Literary Nonfiction

Shadowboxing by John Leo

shadboxMy greatest fear, the feeling that haunts my gut-twisted nightmares, the panicked, whispered song my quickened blood mutters through a muddy, bleary-eyed bluster, is the fear of being small. I’m a big man, as far as men go, standing taller than most, built high with bones wrapped tight in lean, bloody meat. People who meet me in the street scan my frame, eyebrows arched, and tell me I should play basketball – as if, by virtue of stature, I could occupy that lofty position of “athlete.” These affirmations, the makings of this rarefied atmosphere I breathe, seem to have instilled in me a great preoccupation with the size of things.

                At night, while I wait for sleep to claim me for what few restless hours I can muster, I build a universe in my head. It starts with a broad, timeless expanse of space painted across my mental canvas. A never-ending sea of utmost black. Then, with a brush of oneiric bristles bound up loosely in pale-brown twine, I breathe life into stars – stars that frame each other against the harsh void like freckles on God’s cheek. Between each star lives a distance of a billion billion miles. Between each star, a journey longer than the distance my father and grandfather could have traveled in their lives. And for each star, with my bristly brush, I paint a number of planets. Some planets have rings made of ice and dust, suspended like nimbuses in the space around some venerated galactic saint. Some planets are gas giants, bigger across than all my worst ideas, less dense than the sheets that cover me when I sleep. Some planets are blue and crawling with wildlife – elk and worms and men and women and hermit crabs that die when rendered homeless. On some of these planets, I imagine what one might call nations – clusters of people with the same language, each nation a mosaic of seemingly infinite parts – millions upon millions of humans like me crammed together to make room for our identities.

                I fall a thousand miles in an instant. The bed disappears from under me. The floor disappears from under the bed, and so on, and I plummet through the space of my dreams, until I jolt upright, my spine crackling with the latent static of aborted slumber. This sensation, they say, is a hypnic jerk. A falling away during the first moments of sleep. They say we all endure this, that we all fall together. But anyone who falls so far so regularly knows that it is a lonely enterprise.

                The jerk throws my heart into a panicked series of palpitations – it races into my throat, only to be swallowed and pushed down my stomach, crammed away, banished to the catacombs of my intestines. The terror swells like a muted symphony, like a roaring fire in a matchbox as big as the world. I gasp, I sputter, I make my peace with whatever blind idiot made me out of clay. I am positive that this is it – my last inglorious moment on Earth, my last seconds of consciousness consigned to fretting and madly wondering what the hell I accomplished during my spin of the wheel. And then I don’t die. My heart, after laboring so vigorously, returns to its normal resting rate. The gears in my mind cease their relentless grinding.

I return, after a time, to the idea of nations, of shared identity, of how a bucket of water is composed of millions of droplets, bonded together, less themselves than a part of the whole, a component of something more expansive. Then I think of myself, a droplet of water, a strong-jawed experiment in surface tension, and I think of how heavy weigh my manifold struggles – the cloying attentions of my mother, the troubling traces of my father that I glean routinely from my DNA, the silenced cries of my ravaged sister, the fatalism that permeates every thought of my blossoming brother and his dichotomous childhood. The devotion of my significant other, tempered by immense loss and the reaping of a selfish want that I can never fully explicate.

Then, that great horror, that insurmountable fear of ineffectuality, wraps its crooked fingers around my throat and stares deeply into the space between myself and the end of a braided rope. The horror reminds me that my troubles are not cataclysmic. My bad days are not unique in their ability to harrow, and my wounded pride bleeds the same indignity as everybody else’s. My sorrows grow in a garden of sorrow, are fertilized by the sorrow of others, and are reaped and basketed with the whole melancholy genus. Everybody awakens with a jerk and mourns their wasted lives in the stifled seconds of ante-death. In these moments, though, the fundamental disconnect, the static that shuts us away from each other, proves our isolation. It confronts us with our smallness.

I am a mote of dust amid seven billion other motes of dust, and between our hopes and our fears is enough pressure to swing the planet out of alignment. If every one of us, seven billion and one, stood on each other’s shoulders, we wouldn’t even make it a tenth of the way to Mars. This blight, this sense of perennial ruin washes over me in thick, sludgy waves. We cannot break free of gravity; we cannot achieve escape velocity. This is the sad truth of man. I lay down. I wrap myself in a sheet that is denser than the outer skin of Jupiter and I imagine myself floating in inky space, my darkened ken populated by prophecies of the hypnic jerk and the racing heart and the idea that the value of my life, when measured out, will stretch to my moderate height and no farther. While I float toward sleep, while I hope it comes soft and smooth, I paint planets with icy rings and constellations that spell the secret name of the universe.

© John Leo

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Poetry

EM Healy – Four Poems

gentlemanwatermark03

Necropolis 1918

They came from the centre surrendering to heroism
We retrieving their light when they no longer can
Remember a time before innocence dreamt itself

Dust on his dungarees mending a rabbit fence
With Sun-kissed stains on his leathered complexion
The tableland sits down to a long afternoon’s lunch

Spinifex settling into the loam above a dingo’s bones
Besides the slit-throat reeds retiring into their bushland brine
Ghost rhizomes slowly probing vegetable memories where

Scones and tea form an endless procession of domestic suns
An inch-worm prophecy settling down to the bottom of
A young private’s name prefigured in a foreign constellation

Where the whistle sounds that magnesium bright moment
Gun-shy generals, gazing up at the grid locked skies
Write his death warrant to be replayed on the band rotunda

Reminding us Saturday is for cricket and Sunday is for God
Tongue-tied it’s enough to just listen to that music
Though we can’t surrender in dance let the band play on

Swings

I saw the Boy before they took him away
Dressed in cap and blazer on a Sunday
This time he left without his satchel
Running deeper into the city of God

Past the gates vast blackness beyond
Through membrane’s vibrating shibboleths
Shouts danger-mouth giving hero’s welcome
Into veins of the most high

Up-rushing in his ray-gun gothic chariot
So many rooms in his father’s house
Fleshy pillars in the midst of the temple
Bony knees dangle as the sky rolls

Daring centripetal motion the ground yawns
Knowing entropies blind and fatal forces
As a schoolboy knows well his times-tables
Well enough to know they work

Running skidoo too young for ascension time
Tender gums smile their secret promises
Biting the ether his pomegranates bleed
Into irresistible graces

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Interviews Literary Fiction

Interview with Kris Saknussemm

kris-saknussemm_2

From The Archives
In January 2006 I met with ZANESVILLE author Kris Saknussemm outside Readings Bookstore on Lygon Street in Carlton, Melbourne, Australia.

I’ve been a heavy user of the Internet for about 11 years now and I have met hundreds of people online. Kris is the first person I actually had the courage to meet in person. I still felt dodgy, hanging around outside the bookstore waiting for him. I had no idea at all what he looked like. Despite the press clippings I had collected, a photograph of the author remained elusive. I mused to myself that perhaps Kris was Clearfather himself, a master reality hacker who creates his own past and controls his own future.

Zanesville sure hacked my mind, its thoughtware continued to alter my perception for many days after putting the book down. I felt I knew him and what to expect but I had no idea who he was. Other guys who looked like writers were hanging around outside the bookshop as well; I just could not bring myself to approach and ask – hey man, are you Kris? Too dodgy for my liking. Thankfully I was not waiting long when a guy who I had never seen before but looked very familiar walks on up and says – are you Brentley? – o good, lets go eat. A few weeks earlier I received an email from him saying that he thought Retort Magazine was cool and would I like to have a look at his new book ZANESVILLE. Of course I would, that crazy duck on the website freaked me out. Besides, who can resist the catch line from an advertisement I had seen – Better to lose an election than an erection! After many lengthy email discussions we agreed it would be cool to meet next time he was in town, and after embarking on his hyperactive neuron altering text I was looking very forward to the opportunity.

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Scholarly

Beautiful Terror: The Great War Poets by Brentley Frazer

warpoetsAn examination of the emotional, intellectual, moral, ideological and aesthetic responses to the Great War in the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg.

As the first global conflict, the Great War provoked intense and disparate responses from many artists, novelists and poets. This paper considers the work of Isaac Rosenberg, whose lower social standing hampered his poetic career and saw him enlist for financial reasons; Siegfried Sassoon, whose privileged lifestyle of cricket and poetry moved him to enlist as a proud patriot; and Wilfred Owen, who was living comfortably abroad, working as a tutor and pursuing his literary interests, before being moved to enlist by propaganda and feelings of personal guilt. To effectively compare and contrast three poems from each poet, this essay treats each text chronologically. A brief introduction to each poet provides context, looking at how their personal lives were interrupted by news of the outbreak of hostilities, followed by an analysis of a poem written in response to this news. Next, an analysis of a poem composed during training, before battle has been experienced and finally, a poem written in the thick of war. Comparing, through their poetry, their initial responses from individual perspectives, their personal expectations and their ultimate experience of the Great War, it can be seen that they all achieved the same realisation, that everything had changed, for everyone, forever.

Isaac Rosenberg, (b. Bristol 1880), was in Africa when the news of war reached him. Considering himself a serious poet, (several poems had attracted some attention from Ezra Pound ), he responded with the poem On Receiving News of the War (1914). Using a vivid image of the sudden indifferent descent of a harsh winter as a metaphor for the cruel violence that he (very presciently) foresaw gripping the world, he mused that perhaps War is an ancient spirit that resides in the hearts of humanity, beyond comprehension, waiting, like winter, to subdue the spirit:

Snow is a strange white word.
No ice or frost
Has asked of bud or bird
For Winter’s cost.
Yet ice and frost and snow
From earth to sky
This Summer land doth know.
No man knows why.
In all men’s hearts it is.
Some spirit old
Hath turned with malign kiss
Our lives to mould.

This first poem betrays the authors inner turmoil at the news of the war, while revealing Rosenberg as an emotionally distant yet mystical man, perhaps at heart a fatalist. Rosenberg may have believed that the war was like a duty of nature, an ancient part of life. He saw war as being inevitable, like the seasons. The below concluding stanzas of the poem seem to give praise to this force, it is greater than man, inevitable like rust or fire. The poet felt the tremors of some far off explosion, with the shockwaves he registered the scent of danger:

Red fangs have torn His face.
God’s blood is shed.
He mourns from His lone place
His children dead.
O! ancient crimson curse!
Corrode, consume.
Give back this universe
Its pristine bloom.

Despite the palpable sense of horror in this poem, it was Rosenberg’s inherent sense of duty and the cultural pressure to serve the greater good that saw him return to England and ultimately enlist as a soldier. This poem shows much of the modernist promise that Pound no doubt had noticed in his pre-war collection. In the later Trench Poems the voice of a “modern poet is clearly heard…” (Rusche, Harry 1)

The poem ‘Soldier: Twentieth Century’, written after Rosenberg had enlisted and was undergoing training, examined “the drive for recruitment and the pressures placed on ordinary men to enlist” (Walter XXXVIII). In the first stanza it appears the poet was swept up in the prevailing pro-war sentiment. But he protests, he is smart, he knows how it works. Men like him are the army; this “new Titan” that has arisen inspires his mythic imagination, throwing him back to the times of great emperors with fantastic armies:

I love you, great new Titan!
Am I not you?
Napoleon and Caesar
Out of you grew.

Rosenberg hadn’t seen battle yet, although he must have heard stories, and the poets mind grappled with the imagined but unknown “Out of unthinkable torture/Eyes kissed by death”. He, however, could not let himself be afraid, needing battle to make his heart hard, “Cruel men are made immortal,/Out of your pain born”. To survive, he was willing to become cruel like those emperors who “have stolen the suns power”, standing on their soldiers shoulders.

After seeing battle Rosenberg produces this, in a poem titled ‘God’:

In his malodorous brain what slugs and mire
Lanthorned in his oblique eyes, guttering burned!
His body lodged a rat where men nursed souls.

The image of a rat squirming about in the rotting brains of a smashed open head is a stark contrast to both the sarcastic optimism of ‘Soldier: Twentieth Century’ and the vast winter landscape in ‘On Receiving News of the War’. Due to his physical isolation in Africa he had only registered rumbles in the distance, his first personal experience of war produced much more savage imagery:

On fragments of an old shrunk power,
On shy and maimed, on women wrung awry,
He lay, a bullying hulk, to crush them more.

This putrid claustrophobia reveals a stifling landscape where “… in the morning some pale wonder ceases./Things are not strange and strange things are forgetful.”(God, Rosenberg)

Siegfried Sassoon (b. Kent 1886) was a privileged member of the upper class. His early dilettantish self-published collections of poems showed little promise and attained no critical acclaim. Receiving a stipend from the family estate, he dropped out of university and spent several years playing cricket. A patriotic man, he enlisted in the army after hearing rumors of war, and during training he remained positive and cheerful. A poem written in this period ‘The Kiss’ sings praises to his weaponry, like a knight, he trusts only his sword:

To these I turn, in these I trust;
Brother Lead and Sister Steel.
To his blind power I make appeal;
I guard her beauty clean from rust.

