Translations

Translation is an extremely useful discipline in deep reading, and that’s what we hope to showcase here.

black-and-white photo of clouds and trees reflected in a basin of water

 

It will stay light late tonight, the days lengthen…
Today’s living soundtrack fades and retreats,
and the trees, surprised not to see the night,
are still awake in the pale evening, dreaming.

The chestnut trees spread their fragrance
far and wide on this heavy air replete with gold
– we dare not move or toy with this tender air
for fear of stirring up more sleeping scents.

Distant rumblings reach us from the town…
The cloak of dust on a scarcely quivering tree
flies up, disturbed by every little breeze, only
to fall back gently on the peaceful paths below.

This is the same familiar road, the one
we’ve seen and walked so often, every day,
and yet something in this life has changed –
never again will our souls be as they are tonight.

 

Il fera longtemps clair ce soir

Il fera longtemps clair ce soir, les jours allongent,
La rumeur du jour vif se disperse et s’enfuit,
Et les arbres, surpris de ne pas voir la nuit,
Demeurent éveillés dans le soir blanc, et songent…

Les marronniers, sur l’air plein d’or et de lourdeur,
Répandent leurs parfums et semblent les étendre ;
On n’ose pas marcher ni remuer l’air tendre
De peur de déranger le sommeil des odeurs.

De lointains roulements arrivent de la ville…
La poussière, qu’un peu de brise soulevait,
Quittant l’arbre mouvant et las qu’elle revêt,
Redescend doucement sur les chemins tranquilles.

Nous avons tous les jours l’habitude de voir
Cette route si simple et si souvent suivie,
Et pourtant quelque chose est changé dans la vie,
Nous n’aurons plus jamais notre âme de ce soir…

 

Again from her first collection, Le Coeur innombrable / The Uncountable Heart (1901). More translations of Anna de Noailles on Via Negativa are here, here, and here.

black-and-white photos of tree foliage seen from below

To be in nature like a human tree, your desires
spread out like deep, luxuriant foliage, and feel,
on peaceful and on stormy nights alike, the universal
sap flow through your hands. To live with the sun’s rays
warm on your face, drink the scorching salt of sea-spray
and of tears, and hotly taste the joy and then the grief
that fashion foggy human forms in space. To feel
in your own beating heart the turbulence of air and fire
and blood like wind upon the earth, reach for reality
and stoop to mystery, embrace the rising daylight
and the falling dark. Like evening’s purple and cerise,
to let the flame and flood flow from the crimson
of your heart while your soul, like pale dawn resting
on a hillside, sits beside this world and dreams…

 

La vie profonde

Être dans la nature ainsi qu’un arbre humain,
Étendre ses désirs comme un profond feuillage,
Et sentir, par la nuit paisible et par l’orage,
La sève universelle affluer dans ses mains !

Vivre, avoir les rayons du soleil sur la face,
Boire le sel ardent des embruns et des pleurs,
Et goûter chaudement la joie et la douleur
Qui font une buée humaine dans l’espace !

Sentir, dans son coeur vif, l’air, le feu et le sang
Tourbillonner ainsi que le vent sur la terre.
– S’élever au réel et pencher au mystère,
Être le jour qui monte et l’ombre qui descend !

Comme du pourpre soir aux couleurs de cerise,
Laisser du coeur vermeil couler la flamme et l’eau,
Et comme l’aube claire appuyée au coteau
Avoir l’âme qui rêve, au bord du monde assise…

 

From Anna de Noailles’ first collection, Le Coeur innombrable / The Uncountable Heart (1901). A fairly close translation, but lately I’ve been writing dense 14-line poems and this seemed to pour itself so naturally into that shape… More of my translations of Anna de Noailles on Via Negativa are here and here.

Anna de Noailles, 1920

Black and white portrait of Noailles.

 

As a knife entering a fruit
slides into it, ravaging,
the soft sound of a melody
cleaves the heart in two
and tenderly destroys it
— and the iridescent languor
of chords and arpeggios
descends, cunning and cutting,
through the body’s weakness
and the divided soul…

 

Comme un couteau dans un fruit
Amène un glissant ravage,
La mélodie au doux bruit
Fend le coeur et le partage
Et tendrement le détruit.
— Et la langueur irisée
Des arpèges, des accords,
Descend, tranchante et rusée,
Dans la faiblesse du corps
Et dans l’âme divisée…

 

Portrait of the poet by Paul Thévenaz
More on Anna de Noailles in a previous post

bust of Anna de Noailles by Rodin

I thought I was

So calm and sad I thought I was,
resigned to noble silence,
as befits a weary heart,
but evening, with its slipping,
sliding wind, its cooling,
vegetable smells,
this peaceful landscape
where desire lies dreaming,
seems determined to undo
my safe but joyless rest,
compelling me to face
these artful, airy games
that overwhelm and plunder
warming earth and fading skies
– ah, gentle, porous evening,
perfumed with vanilla,
why would you want to hurt
the ever hopeful girl
within my tense, half-open,
hesitating heart?

