
The grays become grayer, the blacks become blacker,
And the song of birds does not break the silence…
Where, then, will I go with my heart in this beautiful night?

Above the triumphant setting sun, the clouds
Roll, heavy and golden like chariots…
I am tired of the days, the voices and the faces
And the stifled tears and the silent cries…

Seeming to be royal love itself,
You, next to me, saw all happiness snuffed out…
I prefer the crimson and gold of times passed
To the future heavy with its feverish pink hues…

Let’s be slow amidst too-hurried things…
We need not search…we need not want…
Let’s sail the high seas, never reaching the shore…
Will you follow me to the infinite in this beautiful night?

Albert Camus and the lyrical
February 27, 2011

The title of my blog is taken from Albert Camus’ novel, The Fall, published in 1956, the year before he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.  The narrator of the piece, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, is at one point describing drifting in a boat around the islands of Greece, and stops himself, saying, “Hold on, I, too, am drifting; I am becoming lyrical!  Stop me, cher, I beg you” (97).  Despite this momentary aversion to lyricism, there are many instances in the novel that struck me as lyrical, even, ironically, the narrator’s astonishment at his own lyricism.  I wanted to share some of those instances with the hope of sparking others’ interest in Camus’ writing.

“It always seemed to me that our fellow citizens had two passions: ideas and fornication.” (6)

“Fortunately there is gin, the sole glimmer of light in this darkness.” (12)

“I have never felt comfortable except in lofty places.” (23)

“I never had to learn how to live.” (27)

“I was made to have a body.” (28)

“Something must happen – and that explains most human commitments.  Something must happen, even loveless slavery, even war or death.  Hurray then for funerals!” (37)

“In a general way, I like all islands.  It is easier to dominate them.” (43)

“Ah, this dear old planet!  All is clear now.  We know ourselves; we know of what we are capable.” (45)

“We are all exceptional cases.” (81)

“…modesty helped me to shine, humility to conquer, and virtue to oppress.”  (84)

“I have never been really able to believe that human affairs were serious matters.” (86)

“We are making progress and yet nothing is changing.  It’s not navigation but dreaming.” (97)

“But the keenest of human torments is to be judged without a law.” (117)

“Truth, like light, blinds.  Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.” (120)

“My great idea is that one must forgive the pope.  To begin with, he needs it more than anyone else.  Secondly, that’s that only way to set oneself above him…” (127)

“False judges are held up to the world’s admiration and I alone know the true ones.” (130)

“…the portrait I hold out to my contemporaries becomes a mirror.” (140)

“What can one do to become another? Impossible.” (144)

“It’s too late now.  It will always be too late.  Fortunately!” (147)

(all quotes from: Camus, Albert. The Fall. trans. Justin O’Brien. Vintage International, 1991.)