In the second stanza the poet imagines battle, “He spins and burns and loves the air/And splits a skull to win my praise.” The image of the skull splitting is an apt metaphor for the discord that was to come, yet at this point he was still jovial, proud, :”But up the nobly marching days…” (The Kiss, Sassoon).

Contrast this with Rosenberg’s poem ‘Soldier 20th Century’, also written during the period of training. Rosenberg’s thinking was political, sarcastic, “I love you, great new Titan!” (Soldier: Twentieth Century, Rosenberg). Rosenberg’s musings on actual battle were full of dread, “Out of unthinkable torture/Eyes kissed by death” (Soldier: Twentieth Century, Rosenberg), whereas Sassoon praised his weapons, he thought of Sister Steel as beautiful and he tended to her: “Sister Steel…/I guard her beauty clean from rust.” (The Kiss, Sassoon)

Combat was delayed for Sassoon as he badly broke his arm in a riding accident. After convalescing, he was sent to battle where the absolute horror he witnessed changed him and his writing irrevocably. While serving in the 1st Battalion in France he met and became close friends with Robert Graves, whose theories of ‘gritty realism’ profoundly influenced Sassoon’s aesthetic. A poem from this period ‘The Redeemer’ indicated a dramatic shift from the heroic to the horrified, glorious praises to weaponry gave way to black ditches, driving rain, screaming bullets and exploding shells:

Darkness: the rain sluiced down; the mire was deep;
It was past twelve on a mid-winter night,
When peaceful folk in beds lay snug asleep;
There, with much work to do before the light,
We lugged our clay-sucked boots as best we might
Along the trench; sometimes a bullet sang,
And droning shells burst with a hollow bang;
We were soaked, chilled and wretched, every one;
Darkness; the distant wink of a huge gun.

While there was still a hint of the heroic in his words, the second stanza showed a sense of hopelessness creeping in, “No thorny crown, only a woollen cap/He wore—an English soldier, white and strong…” (The Redeemer, Sassoon) His longing for home is evident, and although he still believed the war to be a good Christian cause:

Now he has learned that nights are very long,
And dawn a watching of the windowed sky.
But to the end, unjudging, he’ll endure
Horror and pain, not uncontent to die
That Lancaster on Lune may stand secure.

Sassoon fought heroically and was awarded a Military Cross for bravery, yet despite his Christian idealism his initial patriotic fervor dimmed fast, doused with pain and blood. The gritty, realist portrayals of his experiences evident in the poem above, gave way to a no-punches-pulled style which read like a report. Consider the opening lines of ‘Counter Attack’:

We’d gained our first objective hours before
While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,
Pallid, unshaved and thirsty, blind with smoke.
Things seemed all right at first. We held their line,
With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.

Sassoon then turned his gaze from the haggard faces of his comrades and surveyed the landscape:

The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs
High-booted, sprawled and groveled along the saps;
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.

Wilfred Owen (b. Shropshire 1893) was an intellectual of modest means who had embarked on a career as a poet at a young age. His early poetry was heavily influenced by the romantic poets Keats and Shelly. Working as a tutor in France when war broke out, he soon returned to England after feeling stirred by propaganda in the news. After enlisting, he was proud to be a soldier, as the poem ‘Arms and the Boy’ shows:

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

The imagery is familiar, “Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade”; the turn of phrase is not dissimilar to Sassoon’s “To these I turn, in these I trust;/Brother Lead and Sister Steel.” (The Kiss, Sassoon) Both of these poems were written before Sassoon and Owen knew each other, however this camaraderie of spirit became even more evident in each other’s work after they eventually met during the course of the war. The influence of Sassoon’s ‘gritty realism’, in turn, affected the work of Owen quite profoundly.

How different was Rosenberg’s response, “In all men’s hearts it is./Some spirit old/Hath turned with malign kiss/Our lives to mould.” (On Receiving News of the War, Rosenberg). Rosenberg signed up because he needed money, yet he foresaw that his fate was to be altered, his life molded anew. During training he anticipated great epic battles but also “… unthinkable torture / Eyes kissed by death” (Soldier: Twentieth Century, Rosenberg), whereas Owen and Sassoon had joined for patriotic reasons and were both keen for battle. However, Owen had seen first hand injured soldiers in an infirmary before he went into battle. After this experience he composed ‘The Send Off’ which, in contrast to the earlier “cold steel hungry for blood” reveals a somewhat ominous image, initial smiles turning to a grimace:

Down the close darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.
Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men’s are, dead.
Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.

The truth, for Owen, was sinking in, “…secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went. / They were not ours / We never heard to which front these were sent.” (The Send Off, Owen) Clearly any feelings of chivalry were dying like the flowers handed to the soldiers as they marched off to conflict:

Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.
Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.

And then, after meeting Sassoon while they were both recovering from shell shock and then heading back into battle, he produced what was one of the most popular poems of World War 1, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. Owen was now pulling no punches:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

From this point on, perspective altered by atrocities previously unimagined, he knew the truth, that soldiers were just cattle. There wass none of the previously imagined chivalry, nor ceremony, just “shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; / And bugles calling for them from sad shires.” Compare this with Rosenberg and his “…malodorous brain what slugs and mire… / On fragments of an old shrunk power, / On shy and maimed, on women wrung awry” (God, Rosenberg) and Sassoon’s “The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs… / … trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud, / Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;” (Counter Attack, Sassoon).

Here the contrast between these great poets and their responses to the war, despite differing social, financial and ideological outlooks, differed little. The Great War changed all three fundamentally, bringing their intellectual and aesthetic approaches into a cacophonous cry of despair; in unison these poets echoed the great disturbance in the hearts and minds of humanity, as a whole.


© Brentley Frazer

 

Works Cited

Poetry (Appendix A)
All poetry sourced from  The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry. London: Penguin Books 2004.Walter, George. Ed.
Isaac Rosenberg
On Receiving News of the War
Soldier: Twentieth Century
God
Siegfried Sassoon
The Kiss
The Redeemer
Counter- attack

Wilfred Owen
Arms and the Boy
The Send Off
Anthem for Doomed Youth
Criticism
Walter, George. Ed. The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry. London: Penguin Books 2004 ‘Introduction’ Page xxxviii
Rusche, Harry.Ed. Lost Poets of the Great War. English Department, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

—————————
Works Consulted

Rusche, Harry. Lost Poets of the Great War. English Department, Emory University, Atlanta, GA [Date unknown]
Parsons, Ian, Ed.. The Collected Works of Isaac Rosenberg. London: Chatto and Windus, 1979
Cohen, Joseph. Journey to the Trenches: The Life of Isaac Rosenberg, 1890-1918. New York: Basic Books, 1975
Moorcroft Wilson, Jean. Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet (1998) Routledge; 1 edition (2005)
Radner, Hilary. Siegfried Sassoon: The Journey From The Trenches, A Biography (1918-1967) Routledge; 1 edition (2004)
Stallworthy, Jon. Wilfred Owen: A Biography Oxford University Press (1995)
McPhail, Helen. WILFRED OWEN: On the Trail of the Poets of the Great War (Battleground Europe. on the Trail of the Poets of the Great War) Pen and Sword (1999)
Roberts, David. Ed. Out in the Dark ‘Poetry of the First World War’ Saxon Books (1995)
The War Poetry Archive – www.warpoetry.co.uk

APPENDIX A (Source Poems)

Isaac Rosenberg
On Receiving News of the War
Snow is a strange white word.
No ice or frost
Has asked of bud or bird
For Winter’s cost.
Yet ice and frost and snow
From earth to sky
This Summer land doth know.
No man knows why.
In all men’s hearts it is.
Some spirit old
Hath turned with malign kiss
Our lives to mould.
Red fangs have torn His face.
God’s blood is shed.
He mourns from His lone place
His children dead.
O! ancient crimson curse!
Corrode, consume.
Give back this universe
Its pristine bloom.
—–
Isaac Rosenberg
Soldier: Twentieth Century
I love you, great new Titan!
Am I not you?
Napoleon and Caesar
Out of you grew.
Out of unthinkable torture,
Eyes kissed by death,
Won back to the world again,
Lost and one in a breath,
Cruel men are made immortal,
out of your pain born.

——-
Isaac Rosenberg
God
In his malodorous brain what slugs and mire,
Lanthorned in his oblique eyes, guttering burned!
His body lodged a rat where men nursed souls.
The world flashed grape-green eyes of a foiled cat
To him. On fragments of an old shrunk power,
On shy and maimed, on women wrung awry,
He lay, a bullying hulk, to crush them more.
But when one, fearless, turned and clawed like bronze,
Cringing was easy to blunt these stern paws,
And he would weigh the heavier on those after.
Who rests in God’s mean flattery now? Your wealth
Is but his cunning to make death more hard.
Your iron sinews take more pain in breaking.
And he has made the market for your beauty
Too poor to buy, although you die to sell.
Only that he has never heard of sleep;
And when the cats come out the rats are sly.
Here we are safe till he slinks in at dawn.
But he has gnawed a fibre from strange roots,
And in the morning some pale wonder ceases.
Things are not strange and strange things are forgetful.
Ah! if the day were arid, somehow lost
Out of us, but it is as hair of us,
And only in the hush no wind stirs it.
And in the light vague trouble lifts and breathes,
And restlessness still shadows the lost ways.
The fingers shut on voices that pass through,
Where blind farewells are taken easily . . .
Ah! this miasma of a rotting God!
Siegfried Sassoon
The Kiss
To these I turn, in these I tust;
Brother Lead and Sister Steel.
To his blind power I make appeal;
I guard her beauty clean from rust.

He spins and burns and loves the air,
And splits a skull to win my praise;
But up the nobly marching days
She glitters naked, cold and fair.

Sweet Sister, grant your soldier this;
That in good fury he may feel
The body where he sets his heel
Quail from your downward darting kiss

———-

Siegfried Sassoon
The Redeemer
Darkness: the rain sluiced down; the mire was deep;
It was past twelve on a mid-winter night,
When peaceful folk in beds lay snug asleep;
There, with much work to do before the light,
We lugged our clay-sucked boots as best we might
Along the trench; sometimes a bullet sang,
And droning shells burst with a hollow bang;
We were soaked, chilled and wretched, every one;
Darkness; the distant wink of a huge gun.

I turned in the black ditch, loathing the storm;
A rocket fizzed and burned with blanching flare,
And lit the face of what had been a form
Floundering in mirk. He stood before me there;
I say that He was Christ; stiff in the glare,
And leaning forward from His burdening task,
Both arms supporting it; His eyes on mine
Stared from the woeful head that seemed a mask
Of mortal pain in Hell’s unholy shine.

No thorny crown, only a woollen cap
He wore—an English soldier, white and strong,
Who loved his time like any simple chap,
Good days of work and sport and homely song;
Now he has learned that nights are very long,
And dawn a watching of the windowed sky.
But to the end, unjudging, he’ll endure
Horror and pain, not uncontent to die
That Lancaster on Lune may stand secure.

He faced me, reeling in his weariness,
Shouldering his load of planks, so hard to bear.
I say that He was Christ, who wrought to bless
All groping things with freedom bright as air,
And with His mercy washed and made them fair.
Then the flame sank, and all grew black as pitch,
While we began to struggle along the ditch;
And someone flung his burden in the muck,
Mumbling: ‘O Christ Almighty, now I’m stuck!’

————————

Siegfried Sassoon
Counter-Attack
We’d gained our first objective hours before
While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,
Pallid, unshaved and thirsty, blind with smoke.
Things seemed all right at first. We held their line,
With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.
The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs
High-booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps;
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.
And then the rain began,–the jolly old rain!
A yawning soldier knelt against the bank,
Staring across the morning blear with fog;
He wondered when the Allemands would get busy;
And then, of course, they started with five-nines
Traversing, sure as fate, and never a dud.
Mute in the clamour of shells he watched them burst
Spouting dark earth and wire with gusts from hell,
While posturing giants dissolved in drifts of smoke.
He crouched and flinched, dizzy with galloping fear,
Sick for escape,–loathing the strangled horror
And butchered, frantic gestures of the dead.
An officer came blundering down the trench:
“Stand-to and man the fire-step!” On he went …
Gasping and bawling, “Fire-step … counter-attack!”
Then the haze lifted. Bombing on the right
Down the old sap: machine-guns on the left;
And stumbling figures looming out in front.
“O Christ, they’re coming at us!” Bullets spat,
And he remembered his rifle … rapid fire …
And started blazing wildly … then a bang
Crumpled and spun him sideways, knocked him out
To grunt and wriggle: none heeded him; he choked
And fought the flapping veils of smothering gloom,
Lost in a blurred confusion of yells and groans …
Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned,
Bleeding to death. The counter-attack had failed.
——-
Wilfred Owen
Arms and the Boy
Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.
Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-leads
Which long to nuzzle in the hearts of lads,
Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth,
Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.
For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.
———
Wilfred Owen
The Send-Off
Down the close darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.
Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men’s are, dead.
Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.
So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
They were not ours:
We never heard to which front these were sent.
Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.
Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.
———-
Wilfred Owen

Anthem For Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds

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Scholarly

The Corpse In The Garden: TS Eliot, Iconoclast by Brentley Frazer

eliot“Modernist art is perhaps the first consciously to absorb the principle for which Marshall McLuhan found words a generation later, that ‘the medium is the message.’ Modernist artists – in the novel, poetry, the drama, music, the dance, architecture and elsewhere – understand that, to articulate their sense of the differentness of modern experience and of being in the modern world, they must change their medium, as well as, and as much as – if not more than – what the medium ‘says’.”

