THE SORROWS OF THE MOON
DE PROFUNDIS CALAMVI
A HANDFUL OF HAIR
THE SOUL OF THE WINE
THE DEATH OF THE POOR
VOYAGE TO CYTHEREA
LOVE OF FALSEHOOD
WHAT WILL YOU SAY
MAN AND THE SEA
THE FORMER LIFE
MISTS AND RAINS
THE LONELY MAN’S WINE
SPLEEN (J’ai plus de souvenirs…)
SPLEEN (Quand le ciel bas et lourd…)
LONGING FOR NOTHINGNESS
THE ALCHEMY OF PAIN
A PAGAN’S PRAYER
It’s long past time we took her flowers,
that good-hearted servant of whom you were so jealous;
in her long sleep now, beneath the humble
turf. The poor dead, how great their sadnesses,
and when October, whipper of trees, scours
mournfully the surface of their marble
they must think us so ungrateful, we
sleeping warmly in our sheets, while they,
old skeletons traversed by worms,
devoured by gloomy never-ending dreams,
alone, unspoken to, feel the century
flow by, drip by drip of snow, and no one comes,
no family to take away the shredded wreaths
tattered round their names.
If, one evening, the log singing in the grate,
I in the armchair where I watched you sit,
if one December night, blue, cold,
I woke and found her there in the corner
risen from her eternal bed, like a mother
come to watch over her grown child;
what answer could I give, what words
to her pious soul, her hollow, weeping lids?
To write my eclogues in a state of purity
I want to have my bed
beside the sky, like an astrologer,
to live up close to belfries
and listen dreamily to their solemn hymns
being borne off on the air.
From my high room, head in hands, I’ll watch
the workshop with its songs and chat,
the city’s steeples, pipes and masts
and its great skies that make you want
to lose yourself in thoughts of endlessness.
It’s sweet to watch across the mists, the birth
of stars in a sky still blue,
the first lamplight in a window
rivers of coal-smoke as they flow
to the firmament; and the moon’s enchanting pallor.
There I’ll see spring, summer, autumn
and when winter comes
with its dreary snow and sleet
I’ll batten down and build castles in the night.
Then I’ll dream of horizons tinted blue
gardens with their fountains weeping onto
alabaster limbs; I’ll dream of kisses,
birds in song at twilight or at dawn;
of all that is simple and idyllic.
The crowd will clamour at my window -
to no end; I’ll be at my desk
lost in the sensuous pleasure of evoking
springtime by an act of will,
drawing a sun out of my heart,
making mildness from my burning thoughts.
Through the old suburb, where Persian blinds
hang at the windows of run-down houses
sheltering furtive pleasures
and the cruel sun rains blow upon blow
on roofs, meadows, cornfields, I go
practising alone my fantastic fencing,
at every corner catching a random scent
of rhyme, tripping over words as though
on cobblestones, hitting sometimes
on verses I’ve only known in dreams.
That nourishing father, enemy of illness
wakens in the fields worms and roses,
he makes our cares evaporate, and fills
our heads and every hive with honey; those
who go on crutches he rejuvenates, gentle
and full of life as girls. Under his power
crops grow and ripen in the immortal
heart that ever yearns once more to flower.
And then, poet-like, he descends among us,
ennobling even the meanest things
and makes his way through palace and almshouse,
silent and unattended, but a king.
THE SORROWS OF THE MOON
She dreams more languidly than usual, the moon,
like a beauty who on soft cushions reclines
and with a light, discreet finger, outlines
the contour of her beast before she swoons
on the satin back of cloudy drifting pillows;
dying, she gives herself to an oblivion
where her eyes are caught by innumerable visions
rising like flowers strewn along the sky.
And sometimes, she drops in utter weariness,
upon the globe a furtive tear; sleep’s enemy,
a pious poet, catches that opal in the hollow
of his hand: that beautiful veined iris
he treasures in his heart, hidden away
both from the world and the sun’s harsh eyes.
Above the pools, above the valleys,
the mountains, the woods, the clouds and seas,
beyond the sun, infinity’s ether,
beyond the limits of the starry spheres,
O my spirit, how nimbly you move;
as a strong swimmer who swoons in the sea,
you cut across the measureless depths
with unspeakable, male, voluptuous joy.