Je croyais être

Je croyais être calme et triste,
Simplement, sans demander mieux
Que ce noble état sérieux
D’un coeur lassé. Le soir insiste:
Avec les glissements du vent
Et la froide odeur des herbages,
Et cette paix des paysages
Sur qui le désir est rêvant,
Il défait mon repos sans joie,
Ce repos qui protégeait bien,
Il exige, hélas, que je voie
Ces rusés jeux aériens
Où tout s’enveloppe et se pille,
Du sol tiède aux clartés des cieux…
– Pourquoi, soir mol et spongieux
D’où coule un parfum de vanille,
Blessez-vous, dans mon coeur serré
Qui soudain s’entr’ouvre et vacille,
Cette éternelle jeune fille
Qui ne peut cesse d’espérer?

 

Tranquillity

Here in the wake of dazzling day
comes fine, devoted night.
It feels as if the sky is bowed
beneath a tranquil weight of stars.
The juddering breath of a train
sets even this calm hillside
beating to its hearty rhythm.
Here in the darkness every
shimmering sound – a voice,
a footfall or a shutter slammed –
gleams like a marble or a rosary bead.
Can this airy, empathetic
but mysterious night, so gentle
and attuned to all our thoughts,
really be built upon graves?
This evening, dear, your love,
your tenderness, is all I need,
my soul’s contented only
when I have no hopes or plans.
We talk so much of souls,
but sated with pleasures
all we need is languorous rest.
Our hearts cry out for nothing more
– content to live or die,
we’ve found this calm and ease.
Dearest companion, is it just
desire we suffer from?

Tranquillité

Après le jour luisant d’entrain
Voici la nuit, dévote et fine,
Il semble que le ciel s’incline
Par le poids des astres sereins.
Le soufflé saccadé d’un train
Transmet à la calme colline
Sa palpitation d’airain.
Dans l’ombre, les bruits qui scintillent,
– Bruits de pas, de voix, de volets –
Semblent polis comme des billes,
Comme les grains d’un chapelet.
– Ȏ Nuit, compatissant mystère!
Se peut-il, quand l’air est si doux
Et semble penser avec nous,
Qu’il y ait des morts dans la terre!
– Je n’ai besoin de rien ce soir
Grâce à ta tendresse amoureuse,
Une âme n’est vraiment heureuse
Que sans projets et sans espoirs.
Nous parlons sans cesse de l’âme,
Pourtant, après ce long plaisir,
Tout nous est paresse et loisir,
Plus rien en nos coeurs ne réclame;
Nous pourrions vivre ou bien mourir
Contents ainsi, calmes, à l’aise,
– Ȏ mon cher compagnon, serait-ce
Qu’on souffre que de désir?

 

Photo: Unfinished bust of Anna de Noailles – Rodin, 1906, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Anna de Noailles (1876-1933) was highly praised and acknowledged as a philosophical and aesthetic influence by Rilke, Proust and Colette. Prolific and beloved poet, novelist, patron, muse, she was heaped with honours and thousands lined the streets for her state funeral. Then she disappeared from the canon – surely mostly for the usual reason that she was a woman, but perhaps also because, written in iconoclastic times for European poetry, all of her poems rhyme.

I can’t help finding even the most sensitive and skilful rhymed translations of her poems rather wordy and distant from the originals – French rhymes so much more easily and lightly. But it’s also true that de Noailles consistently defended form and rhyme at a time when many poets were abandoning them, so these attempts to better capture her emotional intensity in unrhymed translations are very tentative.

Just you and I in the attic,
My father.
The walls have collapsed.
Flesh has given way.
The debris of the blue sky tumbles all around.
I see your face more clearly.
You’re weeping.
Tonight we share the same age
Before these her remembered hands

10 o’ clock.
The wall clock striking
And blood recoiling.
Everyone’s gone.
House closed.
Far away the wind pushes at an early star.

No-one remains.
But you are there,
My father,
And like bindweed,
My arm tugging at yours,
You wipe away my tears,
hot across your fingers.