In light of this remark I discuss The Waste Land and several other poems by Eliot.

On publication of his first poem T.S Eliot was regarded as ‘a disruptive progressive iconoclast’ (Jones 9). In 1915, at the insistence of Ezra Pound, Poetry Magazine published ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’; what had been evident to Mr. Pound was now evident to all who had more than a passing interest in poetry in the English language, something new had arrived, Modern Poetry had a voice. The now immortal image from ‘Prufrock’ of the “patient etherized upon a table” ironically revived the intellectual climate of contemporary poetry and heralded the arrival of a new perspective, the urban landscape, the poetry of the city. This is precisely what Eliot had intended. He regarded himself an active revolutionary, a rebel, and his purpose “was to direct attention towards the particular sources of poetic power whose neglect had led, he felt, to a progressive devitalization of poetic art”. (Drew 36) Drawing from all literature that preceded his place in history Eliot consciously devoted himself, both philosophically and creatively, to the development of a new poetic voice. His aim was to modernize himself and his chosen medium, poetry. With ‘The Wasteland’ (1922) he succeeded, giving the reader not only descriptions that were startlingly new, “That corpse you planted last year in your garden, / ‘Has it begun to sprout?’” (Eliot 53. 71-72) but also metaphors and allusions which are as multi-layered as they are striking. He also offers new interpretations of the mythic man as opposed to the real man, struggling for identity, meaning and purpose in the post war, modern, industrialized world:

He, the young man, carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford Millionaire. (60. 231-234)

Eliot gave us a rich, chaotic tapestry of verse that “…juxtaposes the remote and the familiar, the traditional and the contemporary”.(Headings 17) By combining his intense, studied interest in the medium of poetry with his natural talent for the musicality of languages, T.S. Eliot produced some of the greatest poems ever written in English and in the process, permanently changed the medium of poetry itself.

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics summarizes T.S Eliot’s position on poetry with this brief, humorous passage: A poet’s task during creation is to give expression to some extremely complex state of mind that has been forming itself unconsciously out of his stored experiences and is now beginning to agitate him obscurely (Preminger 515). When first embarking upon a study of ‘The Wasteland’ (1922), this may seem an apt conclusion. The reader is confronted with a strange metaphysical landscape that although steeped in obscurity somehow seems familiar, the remnants of both objects and ideas, memories and desires, characters from the past and imagined in the future hover on the peripheries, where “…you cannot say or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images…”. Eliot literally evokes a wasteland, haunted by the ghost(s) of what once was, the reader left reeling about the wreckage unable to find shelter, death looming in the shadows. Sometimes the reader is given a glance of something recognizable but then it slips away, like someone flashing around a torch in a cave. This jigsaw, shattered mirror technique, coupled with dark fragmented reflections and glimpses of what are perhaps the poets own private rituals, builds an almost unnerving image in the mind of the reader. However, and despite this trepidation, further analysis of the text shows Preminger’s summary should not be considered the final prognosis of ‘The Wasteland’. Once you tune in to the poem, when you discover all the secret rhymes, “…the sound of horns and motors, which shall bring/Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring” you learn to observe without judgment and to appreciate the text despite personal preconceptions of what a poem should ‘be’ or ‘do’.

Another innovative technique of Eliot’s, evident early in his career with ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (1915) is the weariness apparent in the tone of the narrators voice, a blasé, world-weary guide through the density and the vastness of the allusions in the text. In ‘The Wasteland’ (1922) this technique lulls the reader into a semi-detached, almost hypnotic state, allowing Eliot to present shocking imagery while suppressing his audience’s expected inclination to moral outrage. This dead-pan innovation also serves to hold the explosion, to understate the immensity of what you are reading, you find yourself standing there, without drama, numb among the junk. This weariness is also combined with an ingenious use of the inherent musicality of the English language, vowels and consonants resounding off one another with an almost preternatural clarity. Repeat out loud this quotation as an example:

The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of City directors;
Departed, have left no addresses. (Eliot 58)

The music of Eliot’s language was, to early 20th century ears, a new music – disjointed, like the first uncertain notes of a broken opera, struggling to comprehend an atrocity. At once hopeful and fearful of the future, it beat a new drum and heralded the arrival of the new modern self-conscious human, one who did not merely discard and disregard the past but one who had arrived in ‘the now’ dragging behind them all that they had learned, all that was useful, to forge a new future from the bricks and dust of the old empires.

In ‘The Wasteland’ Eliot also employs an innovative use of parataxis (the placing together of sentences, clauses, or phrases without a conjunctive word or words) as demonstrated by the line “O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter / And on her daughter / They wash their feet in soda water…” Ezra Pound, the editor of the original manuscript of ‘The Wasteland’, himself renowned internationally for his innovations in poetry, was so impressed he remarked “About enough, Eliot’s poem, to make the rest of us shut up shop…” (Eliot, Valerie xxii)

Pound, in turn, has left his mark on ‘The Wasteland’, being largely responsible for the format of the poem as we know it today. In fact the fragmentary, ‘blown apart’ presentation of the poem is a result of the redactions of Pound, and Eliot (ever the innovator) choosing to leave blank spaces where the edits occurred, rather than reformatting the poem’s structure. An example can be seen where, in the unedited manuscript, the lines appeared as:

Unreal City, I have seen and see
Under the brown fog of your winter noon…
(Eliot,V 43. Lines 93-94)

In the published version, after Pound’s edit, Eliot chose not to reduce the poem:

Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon…
(Eliot, T.S 59. Lines 207-208)

Another, more obvious, example can be seen where the original manuscript read:

At the violet hour, the hour when eyes and back and hand
Turn upward from the desk, the human engine waits—
Like a taxi throbbing waiting at a stand—
(Eliot, V 43. Lines 121-123)

While the published version, after Pound’s editorial interjections, read:

At the violet hour, the hour when eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
(Eliot, T.S. 59. Lines 207-208)

This results in the ‘cut short rhyme’ effect and also the fragmentary presentation, both very effective in portraying the ‘wasteland’ Eliot intended.

The balance and rhythmic flow, the measured inflections and modulation of the vowels and consonants, and the measured beat of the voice in Eliot’s verse was self consciously revolutionary. In a lecture that Eliot gave in 1950 he spoke directly of two of his major poetic influences, Jules Laforgue and Charles Baudelaire. From Laforgue, “[Eliot] learned that his own speech idioms had poetic possibilities, and from Baudelaire, that his urban experience could be material for poetry…[and that] juxtaposing the realistic and the fantastic could produce striking effects”. (Headings 20) ‘Prufrock’ (1915) – written when Eliot was only twenty three – presents us with a line that critic Piers Gray called “an astonishing achievement’s astonishing achievement” (Gray 83), he gives us a glimpse of his gifts of cadence and the influence of Baudelaire with abrupt binary contrasts:

There will be time, there will be time
to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate.
(The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, 1915)

These techniques were refined and his gifts developed when seven years later he penned these lines in “The Wasteland”; hidden in the pleasant rhythm and disguised with every day sounding words is what appears to be a scene depicting a sexual assault, or at the very least a sterile indifferent copulation:

The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence. (235-240)

All of these important innovations in Eliot’s poetry are as consciously realized as the seemingly loose but highly designed tapestry of literary and philosophical allusions and references he invents or modifies. Eliot himself said that “the great poet is the man who ‘out of intense and personal experience is able to express a general truth : retaining all the particularity of his experience to make it a general symbol’” (Drew 91). Eliot’s intention was to portray his time, a world in literal and spiritual ruin, to cultivate his innate skills of observation and abilities with language to metaphorically shake the reader awake. To effectively enunciate this time and place he effectively “trained himself and modernized himself, on his own!” (Stock 166) as Ezra Pound commented after their first meeting. Through the medium of poetry Eliot built a new temple in a moral Sahara, in this ‘wasteland’ of compromised ethics and spiritual barrenness he succeeded in growing an intellectual flower. Eliot knew what he wanted to say and he conceived a very effective way to say it, his aim “to achieve comprehensiveness through allusion, meaning through dislocation” (Gray 225) and his conscious effort to get “as much as possible of the whole weight of the history of the language behind his words” (225) was, as history has demonstrated, a very successful aim indeed. Eliot took the average man from his time, placed them among the ruins, gently awoke them from their collective fugue, all the while reminding them that what they had lived through was epic, worthy of myth. His equally epic poem, ‘The Wasteland’ portrays his vision of the modern man, getting up from the catastrophe, dusting off his coat, taking account of what he has learned, what he has inherited, and continuing on, as the poem concludes, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins…”


© Brentley Frazer

Works Cited

Drew, Elizabeth. T.S. Eliot, The Design of his Poetry. Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1950
Eliot, T.S The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock 1917. Selected Poems. Faber and Faber 1961
Eliot, T.S The Wasteland 1922. Selected Poems. Faber and Faber 1961
Eliot, Valerie, Editor. T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland: A facsimile and transcript of the original draft including the annotations of Ezra Pound. Faber and Faber. London 1971.
Gray, Piers. T.S Eliot’s Intellectual and Poetic development 1909-1922. The Harvester Press, Sussex, 1982.
Headings, Philip. R. Bowman, Sylvia E. Editor. T.S Eliot. Twayne Publishers/University of Illinois, 1964.
Jones, Genesius. Approach to the Purpose; A Study of the Poetry of T.S Eliot. Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1964.
Preminger, Alex. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton University Press, New Jersey 1974.
Stock, Noel. The Life of Ezra Pound. Pantheon Books/Random House, New York 1970

Works Consulted

Ackroyd, Peter. T.S. Eliot. Hamish Hamilton, London 1984.
Eliot, T.S. Ezra Pound: His Metric And Poetry. Kessinger Publishing, USA 2004.
Gordon, Lyndall T.S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life. W. W. Norton & Company 1999.
Menand, Louis. Discovering Modernism: T. S. Eliot and His Context. Oxford University Press, USA; 2 edition 2007.
Stone Dale, Alzina. T.S. Eliot: The Philosopher Poet. Backinprint.com 2004.
Vocal recording of T.S. Eliot reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock 1917 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhiCMAG658M
Vocal recording of T.S. Eliot reading The Wasteland 1922 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tqK5zQlCDQ&feature=related

 

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Poetry Translation

Jim Nisbet translates LES FLEURS DU MAL by Baudelaire

Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelairecharles-buadelaire
translated from the French by Jim Nisbet

Part 1

AU POÉTE IMPECCABLE
AU PARFAIT MAGICIEN ÉS LETTRES FRANçAISES
A MON TRES CHER ET TRES VÉnÉrÉ
MAITRE ET AMI
THPÉOPHILE GAUTIER
AVEC LES SENTIMENTS
DE LA PLUS PROFONDE HUMILITÉ
JE DEDIÉ
CES FLEURS MALADIVES
C.B.

TO THE IMPECCABLE POET
AND UNSURPASSED MAGICIAN OF FRENCH LETTERS
MY DEAR AND VENERATED
MASTER AND FRIEND
THÉOPHILE GAUTIER
WITH ABJECT
AFFECTION AND HUMILITY
I DEDICATE
THESE INSALUBRIOUS BLOOMS

Au Lecteur

La sottisse, l’erreur, le pêché, la lésine,
Occupent nos esprits et travaillant nos corps,
Et nous alimentons nos aimables remords,
comme les mendiants nourrissent leur vermine.

Nos péchés sont têtus, nos repentirs sont lâches;
Nous nous faisons payer grassement nos aveux,
Et nous rentrons gaiement dans le chemin bourbeux,
Croyant par de vils pleurs toutes nos taches.

Sur l’oreiller du mal c’est Satan Trismégiste
Qui berce longuement notre esprit enchanté,
Et le riche métal de notre volonté
Est tout vaporisé par ce savant chimiste.

C’est le Diable qui tient les fils qui nous remuent!
Aux objets répugnants nous trouvons des appas;
Chaque jour vers l’Enfer nous descendons d’un pas,
San horreur, à travers des ténèbres qui puent.

Ainsi qu’un débauché pauvre qui baise et mange
Le sein martyrisé d’une antique catin,
Nous volons au passage un plaisir clandestine
Que nous pressons bien for comme une vieille orange.

Serré, fourmillant, comme un million d’helminthes,
Dans nos cerveaux ribote un peuple de Démons,
Et, quand nous respirons, la Mort dans nos poumons
Descend, fleuve invisible, avec de sourdes plaintes.

Si le viole, le poison, le poignard, l’incendie,
N’ont pas encor brodé de leurs plaisants dessins
Le canevas banal de nos piteux destins,
C’est que notre âme, hélas! n’est pas assez hardie.

