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This poem is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.from Almost Nineteen Sonnets (Mecure de France, 2008), translated by Beverley Bie Brahic
Tomb of Charles Baudelaire
I imagine nothing, as I bend to you,
Bereft of words, as night draws in
Over your astonishment on this earth
But those, undisclosed, of the woman
You called a pensive Electra,
Who sponged your fever-inflamed brow,
And ‘with a light hand’ dispelled
The dread from your feverish tossing.
Mysteriously you pointed to her
Because compassion is itself
The mystery that makes these three letters,
J, G, F, loom large in the light
Of your boat’s glide. To be for you
Harbour at last: its porticos, its palms.
The Derision of Ceres
Attentive to his fever’s words
He stared through the fogged up pane
Of his sleep. They were talking outside;
He opened his door a crack; it was night.
Oh, painter, what is it then this hand
You reach for in your sleep;
Why do you hold on to it, this child’s hand,
As if its grip might set you free
Of a fear that plays havoc with your images?
I dream you guide its trustingness
All the way to she who judges, who condemns,
But loves, and suffers. That you reconcile
The child with the desire. So that there be
No more astonishment here, there, vindictiveness.
The Invention of the Flute of Seven Pipes
At one point in his final tale
He began, in his fearful words
To run, seeing the threat that hung over him
Loom larger in every word.
As if from the colours that each thing’s
Impenetrable name dissociates,
Or from the sky whose boundaries the wind’s name
Unbinds, a wave rolled over his life.
Poet, will music suffice to save you
From death with the help of this flute
Of seven pipes, that you invent?
Isn’t that just your voice wheezing
So your dream will last? Night, nothing but night,
Those reeds scraping under the bank.
The Tomb of Giacomo Leopardi
In the Phoenix’s nest how many burn
Their fingers stirring the ashes!
His consenting to so much night
Granted him this harvest of light.
And his confident words held
Not some onyx up towards a black sky
But their cupped palms for a drop
Of earthly water and your reflection,
O moon, his friend. He offers it to you
And you, bending down, want to drink
Of his desire, and of his hope.
I see you, coming close to him on these bare
Hills, his country. Now, ahead of him, and
Turning back to laugh; now shadowing him.
Mahler, The Song of the Earth
She comes out, but night has not fallen,
Or else it’s the moon that fills the sky;
She leaves, but also she is fading,
Nothing left of her face, nothing but her song.
Desire to be, know when to renounce;
The things of the world demand this of you,
How solid they are, each thing in itself
In this calm in which the dream shimmers.
May she, who is leaving, and you, ageing,
Continue walking under the trees,
Sometimes you catch sight of one another.
Oh speech of sound, music of words,
Turn your steps towards each other then
As a sign of complicity, still, and regret.
To the Author of ‘The Night’
He entered his tomb before he was dead:
His usual twilight city, absent the crowd.
The big door black. A few strollers
Far off still. Then nobody, in the night.
First one street, then another, others.
A cart, once, on cobbles. Eyeless,
The driver, faceless too. And now
The only sound his footsteps’ echo.
Iron gates, bars he rattled at courtyards,
Doorbells, doorbells, whose ringing
Wandered the stairwells of empty houses.
He groped down stairs, towards a quay
Where a remnant of river still trickled.
Listened to the noise of time running down.
San Giorgio Maggiore
Can it be that behind these walls
Noble as the babe who came naked,
Lies only a bunch of ill-lit rooms, one
Opening on to the next, ad infinitum?
Yet such is the Intelligible’s fate:
Its dream takes the form of its hands,
But what fibrillations in this light!
The artery of absence pulses here.
And hands are joined, that was this porch,
But to wield the blade of a sacrifice.
At symmetry’s peak the lamb dies.
Architect, liberate from this blood
The hope of which the stone’s form speaks:
Such is the price of the light’s good.
On Three Paintings by Poussin
His tomb, you say? But it’s this place
He left hollow, dark in the leafage
Of the tree where old Apollo meditates
On what’s young, and so more than god.
And it’s also this chink of light
In the Birth of Bacchus, when the sun
Takes hope, unblemished, in his hands
And with it paints the sky that changes.
His tomb? What this stern gaze sees
Unravelling, deep in the Self-Portrait
Whose silvering, that loved his dream, dulls:
An old man, at evening, astonished,
But still determined to say the colour,
Late, his hand become a mortal thing.
Ulysses Sails Past Ithaca
Those rocks over there, that sand? – Ithaca,
Remember, with the bees and the olive tree,
The faithful wife and the old dog,
But look, water gleams black under your prow.
No – stop staring at that beach! That’s nothing
But your poor kingdom. You don’t mean
To reach out to the man that you are,
You who’re done with chagrin, and hope.
Pass, disappoint. Watch it drift by on your left! See
How it troughs for you, this other strait,
Memory, haunt of those who would die.
Go! Keep your eyes on that other
Low shore over there! Where, in the surf,
The child you were once here still romps.
Did he want to be a torch
He would have flung in the sea?
He got far in those puddles
Over there, before the sky.
Then he turned back to us,
But the wind had unwritten him
Though his hand still clutched
The worlds of the smoke.
Scattered sheets of sibyls,
Torn utterance extreme,
What does he say? We never knew.
He believed in simpler words,
But over there is only still here.
And the water’s sheen is no sign.
He wanted the stone
That would be engraved with his memory
To be one of those clayey slabs
He kicked at, down in the ravine.
Their nicks, their purplish red mosses,
The chaos that makes each one
Indecipherably unique, but the same
As the rest: that’d be his epitaph.
He dreamt, he died. Now where’s his grave?
Hiker, if you scramble down these slopes,
Will you notice the words he thought he brought
To the frost-cracked stone? Will you hear
His voice under the insect drone? Will you
Casually kick his life even further down?
The Tomb of Paul Verlaine
This ‘shallow stream’ – where does it flow
More sweetly than in his lines, which know
All banks are close, in the tangled
Marshland of desire and dreams?
Judges, when evening comes, the words!
Sludge as much as light, truth!
Which he didn’t forget, though – tiresome, futile –
His subjects skipped from stone to stone.
Humble, out of simple pride, he agreed
To be for others just a mirror
Whose tarnished silver would filter the sky.
Let them see that the sky was in him
At its reddest through the evening leaves
As the pigeons’ cooing darkens.
This poem is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.