Il n’y a plus que toi et moi dans la mansarde

Mon père
Les murs sont écroulés
La chair s’est écroulée
Des gravats de ciel bleu tombent de tous côtés
Je vois mieux ton visage
Tu pleures
Et cette nuit nous avons le même âge
Au bord des mains qu’elle a laissées

Dix heures
La pendule qui sonne
Et le sang qui recule
Il n’y a plus personne
Maison fermée
Le vent qui pousse au loin une étoile avancée

Il n’y a plus personne
Et tu es là
Mon père
Et comme un liseron
Mon bras grimpe à ton bras
Tu effaces mes larmes
En te brûlant les doigts.

(René-Guy CADOU, Amis les Anges, 1943)

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Louise Labé

After Louise Labé, Sonnet XII

painting of a woman playing a lute by Matisse

Lute, you’ve always been there for me:
true friend in the worst of times,
companion of all my sorrows,

you’re my comforter when I weep.
I know my tears really get to you
because every tune becomes a lament,

every rising note plunges
to a melancholy key.
If I try to play something uplifting

you go silent on me.
Sad songs are all you let me sing
and they give me such sweet closure.


Lut, compagnon de ma calamité,

De mes soupirs témoin irreprochable,
De mes ennuis controlleur veritable,
Tu as souvent avec moy lamenté:

Et tant le pleur piteus t’a molesté,
Que commençant quelque son delectable,
Tu le rendois tout soudein lamentable,
Feignant le ton que plein avoit chanté.

Et si te veus efforcer au contraire,
Tu te destens & si me contreins taire:
Mais me voyant tendrement soupirer,

Donnant faveur à ma tant triste pleinte:
En mes ennuis me plaire suis contrainte,
Et d’un dous mal douce fin esperer.

 

Picture: Le luth, Henri Matisse (1943), which I didn’t know till last week – trying for a sort of poignant flatness in the poem, inspired by the vibrating flatness of the painting.
Louise Labé in Wikipedia.
More posts on Louise Labé here, here, here and here.

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Louise Labé

After Louise Labé, Sonnet VII

Detail from a lithograph by André Minaux

We’ve all seen death – the soul,
the subtler part, depart the body.
Where are you now, beloved?
I’m the body, you’re the soul, my better half.
How could you leave me for so long? I know you,
you’ll be thinking just to stretch your legs
and you’ll be back. It doesn’t work like that!
You left my soulless body swinging in the wind,
unloved, unanchored. I’m at risk, I’m nothing,
you are all my worth. So come to me, my love,
but never undermine my sanity again.
No more demands, no more mixed messages.
Show me your softer face. You’ve been
so cruel. Time now to make amends.


On voit mourir toute chose animée,
Lors que du corps l’ame sutile part:
Je suis le corps, toy la meilleure part:
Ou es tu donq, o ame bien aymee?

Ne me laissez par si long temps pamee,
Pour me sauver apres viendrois trop tard.
Las ne mets point ton corps en ce hazart:
Rens lui sa part & moitié estimee.

Mais fais, Ami, que ne soit dangereuse
Cette rencontre & revue amoureuse,
L’accompagnant, non de severité,

Non de rigueur: mais de grace amiable,
Qui doucement me rende la beauté,
Jadis cruelle, à present favourable.

 

Louise Labé in Wikipedia.

Picture: detail from another lithograph by André Minaux.

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Louise Labé

photo of shadow of a head and hand

Don’t scorn me, Ladies, just for having loved.
Yes, I have felt a thousand torches’ fire,
a thousand sorrows, thousand biting pains.
Yes, I have spent a lot of time in tears…
look, think before you start maligning me –
if I’ve done wrong I’m suffering for it now,
don’t make things worse than they already are.
You’d do well to remember Love appears
unbidden, needs no Vulcan to inflame
your ardour or Adonis leading you astray –
its merest whim can leave you overcome.
Think you’re immune, strangers to violent
passion as you are? So sure you’re not like me?
Beware: you could be all the more undone.


Ne reprenez, Dames, si j’ay aymé:
Si j’ay senti mile torches ardentes,
Mile travaus, mile douleurs mordentes:
Si en pleurant, j’ay mon tems consumé,

Las que mon nom n’en soit par vous blamé.
Si j’ay failli, les peines sont presentes,
N’aigrissez point leurs pointes violentes:
Mais estimez qu’Amour, à point nommé,

Sans votre ardeur d’un Volcan excuser,
Sans la beauté d’Adonis acuser,
Pourra, s’il veut, plus vous rendre amoureuses:

En ayant moins que moy d’ocasion,
Et plus d’estrange & forte passion.
Et gardez vous d’estre plus malheureuses.