Mais parmi les chacals, les panthères, les lices,
Les singes, les scorpions, les vautours, les serpents
Les monstres glapissants, hurlants, grognants, rampants,
Dans la ménagerie infâme de nos vices,

Il est un plus laid, plus méchant, plus immonde!
Quoiqu’il ne pousse ni grands gestes ni grands cris,
Il ferait volontiers de la terre un débris
Et dans un bâillement avalerait le monde;

C’est l’Ennui! — l’oeil chargé d’un pleur involontaire,
Il rêve d’échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
–Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semble, — mon frère!

To The Reader

Stupidity, error, sin, parsimony,
Preoccupy our souls, rack our nerves,
And succour sweet remorse
Like beggars nourish their vermin.

Our sins are tenacious, our repentance lax:
We ingratiate ourselves with a brace of lame confessions,
And gaily regain the well-traced mire, with the excuse that
Mere vile tears might efface the scars of birth.

On the pillow of evil it is Satan Trismegistus, the Psychopomp
Himself, who rocks the cradle of our languorous spirit,
And his alchemy transmogrifies into dust
The rich alloy of our resolve.

Our strings are pulled by the devil!
We discover allure in the most repugnant objects;
Each day we descend through reeking shadows,
Straight to hell without a clue.

Like a slobbering impoverished drunk who chews
The martyred breast of an ancient whore,
We steal secret pleasures
And squeeze them as dry as withered fruit.

Our brains teem with rioting demons,
They seethe like a million pinworms,
And when we inhale, Death enters our lungs,
An invisible river deaf to our whimpers.

If noose, poison, knife, flame
Have yet to embroider their comely designs
On the banal fabric of our pitiful destiny,
It is because our soul — alas! — is insufficiently defiant.

But among the jackals, panthers, lice,
Apes, scorpions, buzzards, snakes,
Yipping, puking, growling, jactitating –
The infamous menagerie of our vices,

There is one uglier, nastier — most loathsome of all!
Mere posturing, mere screaming won’t due for him,
He who would gladly reduce the known world to debris
And swallow the wrack with a yawn;

He’s called Boredom! — come on, show us the crocodile tear,
You, who dream of scaffolds while sucking your narghile.
You know him, reader, that scrupulously insatiable monster,
–Hypocritical reader, — my double! — my brother!

SPLEEN ET IDÉAL

I. — BÉNÉDICTION
Lorsque, par un décret des puissances suprêmes,
Le Poèt apparait en ce monde ennuyé,
Sa mère épouvantée et pleine de blasphèmes
Crispe ses poings vers Dieu, qui la prend en pitié :

– << Ah! que n’ai-je mis bas tout un noeud de vipères, Plutôt que de nourrir cette dérision! Maudite soit la nuit aux plaisirs éphémères Où mon ventre a conçu mon expiation ! Puisque tu m’as choisie entre toutes les femmes Pour être le dégoût de mon triste mari, Et que je ne puis pas rejeter dans les flammes, Comme un billet d’amour, ce monstre rabourgri, Je ferai rejaillir ta haine que m’accable Sur l’instrument maudit de tes méchancetés, Et je tordrai si bien cet arbre misérable, Qu’il ne pourra pousser ses boutons empestés ! >>

Elle ravale ainsi l’écume de sa haine,
Et, ne comprenant pas les desseins éternels,
Elle-même prépare au fond de la Géhenne
Les bûchers consacrés aux crimes maternels.

Pourtant, sous la tutelle invisible d’un Ange,
L’Enfant déshérité s’envivre de soleil,
Et dans tout ce qu’il boit et dans tout ce qu’il mange
Retrouve l’ambroisie et le nectar vermeil.

Il joue avec le vent, cause avec la nuage,
Et s’envivre en chantant du chemin de la croix ;
Et l’Esprit qui le suit dans son pèlerinage
Pleure de le voir gai comme un oiseau des bois.

Tous ceux qu’il veut aimer l’observent avec crainte,
Ou bien, s’enhardissant de sa tranquillité,
Cherchent à qui saura lui tirer une plainte,
Et font sur lui l’essai de leur férocité.

Dans le pain et le vin destinés à sa bouche
Ils mêlent de la cendre avec d’impurs crachats;
Avec hypocrisie ils jettent ce qu’il touche,
Et s’accusent d’avoir mis leur pieds dans ses pas.

Sa femme va criant sur les places publiques:
<< Puisqu’il me trouve assez belle pour m’adorer, Je ferai le métier des idoles antiques, Et comme elles je veux me faire redorer; Et je me soûlerai de nard, d’encens, de myrrhe, De génuflexions, de viandes et des vins, Pour savoir si je puis dans un coeur qui m’admire Usurper en riant les homage divins! Et, quand je m’ennuierai de ces farces impies, Je poserai sur lui ma frêle et forte main; et mes ongles, pareils aux ongles des harpies, Sauront jusqu’à son coeur se frayer un chemin. Comme un tout jeune oiseau qui tremble et qui palpite, J’arracherai ce coeur tout rouge de son sein, Et, pour rassasier ma bête favorite, Je le lui jetterai par terre avec dédain! >>

Vers le Ciel, où son oeil voit un trône splendide,
Le Poète serein lève ses bras pieux,
Et les vastes éclairs de son esprit lucide
Lui dérobent l’aspect des peuples furieux :

– << Soyez béni, mon Dieu, qui donnez la souffrance
Comme un divin remède à nos impuretés
Et comme la meilleure et la plus pure essence
Qui prépare les forts aux saintes voluptés !

Je sais que vous gardez un place du Poète
Dans les rangs bienheureux des saintes Légions,
Et que vous l’invitez à l’éternelle fête
Des Trônes, des Vertus, les Dominations.

Je sais que la douleur est la noblesse unique
Où ne mordront jamais la terre et les enfers,
Et qu’il faut pour tresser ma couronne mystique
Imposer tous les temps et tous les univers.

Mais les bijoux perdus de l’antique Palmyre,
Les métaux inconnus, les perles de la mer,
Par votre main montés, ne pourraient pas suffire
A ce beau diadème éblouissant et clair.

Car il ne sera fait que de pure lumière,
Puisée au foyer saint des rayons primitifs,
Et dont les yeux mortel, dans leur splendeur entière,
Ne sont que des miroirs obscurcis et plaintifs !

SPLEEN AND THE IDEAL

I. — BENEDICTION

When, by a decree of the supreme powers,
The Poet appears in this boring world,
His outraged mother overflows with blasphemy
Clenches her fist against God, who takes pity on her:

“Ah! better that I gave birth to a nest of vipers,
Than that I am forced to nourish this mockery!
Cursed be the night of forgotten pleasures
That filled my belly with this atonement!

Since you have chosen me, of all women,
To bear the brunt of a disgusted husband,
And since I can’t merely cast this swarthy
Abomination into the stove like a used rubber,

I will turn this hate by which you overwhelm me
Onto the instrument of your malice,
And I’ll bend this miserable twig so that
no man shall never see it flower!”

She chokes back the spume of her hatred,
And, with no comprehension of eternal design,
She herself prepares her heap among the pyres
Consecrated in the depths of Hell to uniquely maternal crimes.

Nevertheless, under the tutelage of an invisible Angel,
The disinherited child flourishes in the sun,
And in all that he drinks and all that he eats
He finds ambrosia and the nectar of cherries.

He plays with the wind, chases the cloud,
Even chanting the Stations of the Cross intoxicates him,
Even the brooding spirit of the pilgrim weeps
To see him, gay as a woodland bird.

Those who would love him watched him with fear,
Or else, emboldened by his tranquility,
Searched out anything that might elicit a cry from him,
and, in the end, deployed upon him all their ferocity.

In the bread and wine destined for his mouth
They mingled ashes and spit;
With hypocrisy they threw away anything he touched,
And accused him of misleading them.

His woman goes crying in the market:
“Since he finds me pretty enough to adore,
I’ll make like the idols of olden days,
And like them I’m going to re-gild myself;

And I’ll besot myself with spikenard, incense, myrrh,
With genuflections, meat and wine,
In order to savor whether I can usurp other happy visages
In a heart that admires me!

And, when I’m bored with this impious farce,
I’ll lay on him my frail, strong hand;
And my nails, comparable to those of the Harpies,
Will excavate a path to his heart.

His heart, that trembles and quivers
like a baby bird, I’ll rip red from his breast,
And, to tease my favorite Rottweiler,
I’ll cast it into the dirt with disdain!”

Skyward, where he decries splendid throne,
The poet raises his pious arms,
And the flashing immensity of his lucid soul,
Shields him from the stares of enraged humans:

“Blessed God, who gives us suffering
As a divine remedy for our impurities
And like the best and purest of essences
Who prepares the strengths of the voluptuous apostles!

I know that you keep a place for the Poet
Among the blessed ranks of sainted legions,
And that you invite him to the Eternal Celebration
of Thrones, of Virtues, of Dominions.

I know that grief is the one nobility
That earth and hell cannot overcome,
And that it’s necessary to interweave all of Time
And the entire Universe with my mystic crown.

But the lost jewels of ancient Palmyra,
The unknown metals, the pearls of the sea,
Even mounted by your own hand, cannot eclipse
This diadem for clarity and beauty;

For it will be conceived of the purest illumination,
Forged in the sacred foyer of aboriginal light,
And mortal eyes, reflecting this splendor,
Are mere mirrors, smoked and obscured.

II. — L’ALBATROS

Souvent, pour s’amuser, les hommes d’équipage
Prennent des albatros, vastes oiseaux des mers,
Qui suivent, indolent compagnons de voyage,
Le navire glissant sur les gouffres amers.

A peine les ont-ils déposés sur les planches,
Que ses rois de l’azur, maladroits et honteux,
Laissent piteusement leurs grandes ailes blanches
Comme des avirons traîner à côté d’eux.

Ce voyageur ailé, comme il est gauche et veule!
Lui, naguère si beau, qu’il est comique et laid!
L’un agace son bec avec un brûle-gueule,
L’autre mime, en boitant, l’infirme qui volait!

Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l’archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher.

II. — THE ALBATROSS

Sometimes, to amuse themselves, a crew
Hook an albatross, that vast bird of the sea,
One of those indolent companions who follow
A ship as it glides over the bitter gulfs.

Scarcely have they set him on the deck than this king
Of the azure becomes maladroit and ashamed,
He drags his great white wings
Like a pair of oars trailing after a dinghy.

The winged traveler, now awkward and weak!
Once so beautiful, now comic and ugly!
Some jerk teases the beak with a pipe stem,
Another mimics him as too drunk to fly.

The Poet is like this prince of the skies
Who haunts the storm and taunts the archer;
Exiled from the sun, amid a jeering crowd,
His magnificent wings won’t even permit him to walk.

III. — ÉLÉVATION

Au-dessus des étangs, au-dessus des vallées,
Des montagnes, des bois, des nuages, des mers,
Par delà le soleil, par delà les éthers,
Par delà les confins des sphères étoilées,

Mon esprit, tu te meus avec agilité,
Et, comme un bon nageur qui se pâme dans l’onde,
Tu sillones gaiement l’immensité profonde
Avec une indicible et mâle volupté.

Envole-toi bien loin de ces miasmes morbides;
Va te purifier dans l’air supérieur,
Et bois, comme une pure et divine liqueur,
Le feu clair qui remplit les espaces limpides.

Derrière les ennuis et les vastes chagrins
Qui chargent de leur poids l’existence brumeuse,
Heureux celui qui peut d’une aile vigoureuse
S’élancer vers les champs lumineux et sereins;

Celui dont les pensers, comme des aluettes,
Vers les cieux le matin prennent un libre essor,
– Qui plane sur la vie, et comprend sans effort
Le langage des fleurs et des chose muettes!

III. — Elevation

Above the ponds, above the valleys,
Mountains, forests, clouds and seas,
Beyond sun and ethers,
Beyond the confines of the starry spheres,

Get a move on, my spirit, engage your agility,
And, like a good swimmer enraptured by the waves,
Cut gaily across the immense depths
with an inexpressible, a male delight.

Fly well clear of these miasmic morbidities;
Go, purify yourself in the farthest empyrean,
and drink, like a limpid and divine liquor,
The absolute fire that charges infinite space.

Leave behind boredom and perpetual chagrin
whose density befogs your existence,
Happy is he, whose willing wings carry him
To fields luminous and serene;

He whose thoughts, like skylarks,
Demand their liberty from the morning sky,
– Who glide over life, and effortlessly comprehend
The language of flowers and other mute things!

IV. — CORRESPONDANCES

La Nature est un temple où de vivantes piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme de long échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfumes, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

Il est des parfumes frais comme des chairs d’enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
– Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphantes,

Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens.

IV. — CORRESPONDENCES

Nature is a temple whose breathing pillars
Easily leave us speechless;
Man cuts his swath through forests of symbols
That archly surveil his every detail.

Like sourceless echos they confound us
With an obscure yet profound unity,
Vast like night, vast like light,
Perfumes, colors and sounds correspond to them.

Fragrances fresh as a baby’s cheek,
Sweet as oboes, green as a prairie,
– And others, too, corrupt, rich and triumphant,

Expand into infinity,
Like amber, musk, balsam and incense,
They sing of the spirit that soars with the senses.

