Louise Labé – Sonnet XXIV (her last)

photo of shadow of a head and hand
This entry is part 3 of 7 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.

Louise Labé – Sonnets VIII & IX

Painting by André Minaux 2
This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Louise Labé



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.


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.

Louise Labé – Sonnet XIV

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 1 of 7 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

A glimpse from the gutter: three poems by Alejandra Pizarnik

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 33 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


por un minuto de vida breve
única de ojos abiertos
por un minuto de ver
en el cerebro flores pequeñas
danzando como palabras en la boca de un mudo

for one minute of fleeting life
the only one in which eyes are open
for one minute of seeing
small flowers dance in the brain
like words in a mute person’s mouth


has construido tu casa
has emplumado tus pájaros
has golpeado al viento
con tus propios huesos

has terminado sola
lo que nadie comenzó

you’ve built your house
you’ve put feathers on your birds
you’ve struck the wind
with your own bones

alone you’ve finished
what no one began


una mirada desde la alcantarilla
puede ser una visión del mundo

la rebelión consiste en mirar una rosa
hasta pulverizarse los ojos

a glimpse from the gutter
can become a complete worldview

rebellion consists of gazing at a rose
until your eyes are reduced to dust

Árbol de Diana (Tree of Diana), nos. 5, 16 and 23

One of the great advantages to being here in London is the super-fast internet. Without it, I doubt I would’ve seriously entertained the idea of making a bilingual videopoem with both the original poetry and the translation alternating in the soundtrack — it takes hours to upload a three-minute video file back home in Pennsylvania. Also, I was able to work closely with my co-conspirator here, Jean Morris, who came over to the house last week to record the the three Alejandra Pizarnik micropoems I’d chosen for the video (the first three from this post). In existing recordings of Pizarnik, the poet’s voice is slow, almost dreamy, and Jean tried with I think considerable success to imitate that quality without going so far as to actually mimic her Argentinian accent. I recorded my own reading later on, trying also to keep it slow and quiet. Jean also offered some valuable suggestions for improving my translations (she’s a professional translator; I’m a mere dilettante) and gave feedback on the imagery I’d had in mind to use.

The footage of the construction site at sunset had come first, shot out the back bedroom window. That made me think of these Pizarnik poems, which it seemed to me might form a unity with it. I shot the other footage purposefully for the project a few feet from the back door. (That rose had still been in bloom as late as December 15!) Finding the music was as usual a frustrating and time-consuming process, but at length I settled on a track at ccMixter which included some klezmer-like fiddle, a nod to Pizarnik’s Ashkenazi background. Enjoy!

Erasure translation of a poem by Jacques Brault

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 31 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Visitation, the long poem that begins Jacques Brault’s first collection, Mémoire (short extract with translation in this earlier post), is a complex evocation of cultural oppression and the poet’s sense of exile from self. It’s full of words and images that cannot but also evoke today’s physical exiles, the millions of refugees, and these suggested a much simpler and shorter erasure poem. French, with its changing word-endings, gives less scope for erasure than English, but the process was still an interesting way of engaging with language and emotions.

black-and-white photo of an Antony Gormley figure from his sculpture installation Another Place


Remember your nakedness, their exile
the man struggling to live

I find myself again at the appointed place
and thirsty for these words

I left my country with little pride
Exile is hard, my fear follows me

Silence is no longer possible – listen
some evening to what I shall say

Come closer and touch my voiceless misery
my faceless body, my silent hope

Poetry has no importance, but it speaks
Sweet violence rises up

My despair arrives with broken neck
no name, no past and harbouring no hatred

Some grey morning a comrade I cannot name
and a beloved country tremble

I shall live weighed down and bent over
my words still resounding from land to land

A shadow will trace the outline
of your pale face when I find it again.

(words and phrases culled from Jacques Brault’s nearly 900-word-long poem, Visitation)

Souvenez-vous / de / votre nudité / de leur exil /
de celui qui a mal de vivre /

Je me retrouve / au / rendez-vous /
J’ai soif / de / ces paroles /

J’ai quitté / le pays / peu fier /
L’exil est dur / ma peur / me suit /

Je ne sais plus / me taire /
Ecoute / ce que / je / dirai / un soir /

Approche et / touche / ma misère / sans voix /
mon corps / sans visage / ma silencieuse espérance /

La poésie / est / sans importance / mais elle / parle /
La violence / douce / se relève /

Ma détresse / arrive / le cou brisé /
sans nom / sans passé / et sans haine /

Un matin gris / une /compagne / innommable /
et / un pays aimé tremblent /

Je vivrai / lourd et penché /
Mes mots / vibrent encore / entre terre et terre /

Une ombre / tracera /
ta figure blanche / retrouvée.

Image: Another Place — photo by Jean Morris, 2007

Nameless as the rain: two poems by Jacques Brault

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 30 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


It was raining in London – serious rain with fast-flowing gutters and burst water mains – and I’d stopped serially internet-dating “Other-American” poets in order to hang out for a while with Jacques Brault. Both of these are from his first collection, Mémoire (1965).

abstract black-and-white photo of water by Jean Morris


Here on the streets the water wails its old lament
Seagulls crash-land

I do not know your name know nothing any more
All these human shapes barely floating now in the gutters
Fingernails marred by eyelids
Smiles in the hollow of a groin
Jumbled faces in old windows

So many dead unadorned unlabelled
Melting in the sweet water
April casts its light and shadow on their graves

Water mingles our little hopes
Mutely agile not a bubble or an eddy
A volley of laughter rains down on the streets
Oh watery folly

The water’s soft lament against the tide of time
This murmuring of pale lips this wrinkling of old skin
All those who leave here are undone