 

Thank you, Louise Labé, for continuing to surprise and engage me across the centuries.

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Louise Labé

VIII

Painting by André Minaux 1

I’m living, dying, drowning, burning up –
extremes of heat and then I’m cold again.
Life is too soft on me and then too hard –
my trials are great, but intertwined with joys.

I burst out laughing and then into tears,
smile through the torment of my many wounds.
My happiness dissolves and yet endures:
I wither and I flourish, both at once.

So Love’s inconstant but remains my guide
and when the pain seems at its very worst
I rise above it unexpectedly.

Then just when I think joy has really come,
that peak experience is mine at last,
I find myself back where I started from.


Je vis, je meurs: je me brule & me noye.
J’ay chaut estreme en endurant froidure:
La vie m’est & trop molle et trop dure.
J’ay grans ennuis entremeslez de joye:

Tout à un coup je ris & je larmoye,
Et en plaisir maint grief tourment j’endure:
Mon bien s’en va, & à jamais il dure:
Tout en un coup je seiche & je verdoye.

Ainsi Amour inconstamment me meine:
Et quand je pense avoir plus de douleur,
Sans y penser je me treuve hors de peine.

Puis quand je croy ma joye estre certaine,
Et estre en haut de mon desire heur,
Il remet en mon premier malheur.

IX

Painting by André Minaux 2

As soon as I allow myself to rest,
safely tucked up in my own comfy bed,
my stupid, sorrowing mind can’t help itself –
it leaves my body, flies straight back to you.

It strikes me then: within this tender breast
I harbour still the very thing I’ve craved,
the object of my deepest sighs, of sobs
I’ve often felt would break my heart in two.

Oh sweetest sleep, oh night of happiness!
May joyful, calming rest bring me this fond
illusion every time I close my eyes.

If my poor lovesick soul is destined now
to never really know such love again,
at least let me have dreams and fantasies.


Tout aussi tot que je commence à prendre
Dens le mol lit le repos desiré,
Mon triste esprit hors de moy retiré
S’en va vers toy incontinent se rendre.

Lors m’est avis que dedens mon sein tendre
Je tiens le bien, où j’ay tant aspiré,
Et pour lequel j’ay si haut souspiré,
Que de sanglots ay souvent cuidé fendre.

O dous sommeil, o nuit à moy heureuse!
Plaisant repos, plein de tranquilité,
Continuez toutes les nuiz mon songe:

Et si ma pauvre ame amoureuse
Ne doit avoir de bien en verité,
Faites au moins qu’elle en ait en mensonge.

 

Louise Labé in Wikipedia.

Paintings by André Minaux (1923-86) – I came across his work by chance for the first time this week and the sharp, stylized imagery, often of women alone in interiors, somehow resonated with the sonnets; also an exquisite concert on the radio of short pieces by J S Bach and Jörg Widmann made me think about how mutually enhancing old and new(er) works can be.

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Louise Labé

Vermeer – Woman with a Lute
Vermeer – Woman with a Lute

As long as these old eyes can fill with tears,
reliving some sweet hour I spent with you,
and this old voice can hold a tune through all
my sighs and sobs and still be faintly heard,

as long as this old hand can pluck the strings
of my beloved lute, pick out your song,
as long as this old spirit can still yearn
for that complicity we used to share,

I’m far from feeling that I want to die.
But come the time I find myself dry-eyed,
with broken voice and hand too weak to play

a note, my spirit shrinking in its mortal frame,
no longer capable of any sign of love,
I’ll beckon Death to dim my brightest day.


Tant que mes yeus pourront larmes espandre,
A l’heur passé avec toy regretter:
Et qu’aus sanglots & soupirs resister
Pourra ma voix, & un peu faire entendre:

Tant que ma main pourra les cordes tendre
Du mignart Lut, pour tes graces chanter:
Tant que l’esprit se voudra contenter
De ne vouloir rien fors que toy comprendre:

Je ne souhaitte encore point mourir.
Mais quand mes yeus je sentiray tarir,
Ma voix cassée, & ma main impuissante,

Et mon esprit en ce mortel séjour
Ne pouvant plus montrer signe d’amante:
Prirey la Mort noircir mon plus cler jour.

 

With thanks to Dave and Via Negativa for encouragement and inspiration over the past year.

Written in the mid-16th century, this well expresses how I feel about starting, and continuing, latish in life, to write and translate poetry.

Louise Labé in Wikipedia