V

J’aime le souvenir de ces époques nues,
Dont Phoebus se plaisait à dorer les statues.
Alors l’homme et la femme en leur agilité
Jouissaient sans mensonge et sans anxiété,
Et, le ciel amoureux leur caressant l’échine,
Exerçaient la santé de leur noble machine.
Cybèle alors, fertile en produits généreux,
N trouvait point ses fils un poids trop onéreux,
Mais, louve au coeur gonflé de tendresses communes,
Abreuvait l’univers à ses tétines brunes.
L’homme, élégant, robuste et fort, avait le droit
D’être fier des beautés qui le nommaient leur roi;
Fruits purs de tout outrage et vierges de gerçures,
Dont la chair lisse et femme appelait les morsures!

Le Poète aujourd’hui, quand il veut concevoir
Ces natives grandeurs, aux lieux où se dont voir
La nudité de l’home et celle de la femme,
Sent un froid ténébreux envelopper son âme
Devant ce noir tableau plein d’épouvantement.
O monstruosités pleurant leur vêtement!
O ridicules troncs! torses dignes des masques!
O pauvres corps tordus, maigres, ventrus ou flasques,
Que le dieu de l’Utile, implacable et serein,
Enfants, emmaillota dans ses langes d’airain!
Et vous, femmes, hélas! pâles comme de cierges,
Que ronge et que nourrit la débauche, et vous, vierges,
Du vice maternel traînant l’hérédité
Et toutes les hideurs de la fécondité!

Nous avons, il est vrai, nations corrompues
Aux peuples anciens des beautés inconnues:
Des visages rongés par les chancres du coeur,
Et comme que dirait des beautés de langueur;
Mais ces inventions de nos muses tardives
N’empêcheront jamais les races maladives
De rendre à la jeunesse, à l’air simple, au doux front,
A l’oeil limpide et clair ainsi qu’une eau courante,
Et qui va répandant sur tout, insouciante
Comme l’azur du ciel, les oiseaux et les fleurs,
Ses parfumes, ses chansons et ses douces chaleurs!

V

I treasure the memory of ancient skies,
Wherefrom it pleased the sungod to gild our statuary.
In those days, agile boys and girls
Frolicking without guile or anxiety,
Deployed all the noble assets of the body,
As a loving heaven caressed their backsides.
Cybele, back then, fecund and generous,
Did not find the weight of her children too onerous,
On the contrary, with the love of a wolf for her cubs,
She quenched the thirst of the universe with her auburn breasts.
Elegant man, robust and strong, had the right
To be proud of the beauties who called him king;
Fruit free of bruises, unchafed,
Whose firm, unblemished skin cried out for ¡mordibesos!

Today the Poet, when he can find the strength to summon
Such native grandeurs, from a place where he finds
Woman naked, and man too,
Feels a chill shiver his soul
Before this appalling tableau.
O monstrosities pleading for rags!
O ridiculous breasts — dignify them with masks!
O poor contorted bodies, bloated, scrawny or flaccid,
What god of Utility, implacable and serene,
Changed the bronzed diapers on these kids!
And you, women, alas! pallid as candles,
Sapped yet nourished by debauch, and you, virgins,
Entrained by the heredity of your mother’s vices
And all the hideousness of fecundity!

We have, it is true,
Ancient peoples of unknown beauty:
Of visages chancred by syphiloid hearts,
By, you might say, the merits of listlessness;
But these improvisations of our tardive muses,
Will never disencumber our feckless breed
From their profound reverence for youth,
– Sainted youth, with its simple music, its sweet demeanor,
Its untroubled eye, limpid as a babbling brook,
Which sallies against all, as blithe
As a blue sky, as a bird, a flower,
With its perfumes, its songs and its sweet waves of heat!

VI. – LES PHARES

Rubens, fleuve d’oubli, jardin de la paresse,
Oreiller de chair fraîche où l’on ne peut aimer,
Mais où la vie afflue et s’agite sans cesse,
Comme l’air dans le ciel et la mer dans la mer;

Léonard de Vinci, miroir profond et sombre,
Où des anges charmants, avec un doux souris
Tout chargé de mystère, apparaissent à la ombre
Des glaciers et des pins qui ferment leur pays,

Rembrandt, triste hôpital tout rempli de murmures,
Et d’un grand crucifix décoré seulement,
Où la prière en pleurs s’exhale des ordures,
et d’un rayon d’hiver traversé brusquement;

Michel-Ange, lieu vague où l’on voit des Hercules
Se mêler à des Christs, et se lever tout droits
Des fantômes puissants qui dans les crépuscules
Déchirent leur suaire en étirant leurs doigts;

Colères de boxeur, impudences de faune,
Toi qui sus ramasseur la beauté de goujats,
Grand coeur gonflé d’orgueil, homme débile et jaune,
Puget, mélancolique empereur des forçats,

Watteau, ce carnaval où bien des coeurs illustres,
Comme des papillons, errent en flamboyant,
Décors frais et légers éclairés par des lustres
Qui versent la folie à ce bal tournoyant,

Goya, cauchemar plein de chaoses inconnues,
De foetus qu’on fait cuire au milieu de sabbats,
De vielles au miroir et d’enfants toutes nues,
Pour tenter les démons ajustant bien leurs bas;

Delacroix, lac de sang hanté des mauvais anges,
Ombragé par un bois de sapins toujours vert,
Où, sous un ciel chagrin, de fanfares étranges
Passent, comme un soupir étouffé de Weber;

Ces malédictions, ces blasphèmes, ces plaintes,
Ces extases, ces cris, ces pleurs, ce Te Deum,
Sont un écho redit par mille labyrinthes;
C’est pour les coeurs mortels un divin opium!

C’est un cri répété par milles sentinelles,
Un ordre renvoyé par mille porte-voix;
C’est un phare allumé sur mille citadelles,
Un appel de chasseurs perdus dans les grandes bois!

Car c’est vraiment, Seigneur, le meilleur témoignage
Qu nous puissions donner de notre dignité
Que cet ardent sanglot qui roule d’âge en âge
Et vient mourir au bord do votre éternité!

VI. — WAYPOINTS

Rubens, flume of oblivion, garden of indolence,
Pillow of cool flesh where one makes no love,
But where life unceasingly seethes and swarms,
As the air in the sky and the water in the sea;

Leonardo da Vinci, mirror dark and deep,
Where charming angels, all smiles
Are charged with mystery, appear in the shadows
Of a country ringed by glaciers and pines,

Rembrandt, sad hospice, dense with murmuring,
Decorated solely by a huge crucifix,
Where tearful prayers rise like fumes from excrement,
Through which rays of winter light dart fitfully;

Michelangelo, an abstract place where one
witnesses Herculean Christs, and at dusk,
powerful phantoms sit bolt upright,
Rend their shrouds, and crack their knuckles;

Rage of the wrestler, impudence of the faun,
You who aggregate the beauty of boorishness,
Great heart engorged by pride, man jaundiced and weak,
Puget, the melancholy emperor of convicts;

Watteau, this carnival wherein many illustrious hearts,
Like butterflies, errant and flamboyant,
Decorative and frivolous as the chandeliers
that shed light on the whirling tournament,

Goya, nightmare of the unknown in broad daylight,
Of fetuses born to be grilled mid-Sabbath,
Of hags whose mirrors reflect naked children,
Who tempt the fiend with a glimpse of flesh;

Delacroix, lake of blood haunted by evil angels
Shadowed by an evergreen forest,
Where, under a sky of grief, alien orchestras pass,
Like an astonished sigh by Weber.

These curses, these blasphemies, these ululations,
these ecstasies, these cries, these lamentations, these Te Deum,
Are an echo rebounding through a thousand labyrinths;
But for mortal hearts, it’s a divine opium!

It’s a cry repeated by a thousand sentries,
An order transmitted by a thousand messengers
It’s beacon illuminated in a thousand citadels,
A huntsman’s call lost in a great wood!

Thus it’s true, God Almighty, that the best witness
We are able to give of our dignity
Is this convulsive sob that rolls from age to age
Only to die at the end of your eternity!

VII. — LA MUSE MALADE

Ma pauvre muse, hélas! qu’as-tu donc ce matin?
Tes yeux creux sont peuplées de visions nocturnes,
Et je vois tour à tour réfléchis sur ton teint
La folie et l’horreur, froides et taciturnes.

Le succube verdâtre et le rose lutin
T’ont-ils versé la puer et l’amour de leurs urnes?
La cauchemar, d’un poing despotique et mutin,
T’a-t-il noyée au fond d’un fabuleux Minturnes?

Je voudrais qu’exhalant l’odeur de la santé
Ton sein de pensers fort fût toujours fréquenté,
Et que ton sang chrétien coulât à flots rythmiques,

Comme les sons nombreux des syllabes antique,
Où règnent tour à tour le ère des chansons,
Phoebus, et le grand Pan, le seigneur des moissons.

VII. — THE MUSE INDISPOSED

My poor muse, alas! where have you gone this morning?
Your hollow eyes are populated by nocturnal visions,
And I see, reflected in your pallor, by turns,
Frigid madness, and taciturn horror.

Have the green fairy and the pink imp
Have they dispensed fear and love from their flasks?
Does the despotic caprice of the nightmare’s fist
Yet clasp you to the depths of its fabulous swamp?

I want to breath the healthy odor of sanity
Always to be expected from your breast,
And feel the rhythmic flow of your Christian blood,

Like the numberless sounds of antique syllables,
Whereover reign in turn the father of song,
Apollo, and the great Pan, lord of the harvest.

VIII. — LA MUSE VÉNALE

O muse de mon coeur, amante des palais,
Auras-tu, quand Janvier lâchera ses Borées,
Durant les noirs ennuis des neigeuses soirées,
Un tison pour chauffer tes deux pieds violets?

Ranimeras-tu donc tes épaules marbrées
Aux nocturne rayon qui percent les violets?
Sentant ta bourse à sec autant que ton palais,
Récolteras-tu l’or des voûtes azurées?

Il te faut, pour gagner ton pain de chaque soir,
Comme un enfant de choeur, jouer de l’encensoir,
Chanter des Te Deum auxquels tu ne crois guère,

Ou, saltimbanque à jeun, étaler tes appas
Et ton rire trempé de pleurs qu’on ne voit pas,
Pour faire épanouir la rate de vulgaire.

VIII. — THE MUSE IS VENAL

O muse of my heart, lover of palaces,
When January unleashes its freezing northerlies,
Amid the black ennui of snow-burdened evenings,
Find a lump of coal to toast our chilblained feet?

Will the gaslight piercing the chinks in the shutters
Somehow reduce the shivering in your marbled shoulders?
Feeling our purse as hungry as your palate,
Will we pinch a little pelf from heaven’s vault?

Not so fast; we’re going to have to earn your bread tonight,
As every night, like a choir boy swinging the censer,
Chanting Te Deums even as he disbelieves them,

Or, like a clown with a growling stomach, who pimps his appeal
Behind laughter tempered by frozen tears,
Guaranteed to nourish the public taste.

IX. — LE MAUVAIS MOINE

Les cloîtres anciens sur leurs grandes murailles
Étalaient en tableaux la sainte Vérité,
Dont l’effet, réchauffant les pieuses entrailles,
Tempérait la froideur de leur austérité.

En ces temps où du Christ florissant les semailles,
Plus d’un illustre moine, aujourd’hui peu cité,
Prenant pour atelier le champ des funérailles,
Glorifiait la Mort avec simplicité.

– Mon âme est un tombeau que, mauvais cénobite,
Depuis l’éternité je parcours et h’habite;
Rien n’embellit les murs de ce cloître odieux.

O moine fainéant! quand saurai-je donc faire
Du spectacle vivant de ma triste misére
Le travail de mes mains et l’amour de mes yeux?

IX. — THE WRETCHED MONK

The tableaus of sacred truths
Frescoed onto the high walls of ancient cloisters,
Warm the cockles of the pious
And temper the frost of their austerity.

In the days when Christ sowed his seeds
More than one illustrious monk, now scantily remembered,
Took the cemetery for his atelier,
And glorified Death with his simplicity.

– My soul is a tomb that I, lugubrious cenobite,
Will come to inhabit only after an eternity;
No pigment decorates the walls of this odious cloister.

O slothful monk! how will I ever fashion
The living spectacle of my wretchedness
Into my handiwork, beloved of my eyes?

X. — L’ENNEMI

Ma jeunesse ne fut qu’un ténébreux orage,
Traversé ça et là par de brillants soleils;
Le tonnerre et la pluie ont fait un tel ravage,
Qu’il teste en mon jardin bien peu de fruits vermils.
Voilà que j’ai touché l’automne des idées,
Et qu’il faut employer la pelle et des râteaux
Pour rassembler à neufs les terres inondées,
Où l’eau creuse des trous grands comme des tombeaux.
Et qui sait si les fleurs nouvelles que je rêve
Trouveront dans ce sol lavé comme une grève
Le mystique aliment qui ferait leur vigueur?
– O douleur! ô douleur! Le Temps mange la vie,
Et l’obscur Ennemi que nous ronge le coeur
Du sang que nous perdons croît et se fortifie!