And you scattered to the four winds
You whom I seek among these long tresses swept towards the sewers

But water runs its own business in its own way
A fine embroiderer of death’s complex designs
Water sews and re-sews a lovely length of fabric
As it flows


L’eau dans la rue se plaint d’une vieille plainte
Où se cassent des mouettes d’eau

Je ne sais ton nom je ne sais plus
Tant de formes humaines à peine coulent encore dans les caniveaux
Doigts à l’ongle embué de paupières
Sourires au creux de l’aine
Visages disjoints de vieilles fenêtres

Tant de morts sans collier ni bannière
Fondent en la douceur de l’eau
Avril sur les tombes met une ombre de lumière

L’eau raccorde les petits espoirs
Agile et muette et sans bulles ni remous
Une volée de rires qui s’abattent dans la rue
O folie de l’eau

La plainte de l’eau tout bas à contre-courant de l’heure
C’est un murmure de lèvres blanches un froissis de vieilles peaux
Tous ceux-là que s’en vont se défont

Et toi éparse çà et là
Toi que je cherche parmi les cheveux qui s’allongent vers l’égout

Mais l’eau mène bien son ouvroir et sa façon
Brodeuse fine des morts aux dessins compliqués
L’eau coud et recoud fait une belle étoffe longue
Et coule

abstract black-and-white photo of water by Jean Morris

Like All Those Others

You are the one invented by my gaze
like the shape of an ink blot on paper
and I am unafraid to speak my love
for you the way you are just as I fashion you
as my hands find themselves again upon your body
and the greedy expectancy of every day
the annunciation of a world scarcely beginning
the gestures of morning on a street corner
that snatch at a vagabond’s one instant of light
and this folly of feeling like your newest unborn child
I love you like all those others yesterday tomorrow
still learning this old refrain learning it always
I love you in the future wind in the rubble of fear
love you in the little life of hair curlers
love you in these paltry ecstasies these meagre glories
love you alone and abandoned by myself

Comme tant d’autres

Ton être que j’invente du regard
comme une tache d’encre sur le papier
je n’ai pas peur de nommer mon amour
tu es comme je t’aime telle que je te fais
avec mes mains retrouvées sur ton corps
et l’espérance goulue de chaque jour
l’annonciation d’un monde qui commence à peine
le geste du matin au coin de la rue
qui reprend à la rôdeuse un instant de lumière
et cette folie d’être en toi un nouvel enfant à naître
je t’aime comme tant d’autres hier demain
cette vieille rengaine je l’apprends encore je l’apprends toujours
je t’aime dans le vent du futur dans la pierraille de la peur
je t’aime dans la petite existence en bigoudis
je t’aime dans les pauvres extases dans les chiches gloires
je t’aime seul et déserté de moi-même


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(translation of Rebecca T. Añonuevo’s “Sa Diin”)

For what is a chair
if no one shall sit?
For what is the pencil
if no one writes?
For what purpose is a book
that no one will open?
For what is a song
no voices will make soar?
For what is a tug of war
when no one is left to pull the rope?

For what is to own land
if one is driven away?

For what is the grain
if no one is filled?
For what are the fields
if they are watered with blood?
For what is the fine woven cloth
when the wearer has been destroyed?
For what purpose is the Maker
when all the nurtured are gone?
What use is the poem
to those sprawled on the ground?


Para saan ang silya
kung walang mauupo?
Para saan ang lapis
kung walang magsusulat?
Para saan ang aklat
kung walang magbubuklat?
Para saan ang awit
kung walang iilanglang na tinig?
Para saan ang banlak
kung wala nang hihila sa lubid?

Para saan ang sariling lupa
kung mauuwing bakwit?

Para saan ang bigas
kung walang mabubusog?
Para saan ang bukid
kung dugo ang pandilig?
Para saan ang tabih
kung wakwak na ang magsusuot?
Para saan si Magbabaya
kung naubos na ang inaruga?
Para saan ang tula
para sa nakabulagta?

11 Setyembre 2015

Rebecca T. Añonuevo is a poet, educator, translator, and the author of six collections of poetry in Filipino, all of which have won prizes from the prestigious Don Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature; as well as National Book Award citations and nominations. She is the Philippine recipient of the 2013 S.E.A. Write Awards from the Royalty in Bangkok, Thailand. Rebecca and Luisa have previously collaborated on poetry translations (Filipino-English, English-Filipino).


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(translated from poet Rebecca T. Añonuevo’s “NALIPATÁN,” 7 September 2015)

What humanity forgot,
the sea remembered.
It cradled the young,
delivered them to dreams.
Sky beneath the water,
playmates of prismed fish.
Coral that rippled
as if with laughter.
Dimpled calves in the gaps
that may have tickled the soles of their feet.
All creatures large and small,
living in each other’s midst
released from fear and war.
The waves have rescued the innocent
that they might no longer wake
to the cold stones, the earth’s
indifferent kiss at the edge
of the shore.


Rebecca T. Añonuevo

Ang nalipatán ng tao,
Naalala ng dagat.
Idinuyan ang musmos,
Ihinatid sa panaginip.
Langit sa ilalim ng tubig,
Mga kalarong isda, sarikulay,
Mga korales na umiindak
At naghahalakhakan,
Mga binti ng pugitang
Nangingiliti ng talampakan.
Malalaki’t maliliit na nilalang,
Na nabubuhay sa isa’t isa,
Malaya sa pangamba at digmaan.
Iniligtas ng alon ang walang muwang,
Nang hindi na magising
Sa malamig at mabato, malayong-loob
Na paghalik ng lupa sa dalampasigan.

7 Setyembre 2015