X. — THE ENEMY

My youth was nothing but a cyclone of shadows
Pierced here and there by brilliant sunlight;
So that my garden, ravaged by thunder and rain,
Presents precious few vermillion fruit.
And now I behold the autumn of ideation,
And must take up spade and rake
In order to rally an inundated world,
Whose waters are hollowed by holes as big as tombs.
And who knows whether these new flowers that I dream
Will find themselves on some sun-bathed shore
Whose mystique will nourish their vigor?
– O sorrow! O grief redoubled! Time consumes life,
This dark Enemy gnaws at our heart
And the blood we lose gives him strength!

XI. — LE GUIGNON

pour soulever un poids si lourd,
sisphe, il faudrait ton courage!
Bien qu’on ait du coeur à l’ouvrage,
L’Art est long et le Temps est court.
Loin des sépultures célèbres,
Vers un cimetière isolé,
Mon ceur, comme un tambour voilé,
Va battant des marches funébres.
– Maint joyau dort enselvi
Dans les ténèbres et l’oubli,
Bien loin des pioches et des sondes;
Minte fleur épanche à regret
Son parfum doux comme un secret
Dan les solitudes profondes.

XI. — BUSTED FLUSH (ROTTEN LUCK)

In order to support such a burden
One would require the courage of a Sisyphus!
It’s all very well to find the heart for this work,
But Art is long and Time is short.
Far from beribboned catafalques,
Get you to an unmarked grave, my heart,
My heart like the muffled drum
At the head of the cortege of mourners.
– Many gems lie, buried and forgotten,
Asleep in perpetual darkness,
Unreachable by the pick, beyond soundings;
Many a flower, to its regret,
Exudes its perfume, sweet as a secret,
In total solitude.

XII. — LA VIE ANTÉIEURE

J’ai longtemps habité sous de vastes portiques
Que les soleils marins teignaient de mille feux,
Et que leurs grands piliers, droits et majestueux,
Rendaient pareils, le soir, aux grottes basaltiques.
Les houles, en roulant les images des cieux,
Mélaient d’une faç solennelle et mystique
Les tout-ouissants accords de leur riche musique
Aux couleurs du couchant relfété pay mes yeux.
C’est là que j’ai vécu dans les volupté calmes,
Au milieu de l’azur, des vagues, des splendeurs
Et des esclaves nus, tout imprégnes d’odeurs,
Qui me rafraîchissaient le front avec des palmes,
Et dont l’unique soin était d’approfondir
Le secret douloureux qui me faisait languir.

XII. — A PAST LIFE

For a long time I lived under vast porticos
Tinted by the thousand fires of pelagic sunsets,
And their great pillers, straight and majestic,
Twilight rendered into grottos of basalt.
The undulanlanlanlant swells, image of the sky,
Mingled solemnity and the unfathomable into
An all-powerful music, enriched and harmonized
By the drowsy colors recumbent in my eyes.
It is there that I lived, voluptuously becalmed,
In a milieu of blue, of waves, of spendors
And of naked slaves, impregnated by scents,
Who cooled my brow with undulant fronds of palm,
And whose only other chore was to keep open
The secret wound that fed my languor.

XIII. — BOHÉMIEMS EN VOYAGE

La tribu prophétique aux prunelles ardentes
Hier s’est mise en route, emportant ses petits
Sur son dos, ou livrant à leurs fiers appétits
Le trésor toujours prét des mamelles pendentes.
Les hommes vont à pied sous leurs armes luisantes
Le long des chariots où les leurs sont blottis,
Prmenant sur le ciel des yeux appesantis
Par le morne regret des chimères absentes.
Du fond de son réduit sablonneux, le grillon,
Les regardent passer, reduble sa chanson;
Cybèle2, qui les aime, augmente ses verdures,
Fait couler le rocher et fleurir le désert
Devant ces voyageurs, pour lesquels est ouvert
L’emprie familier des ténèbres futures.

XIII. — ON THE ROAD

The ardent and sloe-eyed of the prophetic tribe
Hit the road yesterday, carrying their little ones
On their backs, whose fierce appetites
Reliably covet the treasure to be had from pendulant breasts.
The men go afoot, weapons gleaming
Alongside the chariots in which snuggle their progeny,
They promenade under the skies with unappeasable eyes
As if regretting the absence of certain Chimeras.
From the depth of his sandy redoubt, the cricket
Watching the parade, redoubles his song;
Nature, who loves them, exaggerates the lush verdure,
She makes water flow from rock, she causes the desert to flower
At the feet of the travelers, for them she reveals
The shadowy futures within the empire of the familiar.

XIV. — L’HOMME ET LA MER

Homme libre, toujours tu chériras la mer!
La mer est ton miroir; tu contemples ton àme
Dans le déroulement infini de sa lame,
Et ton esprit n’est pas un gouffre moins amer.
Tu te plais à plonger au sein de ton image;
Tu l’embrasses des yeux et des bras, et ton coeur
Se distrait quelquefois de sa propre rumeur
Au bruit de cette plainte indomptable et sauvage.
Vous êtes tous les deux ténébreux et discrets:
Homme, nul n’a sondé le fond de tes abîmes;
O mer, nul ne connaît tes richesses intimes,
Tant vous êtes jaloux de garder vos secrets!
Et cependent voilà des siècles innombrables
Que vous combattez sans pitié ni remord,
Tellement vous aimez le carnage et la mort,
O lutteurs éternels, ô frères implacables!

XIV. — MAN AND THE SEA

Free man, you will always love the sea!
The sea is your mirror; you contemplate your soul
In the infinite undulations of its waves,
And your spirit is no less bitter a chasm.
To dive into your image upon its breast will delight you;
You will kiss its eyelids, its arms, and your heart
Will sometimes be distracted from its own rumour-mongering
By the groans of this wild, untamable sorrow.
Both of you are dark and reserved:
Nobody has sounded the depths of man’s abyss;
No one knows your rich intimacies, O sea,
So jealously do you guard your secrets!
Nevertheless, behold the innumerable centuries
That you’ve fought each other without pity or remorse,
So much do you love carnage and death,
Eternal wrestlers, implacable brothers!

XVI. — CHATIMENT DE L’ORGUEIL

En ces camps merveilleux où la Théologie
Fleurit avec le plus de séve et d’énergie,
On raconte qu’un jour un docteur des plus grands,
– Après avoir forcé les coeurs indiférents;
Les avoir remués dans leurs profondeurs noires;
Après avoir franchi vers les célestes gloires
Des chemins singulieurs à lui-même inconnus,
Où les purs Esprits seuls peut-être étaient venus, –
Comme un homme monté trop haut, pris de panique,
S’écris, transporte d’un orgueil satanique:
<< Jésus, petit Jésus! je t’ai poussé bien haut! Mais, se j’avais voulu t’attaquer au défaut De l’armure, ta honte égalerait ta gloire, Et tu ne serais plus qu’un foetus dérisoire! >>
Immédiatement sa raison s’en alla.
L’eclait de ce soleil d’un crêpe se voilà;
Tout le chaos roula dans cette intelligence,
Temple autrefois vivant, plein d’ordre et d’opulence,
Sous les plafonds duquel tant de pompe avait lui.
Le silence et la nuit s’installèrant en lui,
Comme dans un caveau dont la clef est perdue.
Dès lors il fut semblable aux bêtes de la rue,
Et, quand il s’en allait sans rien voir, à travers
Les champs, sans distinguer les étés des hivers,
Sale, inutile et laid comme une chose usée,
Il faisait des enfants la joie et la risée.

XVI. — THE FOOT OF PRIDE

Once upon a fabled time, when Theology
Flourished with vigour and energy,
It’s told that a pre-eminent father of the church,
– Having stirred many apathetic hearts;
And roiled their blackest depths;
Having launched the trottinette of belief
On unique paths unknown even to himself,
Where only the purest of souls may travel, –
Like a man who has climbed too high, close to panic,
But carried away by satanic pride, he exclaimed:
“Jesus, little Jesus! See how high I have raised you!
But, if I were to expose the flaw
In your armor, your shame would equal your glory,
And you would find yourself little more than a pathetic foetus!”
Immediately, his reason deserted him.
The very face of the sun turned away;
Where once, under the ceilings
Within the temple of his intellect,
Where once all was ordered and opulent,
And where such pomp had courted him,
Chaos roiled. The darkness
Of perpetual silence overwhelmed him,
His mind became a vault whose key he had lost.
From that moment he was no more than a beast in the street,
And then he went blind, wandering the countryside,
Unable to distinguish summer from winter,
Filthy, useless, vile, a broken tool,
He provided many a child with joy and laughter.

XVII. — LA BEAUTÉ

Je suis belle, ô mortelles! comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où chacun s’est meurti tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
Éternel et muet ainsi que la matière.
Je trône dans l’azur comme un sphinx incompris;
J’uins un coeur de neige à la blancheur des cygnes;
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes;
Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris.
Les poètes, devant mes grandes attitudes,
Que j’ai l’air d’emprunter aux plus fiers monumentsd,
Consumeront leurs jours d’austères études;
Car j’ai, pour fasciner ces dociles amants,
De purs miroirs qui font toutes choses plus belles:
Mes yeux, mes larges yeux aux clartés éternelles!

XVII. — BEAUTY

I am as beautiful, o mortals! as reverie in stone,
And my breast, upon which many have expired,
Is fashioned so as to inspire love in a poet,
Love as mute and primal as dirt.
I’m enthroned in azure, incomprehensible as a sphinx;
I unite a heart of snow with the whiteness of swans;
I hate any vibration that disturbs my composure,
And I never cry, any more than I laugh.
Poets, faced with such attitude,
Appropriated from the fiercest monuments,
Consume their days in austere study;
For I, to the fascination of these tame amateurs,
Have the purest mirrors which make all things beautiful:
My eyes, my big eyes of eternal clarity!

XIX. — LA GÉANTE

Du temps que la Nature en sa verve puissante
Concevait chaque jour des enfants monstreaux
J’eusse aimé vivre auprés d’une jeune géante,
Comme aux pieds d’une reine un chat volupté.
J’eusse aimé voir son corps leurir avec son âme
Et grandir librement dans son terribles jeux;
Deviner si son coeur couvre une sombre flamme
Aux humides brouillards qui nagent dans ses yeux;
Parcourir à loisir ses magnifiques formes;
Ramper sur le versant de ses genoux énormes,
Et parfois en été, quand les soleils malsains,
Lasse, la font s’étendre à travers la campagne,
Dormir nonchalamment à l’ombre de ses seins,
Comme un hameau paisible au pied d’un montaigne.

XIX. — THE GIANTESS

Back when Nature in her lusty verve
Conceived monstrous offspring on a daily basis,
I should have liked to live with a young giantess,
Like a voluptuous cat at the foot of his queen.
I should have liked to watch her body flourish with her soul
To see it grow as freely as her dreadful games;
To divine whether a somber flame smolders in her heart
From the humid mists that drift through her eyes;
To hike her magnificent physique at leisure;
To crawl up the slope of her enormous knees,
And when, in summer, wearied by the oppressive sun,
She spreads out over the entire countryside,
To sleep without a care in the shadow of her breasts,
Like a peaceful hamlet at the foot of a mountain.

Part 3

XX. — Le Masque

STATUE ALLÉGORIQUE
DANS LE GôUT DE LA RENAISSANCE

A ERNEST CHRISTOPHE, STATUAIRE

Contempons ce trésor de grâces florentines;
Dans l’ondulation de ce corps musculeux
L’Élégance et la Force abondent, soeurs divines.
Cette femme, morceau vraiment miraculeux,
Divinement robuste, adorable mince,
Est faite pour trôner sur des lits somptueux,
Et charmer les loisirs d’un pontife ou d’un prince.

– Aussi, vois ce souris fin et voluptueux
Oú la Fatuité promène son extase;
Ce long regard sournois, langoureux et moqueur;
Ce visage mignard, tout encadré de gaze,
Dont chaque trait nous dit avec un air vainqueur:
<< La Volupté m’appelle et l’Amour me couronne! >>
A cet être douè de tant de majesté
Vois quel charme excitant la gentillesse donne!
Approchons, et tournons autour de sa beauté.

O blasphème de l’art! ô surprise fatale!
La femme au corps divin, promettant la bonheur,
Par le haut se termine en monstre bicépahle!

Mais non! ce n’est qu’un masque, un décor suborneur,
Ce visage éclairé d’une exquise grimace,
Et, regarde, voici, crispée atrocement,
La véritable tête, et la sincère face
Renversée à labri de la face qui ment.
Pauvre grande beauté! le magnifique fleuve
De tes pleurs aboutit dans mon coeur soucieux;
Ton mensonge m’enivre, et mon âme s’abreuve
Aux lots que la Douleur fait jaillir de tes yeux!

– Mais pourquoi pleure-t-elle? Elle, beauté parfaite
Qui mettrait à ses pieds le gente humain vaincu,
Quel mal mystérieux ronge son flanc d’athlète?

– Elle pleure, insensé, parce qu’elle a vécu!
Et parce qu’elle vit! Mais ce qu’elle déplore
Surtout, ce qui la fait frémir jusqu’aux genoux,
C’est que demain, hélas! il faudra vivre encore!
Demain, après-demain et toujours! — comme nous!

XX. — THE MASK

AN ALLEGORICAL STATUE
IN THE RENAISSANCE STYLE

TO ERNEST CHRISTOPHE, SCULPTOR

Let us contemplate this treasure of Florentine grace;
Note the undulation of the muscular body
Adorned by those divine sisters, Elegance and Strength.
Truly a miraculous morsel, this woman,
Divinely robust, adorably slim,
Born to be enthroned in the most sumptuous beds,
Therein to charm by the hour any pope or prince.

– Not to mention that terminally voluptuous smile
In which Fatuity promenades with ecstasy;
That distant, deceitful look, languorous and mocking;
That pretty-pretty visage, framing her gaze,
Whose every trait dictates to us, with a conquering air,
“My name is Pleasure, and Love is my crown!”
Such majesty given to this talented being
Such charm incited by such kindness!

Let us closely circumnavigate this beauty.
Oh blasphemy of art! O fatal surprise!
This divine body, which promises happiness,
Proves to be a two-headed monster!

But no! it’s nothing but a mask, a décor suborned,
An exquisite grimace on a luminous countenance,
Atrociously clenched, regard
That veritable head, behold that sincere face,
Mere husks that conceal great mendacity.
Great impoverished beauty! the magnificent river
Of your tears roars through the flume of my anxious heart;
Your lies intoxicate me, and my soul is swamped
By the waves of pain that flood from your eyes!

– But why do you weep so? She, perfected beauty
At whose feet swoons all human vanity,
What evil mystery gnaws your athletic flank?

– She weeps, insensible, because she is real!
Because she lives! But what she really deplores
So much that her knees are nearly unstrung,
Is that tomorrow, alas! she’ll still be alive!
Tomorrow, the day after, forever! — like us!

XXI. — HYMNE A LA BEAUTÉ

Viens-tu du ciel profond ou sors-tu de l’abime,
O Beauté! ton regard, infernal et divin,
Verse confusément le bienfait et le crime,
Et l’on peut pour cela te comparer au vin.

Tu contiens dans ton oeil le couchant et l’aurore;
Tu répands des parfums comme un soir orageux;
Tes baisers sont un philtre et ta bouche une amphore
Qui font le héros lâche et l’enfant courageux.

Sors-tu du gouffre noir ou descends-tu des astres?
Le Destin charmé suit tes jupons comme un chien;
Tu sémes au hasard la joie et les désastres,
Et tu gouvernes tout et ne réponds de rien.

Tu marches sur des morts, Beauté, dont tu te moques;
De tes bijoux l’Horreur n’est pas le moins charmant,
Et le Meurtre, parmi tes plus chères breloques,
Sur ton ventre orgueilleux danse amoureusement.

L’éphémère ébloui vole vers toi, chandelle,
Crépite, flambe et dit: Bénissons ce flambeau!
L’amoureux pantelant incliné sur sa belle
A l’air d’un moribond caressant son tombeau.

Que tu viennes du ciel ou de l’enfer, qu’importe,
O Beauté! monstre énorme, effrayant, ingénu!
Si ton oeil, ton souris, ton pied, m’ouvrent la porte
D’un Infini que j’aime et n’ai jamais connu?

De Satan ou de le Dieu, qu’importe? Ange ou Sirène,
Qu’importe, si tu rends, — fée aux yeux de velours,
Rythme, parfum, lueur, ô mon unique reine! –
L’univers moins hideux et les instants moins lourds?

XXI. — HYMN TO BEAUTY

Do you come from deep space or a deeper abyss,
O Beauty! whose every glance, eternal and divine,
Dispenses kindness and crime indiscriminately,
And in that, at least, you may be compared to wine.

Your eye contains both twilight and dawn;
You scatter perfumes like a tempestuous night;
Your kisses are aphrodisiac, your love an amphora,
They strip heroes of their courage, and promote boys to manhood.

Did you arise from the blackest gulf or descend from the stars?
Destiny nips at your petticoats like a smitten pup,
You diseminate joy and disaster at random,
You govern all and answer to nobody.

You not only mock the dead, Beauty, you walk all over them;
Among your jewels Horror is not the least charming,
And Murder, a treasured bauble on your bracelet,
Amorously dances on your proud belly.

The most ephemeral beings fly straight into your candle,
And in the very act of immolation exclaim: Bless this flame!
The panting squire leans over the object of his desire
With the anticipation of a dying man stroking his tomb.

What does it matter, if you come from heaven or hell,
O Beauty! ingenuous, terrifying, enormous monster!
If your eye, your smile, your foot, open to me the door
To an unknown Infinity that I can love?

From Satan, from God, who cares? Angel or Siren,
Not an issue, if you give back, — velvet-eyed sprite,
Rhythm, perfume, just a glimpse, oh my unique queen! –
Of a universe less hideous, in which a man can breathe?

XXII. — PARFUM EXOTIQUE

Quand, les deux yeux fermés, en un soir chaud d’automne,
Je respire l’odeur de ton sein chaleureux,
Je vois de dérouler des rivages heureux
Qu’éblouissent les feux d’un soleil monotone;

Une île paresseuse où la nature donne
Des arbres singuliers et des fruits savoureux;
Des hommes dont le corps est mince et vigoureux,
Et des femmes dont l’oeil par sa franchise étonne.

Guidé par ton odeur vers de charmants climats,
Je vois un port rempli de oiles et de mâts
Encor tout fatigués par la vague marne,

Pendant que le parfum des verts tamariniers,
Qui circule dans l’air et m’enfle la narine,
Se mêle dans mon âme au chant des mariniers.

XXII. — EXOTIC PERFUME

When, eyes closed, on a warm autumn night,
I take in the scent of your warmer breasts,
I dissolve like a wave on the shore of happiness
Bedazzled by the fires of a relentless sun.

A lazy island where Nature produces
Unique orchards of savory fruit;
And men whose physiques are slim and vigorous,
And women with eyes of astonishing frankness.

Guided by your scent through this charming climate,
I see a port replet with masts and sails
Altogether exhausted by the heaving main,

Meanwhile the bouquet of green tamarinds
Permeates the air, tickles the nostrils,
And the chanties of the mariners mingle with my soul.

XXIII. — LA CHEVELELURE

O toison, moutonnant jusque sur l’encolure!
O boucles! O parfum chargé de nonchaloir!
Extase! Pour peupler ce soir l’alcôve obscure
Des souvenirs dormant dans cette chevelure,
J la veux agiter dans l’air comme un mouchoir!

La langoureuse Asie et la brûlante Afrique,
Tout un monde lointain, absent, presque défunt,
Vit dans tes profondeurs, forêt aromatique!
Comme d’autres esprits voguent sur la musique,
Le mien, ô mon amour! nage sur ton parfum.

J’irai là-bas où l’arbre et l’homme, pleine de sève,
Se pâment longuement sous l’ardeur des climats;
Fortes tresses, soyez la houle qui m’enlève!
Tu contiens, mer d’ébène, un éblouissant rêve
De voiles, de rameurs, de flames et de mâts:

Un port retentissant où mon âme peut boire
A grande flots le parfum, le son et la couleur;
Où les vaisseaux, glissant dans l’or et dans la moire,
Ouvrent leurs vastes bras pour embrasses la gloire
D’un ciel pur où frémit l’éternelle chaleur.

Je plongerai ma tête amoureuse d’ivresse
Dans ce noir océan où l’autre est enfermes;
Et mon esprit subtil que le roulis craesse
Saura vous retrouver, ô féconde paresse,
Infinis bercement du loisir embaumé!

Cheveux bleus, pavillon de ténèbres tendues,
Vous me rendez l’azur du ciel immense et rond;
Sur les bords duvetés de vos mèches tordues
Je m’enivre ardemment des senteurs confondues
De l’huile de coco, du muse et du goudron.

Longtemps! toujours! ma main dans ta crinière lourde
Sèmera le rubis, la perle et la saphir,
Afin qu’à mon désir tu ne sois jamais sourde!
N’es-tu pas l’oasis où je rêve, et las gourde
Où je hume à longs traits le vin du souvenir?

XXIII. — HER HAIR

O fleece, tumbling like a tide over the nape!
O buckles! O perfume charged with nonchalance!
Ecstasy! To populate the dark alcoves of evening
With the memories dormant in this hair,
I want to shake it in the air like a bandana!

Languorous Asia and feverish Africa,
Entire worlds, distant, absent, almost defunct,
Thrive in the depths or your aromatic forest!
While other spirits are borne along by music,
Mine, oh my love! is adrift on your perfume.

There will I go, where both men and trees, full of sap,
Swoon all day under the torpor of an arduous climate;
Formidable tresses, be the swell that bears me up!
You contain, sea of ebony, a dazzling dream
Of sails, of oarsmen, of flames and masts:

A reverberant port where my soul can drink
Torrents of fragrance, sound, and color;
Where vessels, gliding on golden ripples,
Open their vast arms to embrace the glory
Of a pure sky shivering with eternal heat.

I will plunge my head, drunk with love,
Into this black ocean where the other is imprisoned;
And among the rolling caresses my subtle spirit
I will find you, oh fecund lassitude,
Leisure embalmed in rocking infinity!

Blue hair, pavilion of tentative shadows,
You return to me the boundless azure of immense heavens,
Under the downy borders of your entwined locks
I ardently intoxicate myself with the confused aromas
Of coconut oil, of civet, of asphalt.

Always! forever! my hand will sow rubies,
Pearls and sapphires in your thick mane,
To the cries of my desire you will never be deaf!
Are you not the oasis where I dream, and the gourd
From which I drain prolonged drafts of the wine of memory?

XXIV

Je t’adore à l’égal de la voûte nocturne,
O vase de tristesse, ô grande taciturne,
E t’aime d’autant plus, belle, que tu me fuis,
Et qu tu me parais, ornement de mes nuits,
Plus ironiquement accumuler les lieus
Qui séparent mes bras des immensités bleues.

Je m’avance à l’attaque, et je grimpe aux assauts,
Comme après un cadavre un choeur de vermisseaux,
Et je chéris, ô bête implacable et cruelle!
Jusqu’à cette froideur par où tu m’es plus belle!

XXIV

I worship you as an equal to the celestial vault,
O amphora of sadness, oh great taciturnity,
And the more you shun me, my beauty, the more I love you,
Ornament of my nights, and it seems to me,
Ironically, that the more distance you put between us,
The greater the blue immensity I hold in my arms.

I advance my army, we clamber the ramparts,
Like a choir of worms swarming a cadaver,
And I crave, oh beast, implacable and cruel!
This frigidity that makes you even more beautiful!

XXV

Tu mettrais l’univers entier dans ta ruelle,
Femme impure! L’ennui rend ton âme cruelle.
Pour exercer tes dents à ce jeu singulier,
Il te faut chaque jour un coeur au râtelier.
Tes yeux, illuminés ainsi que des boutiques
Et des ifs flamboyants dans les fêtes publiques,
Usent insolemment d’un pouvoir emprunté,
San connaître jamais la loi de leur beauté.

Machine aveugle et sourde, en cruautés féconde!
Salutaire instrument, buveur du sang du monde.
Comment n’as-tu pas honte et comment n’as-tu pas
Devant tous les miroirs vu pâlir tes appas?
La grandeur de ce mal où tu te crois savante
Ne t’a donc jamais fait reculer d’épouvante,
Quand la nature, grande en ses desseins cachés,
De toi se sert, ô femme, ô reine des péchés,
– De toi, vil animal, — pour pétrir un génie?

O fangeuse grandeur! sublime ignominie!

XXV

You would put the entire universe in that little street
Between your bed and the wall, you immoral woman!
Boredom renders your soul cruel. Just to keep your teeth
filed for your singular game, every new day you have to
rack up a new heart. Your eyes, lit up like a five and dime
And flaming like autumn leaves at a county fair,
Insolently flaunt a suborned power,
With no comprehension of their legitimate beauty.

Blind! Deaf! Fecund with savagery!
Inexhaustible machine, binging on the blood of the world,
How can you not be ashamed when every mirror
Bears witness to the sayonara of your charms?
The greatness of this evil, which you only think you understand,
Has it never made you recoil in terror,
Do you not realize that, in the vast scope of her hidden designs,
Nature outdid herself — oh woman, oh empress of sin,
Vile animal –, when she excreted your genius?

Oh sublime ignominy! Bottomless mire!

XXVI. — SED NON SATIATA

Bizarre déité, brune comme les nuits,
Au parfum mélangé de musc et de havane,
Oeuvre de quelque obi, le Faust de la savane,
Sorcière au flanc d’ébène, enfant des noirs minuits,

Je préfère au constance, à l’opium, au nuits,
L’élixir de ta bouche où l’amour se pavane;
Quand vers toi mes désirs partent en caravane,
Tes yeux sont la citerne où boivent mes ennuis.

Par ces deux grands yeux noirs, soupiraux de ton âme,
O démon sans pitié! verse-moi moins de flamme;
Je ne suis pas le Styx pour t’embrasser neuf fois.

Hélas! et je ne puis, Mégère libertine,
Pour briser ton courage et te mettre aux abois,
Dans l’enfer de ton it devenir Proserpine!

XXVI. — NO SATISFACTION

Bizarre deity, brunette nocturne,
Perfumed melange of musk and cigars,
Work of some obeah, some Faust of the savanna,
My ebony-flanked sorceress, spawn of midnight,

I prefer to constancy, opium, or night,
The elixir of your mouth, whence love struts;
The caravan of my desire embarks its weariness
Solely to arrive at the oasis of your eyes.

Those two big black eyes, twin volcanoes of your soul,
O pitiless daemon! turn down their heat;
I am not the Styx to quench you nine times,

Alas! and I cannot, my libertine Fury,
In order to break your spirit, to corner you
In the hell that you call your bed,
Pretend that you’re worth kidnapping!

XXVII

Avec ses vêtements ondoyants et nacrés,
Même quand elle marche on croyait qu’elle danse,
Comme ces longs serpents que les jongleurs sacrés
Au bout de leurs bâtons agitent en cadence.

Comme le sable morne et l’azur des déserts,
Insensibles tous deux à l’humaine souffrance,
Comme les longs réseaux de la houle des mers,
Elle se développe avece indifférence.

Ses yeux polis sont faits de minéraux charmants,
Et dans cette nature étrange et symbolique
Où l’ange inviolé se mêle au sphinx antique,

Où tout n’est qu’or, acier, lumière et diamants,
Resplendit à jamais, comme un astre inutile,
La froide majesté de la femme stérile.

XXVII

In her sheath, undulant and pearlescent,
You can’t believe she’s walking instead of dancing,
It’s like a dress full of snakes
Charmed by the batons of sacred jugglers.

Like the dreary sand and azure sky of a desert,
Equally insensible to human suffering,
Like the heaving swell of the sea,
She propagates with indifference.

Her burnished eyes are made of charming minerals,
And in this strange and symbolic nature
Wherein an inviolate angel mingles with an ancient sphinx,

Wherein all is gold, steel, light and diamonds,
Like a useless star, eternally resplendent,
With the frigid majesty of a sterile woman.

XXVIII. — LE SERPENT QUI DANSE

Que j’aime voir, chère indolente,
De ton corps si beau,
Comme une étoffe vacillante,
Miroiter la peau!

Sur ta chevelure profonde
Aux âcres parfumes,
Mes odorante et vagabonde
Aux flot bleus et bruns,

Comme un navire qui s’éveille
Au vent du matin,
Mon âme rêveuse appareille
Pour un ciel lointain.

Tes yeux, où rien ne se révèle
De doux ni d’amer,
Sont deux bijoux froids où se mêle
L’or avec le fer.

A te voir marcher en cadence,
Belle d’abandon,
On dirait un serpent qui danse
Au bout d’un baton.

Sous le fardeau de ta paresse
Ta tête e’enfant
Se balance aves la mollesse
D’une jeune éléphant,

Et ton corpse se penche et s’allonge
Comme un fin vaisseau
Qui roule bord sur bord et plonge
Ses vergues dans l’eau.

Comme un flot grossi par la fonte
Des glaciers grondants,
Quand l’eau de ta bouche remonte
Au bord de tes dents,

Je crois boite un vin de Bohême,
Amer et vainqueur,
Un ciel liquide qui parsème
D’étoiles mon coeur!

XXVIII. — THE DANCING SERPENT

How I like to watch, my indolent darling,
Your lovely body,
Its quivering flesh
Vacillating like a fabric!

Under that profound shock of hair
and its acrid perfumes,
Swarthy blue waves roll
Upon a redolent and vagabond sea,

Like a ship awakened
By a freshening breeze,
My dreamy soul casts off
For a distant heaven.

Your eyes, in which nothing is revealed
Of the sweet nor of the bitter,
Are a pair of frozen jewels
In which iron is alloyed with gold.

To see the cadence of your walk,
The beauty of its abandon,
Is to watch a cobra entranced
By his master’s baton.

Under the burden of your idleness
Your childish head
Balances itself with the lethargy
Of a baby elephant,

And your body tilts and elongates
Like an elegant vessel
Rolling out her timbers
On a boisterous sea.

Like a flood engorged by
Glacial runoff,
When the water rises to your mouth,
To the very edges of your teeth,

I seek to drink the wine of your Bohemia,
Bitter and all-conquering,
A liquid sky which inseminates
My heart with stars!

XXIX. — UNE CHAROGNE

Rappelez-vous l’objet que nous vîmes, mon âme,
Ce beau matin d’été si doux:
Au détour d’un sentier une charogne infâme
Sur un lit semé de cailloux,

Les jambes en l’air, comme une femme lubrique,
Brûlante et suant les poisons,
Ouvrait d’une façon nonchalante et cynique
Son ventre plein d’exhalaisons.

Le soleil rayonnait sur cette pourriture,
Comme afin de la cuire à pointe,
Et de rendre au centuple à la grande Nature
Tout ce qu’ensemble elle avait joint;

Et le ciel regardait la carcasse superbe
Comme une fleur s’épanouir.
La puanteur était si forte, que sur l’herbe
Vous crûtes vous évanouir.

Les mouches bourdonnaient sur ce ventre putride,
D’où sortaient de noirs bataillons
De larves, qui coulaient comme un épais liquide
Le long de ces vivants haillons.

Tout cela descendait, montait comme une vague,
Ou s’élançait en pétillant;
On eût dit que le corps, enflé d’un souffle vague,
Vivait en se multipliant.

Et ce monde rendait une étrange musique,
Comme l’eau courante et le vent,
Ou le grain qu’un vanneur d’un mouvement rhythmique
Agite et tourne dans son van.

Les formes s’effaçaient et n’étaient plus qu’un rève,
Une ébauche lente à venir,
Sur la toile oubliée, et que l’artiste achève
Seulement par le souvenir.

Derrière les rochers une chienne inquiète
Nous regardait d’un oeil fâché,
Épiant le moment de reprendre au squelette
Le morceau qu’elle avait lâché.

– Et pourtant vous serez semblable à cette ordure,
A cette horrible infection,
Étoile de mes yeux, soleil de ma nature,
Vous, mon ange et ma passion!

Oui! telle vous serez, ô la reine des grâces,
Aprés les derniers sacrements,
Quand vous irez, sous l’herbe et les floraisons grasses,
Moisir parmi les ossements.

Alors, ô ma beauté! dites à la vermine
Qui vous mangera de baisers,
Que j’ai gardé la forme et l’essence divine
De mes amours décomposés!

XXIX. — THE CADAVER

Call up again, my love, the thing we saw
One sweet summer morning:
At a bend in the road, on a bed of stones,
A rotting corpse,

Legs in the air, like a debauched bitch,
Suppurating coruscant venoms,
Nonchalantly flaunting, as if cynically,
A gut distended by gas.

The sun beat down on this rotting porridge,
As if to roast it medium crispy,
To pay back Mother Nature all that she had borrowed
For the recipe, with interest;

And heaven watched this superb carcass
Open like a flower.
The stench was plenty strong, enough
To send you face down, into the grass.

Black battalions of buzzing flies
Launched sorties of larva from that putrid belly,
They flowed like a thick fluid
They undulated like living rags.

It all descended from this, building like a wave,
Leaped and sparkled,
One might have said that the corpse, convulsed
by an uncertain sigh, yet lived, yet multiplied.

And this world emitted a foreign music,
Like running water, like wind,
Like the grain the turning winnower
Lifts and leaves in his wake.

The shapes efface themselves, they’re no more than a dream,
A slow realization
In a forgotten work of art, achieved
Only in memory.

Behind some rocks a restless dog
Watched us with a wary eye,
Waiting for the moment to snatch a morsel
Dispensed by the recalcitrant skeleton.

– Nevertheless, one day you will resemble this pile of shit,
This vile infection,
Star of my eyes, sun of my nature,
You, my angel, my passion!

Yes! such will you become, my queen of grace,
After the last sacraments,
After they slide you under the lawn, with only a slight hiss,
To molder among the bones.

Then, oh my beauty, then! tell the vermin
That feast on your kisses,
That I obsess over the form, over the divine essence
Of my putrid love!

————————————————–
Part 4 COMING SOON
————————————————–

© Jim Nisbet 2014

Jim Nisbet has published nine novels, the most recent of which, The Octopus On My Head, was released by Dennis McMillan Publications (Tucson) in July, 2007, and by Editons Payot et Rivages (Paris) under the title Comment j’ai trouvé un boulot in November, 2008. All of these novels – The Gourmet (aka The Damned Don’t Die), Lethal InjectionDeath PuppetPrelude to a ScreamThe Price of the TicketThe Syracuse CodexDark Companion, and The Octopus on My Head — have been published in French as well as English, along with a miscellany of additional translations into German, Japanese, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Greek and, forthcoming, Russian and Romanian. Ulysses’ Dog has been published in French only, under the title Le Chien d’Ulysse, by (as with all of the French translations) Editions Payot et Rivages (Paris). In April 2010 Overlook Press (New York) will publish a new Jim Nisbet novel, Windward Passage, simultaneously with a new edition of the acclaimed Lethal Injection, out of print since 1989. This rollout will be followed by Jim’s entire backlist, a total of eight additional titles, including the first American publication ofUlysses’ Dog. The Rivages/Thriller edition of Windward Passage will follow. On a parallel track, Green Arcade, an imprint of PM Press, issued a novella, A Moment of Doubt, in the fall of 2010.

http://noirconeville.com/

 

 

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Visual Poetry

JÓZSEF BÍRÓ ~ Visual Poetry

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© JÓZSEF BÍRÓ

Born 1951 BUDAPEST, HUNGARY. Poet/writer/visual artist and performer

First PUBLISHED BY RETORT MAGAZINE, ON JANUARY 21ST, 2013

Poetry

Steve Kilbey ~ Three Poems

PUBLISHED BY RETORT MAGAZINE, ON JANUARY 19TH, 2006

poem about a poemSteve-Kilbey

i read this beautiful poem
it used words like absolute and redolent
it spoke of the glory of the spirit
it described the dark arc of human evil
some bits meandered through forests
of delicious adjectives
other parts were short. concise.
the poem began with a volley of the
most amazing hyperbole ever
broken …up…fragments
vainglorious latinate flourishes
anglo saxon starts and ends

untitled

mirrored seaside, english room
1920’s summer nightromance
radio crooner soft and low
sound of distant amusement pier
sound of singing followed by laughter
warm stifling quiet hotel
later the gentle rain
shifting shadows flit on blurry walls
holding hands
all of us round that table
this is so you’ll know
said the medium
holding hands
the candleflames shiver in that stillness
they dance and wriggle
in that motionless space
the medium, the italian woman
smiling in the darkness
a sudden chill around us
eyes rolling back
a struggling sound escapes her lips
the moths all become still

a cat screams somewhere
outside this room
ship in a bottle
mantelpiece warping slightly
things slipping sideways slightly
things sharpening and losing focus
the background comes forward
the other faces recede
someone is with us here tonight
lilting latin accent, hypnotic melody
one place in the room is coming apart
trying to get through
some door in the air
tablefaces drenched in staccato shadow
as candles extinguish and reappear
the voice changes
a child’s voice
mummy … ?
daddy … ?
the table jumps
something cold slides past
what is this childs name … ?
a man asks
from out of the anxious shadows
my name is rosemarie
says the child
italian medium’s voice
rosemarie ball
birds in the trees leave nest
cats slink back out of sight
the medium’s head is swaying
the doors have opened
she says
anything may come through now

untitled

hey

i heard Gill Gamesh
was back in town
i sure remember the last time
he was here
he was wearing a suit of flesh
covered in mouths which whispered direction
he had a little place up in Everywhere
man, what a setup
he had singlehandedly invented civilization
and the royalties were coming in, in lumps
that reminds me
of the reason i am here
i come to warn you
absurdity has breached the outer membrane
dignity has fled
and the pale twilight hovers
throwing an illusion of mystery
black blanket nightfalls
the protagonists are restless
waiting for us
out there in the dark
the mansion’s grounds are impeccable
a photo wonder in contrasts
a permanent colour scheme blow out
harvest of the stars
Gill Gamesh is on the prowl
i see his nebulous hand in all of this
the ants have left their nest
the clouds are gone from the skies
the rats have jumped into the sea
the king has abdicated
wearing sack cloth and ashes
oh to walk again by your side
far from this place
far from this time
far from this poem


© Steve Kilbey

Songwriter, singer, bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, producer, poet, actor and painter, Steve Kilbey was born in England in 1954. After moving to Australia he formed The Church in 1980 and has since released over 30 albums (including solo and side projects), achieving gold records in Australia and the U.S.

In 1986, Steve released his first book of poetry, Earthed which went on to sell over 2000 copies. There was also an album of the same name, which was like a soundtrack for the book.

In the late nineties Steve released his second book of poetry, Nineveh/The Ephemeron which, also sold out its initial run of 500 copies. In 2004 the two books were combined and even a hardcover version was published. In 2005, Kilbey released Eden, an insightful, profound and unique journey through the ethereal land of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. All books are available from Karmic Hit website: www.karmichit.com

Kilbey now lives in Sydney with his wife and daughters and no cat.