Fly far away from this morbid swamp,
go, make yourself clean in the rarefied air
and drink like a nectar pure and divine
the outer reaches’ ethereal fire!
Behind all worries and vast disillusions
that burden our days without release,
happy the man whose fearless flight
takes him to fields of luminous peace!
He whose thoughts ascend like larks
to the morning sky, free on the wing,
who glides above, whose instinct knows
the language of flowers and unspeaking things.
Nature is a temple where living pillars
break out at times in a confused babble;
Man traverses a forest of symbols
which watch his movements, old, familiar.
Like long echoes which merge with each other
in a profound, twilit unity,
vast as darkness, vast as clarity,
scents, colours, sounds, call and answer.
There are perfumes fresh as an infant’s skin,
soft as oboes, green as plains:
and others, perverse, rich and swollen
with the spreading greatness of infinite things
such as amber, musk, benjamin, incense,
which chant the rapture of spirit and senses.
Her clothes like mother of pearl,
her walk more dance than walk,
she hypnotises like a snake
swaying at the end of a holy fakir’s stick.
Insensible to human suffering
like the desert’s sand and sky,
or the never-ending links
of the sea-swell’s fretwork,
all is indifference
to her, her polished mineral eyes
reflect that strange symbolic nature:
half inviolate angel, half-sphinx,
all steel and gem, all glitter,
a useless star, a diamond:
the futile, frigid majesty
of the sterile woman.
I adore you as I do
night's vault, so silent, you,
sad vase; and more
the more you spurn;
the more, night's ornament
you seem - O irony! to multiply
the miles between my arms
and those blue immensities.
I advance and climb
to the assault like worms
in a vault, and cherish, O cruel
implacable creature, even the rigid
cold that makes you the more beautiful.
Gorgeous cat, stretch along the rise
of my breast, your claw-grip abate.
Let me sink into those quicksand eyes
glinting with oblivion, metal, agate.
When my fingertips travel at ease
along your head, your sensuous back
and my extended nerve end purrs
along your body, still, electric,
my lover, Jesus-like appears.
Her look, godly, benign, my cat,
is yours; cold as the deepest weir,
along her body, smile to foot,
that danger crackles, sinuous, feline.
What can I do? I make a beeline.
DE PROFUNDIS CALAMVI
I implore your pity, my only beloved
from this abyss into which I’ve sunk -
a doleful world this, its horizon of lead,
where horror and blasphemy swim in its dark.
For six months I stare at a sun heatless, bland;
the rest of the year, night swallowing earth.
A country more naked than flat Polar lands,
no verdure, so rivers, no forests, no birth!
The world has begotten no dread to surpass
the frozen cruelty of this sun of ice,
this vast night blacker than protean Chaos;
and how I envy the lowliest beasts
their winter plunge into idiot sleep
while I watch the cloudburst of time, drip by drip.
Mother of mothers, mistress of mistresses,
you who are all my pleasures, all my duties,
you will remember the beauty of caresses,
the bliss of the fireplace, the charm of evenings,
Mother of mothers, mistress of mistresses.
Evenings warmed by the glow of coal
and evenings on the balcony veiled with mists of rose,
how soft I found your breast, how kind your heart to me:
we often told each other imperishable things,
Evenings warmed by the glow of coal.
How beautiful the suns on balcony evenings!
How deep space becomes as the heart compels.
as I leaned toward you, queen adored by all,
I felt I breathed the perfume of your blood.
How beautiful the suns on balcony evenings!
The night thickened round us like a wall
and my eyes in the dark circled your pupils
and I imbibed your breath, its sweet, its poison,
and your soles slept in my brotherly palms.
The night thickened round us lie a wall.
I know the art of evoking happy moments,
I relive the past nestling at your knees.
Where else to seek your idle drowsy beauties
but in your beloved body, your kind heart?
I know the art of evoking happy moments.
These vows, these perfumes, these infinite kisses,
will they be reborn in a world beyond our reach
like reborn suns returning to the sky
after bathing in the bottom of the sea?
O vows, O perfumes, O infinite kisses!
O fleece, loosened to the neck!
O languid fragrance, ecstasy!
To people tonight our love's
dark alcove with memories
sleeping in your hair
I want to wave it
like soft linen in the air.
Languorous, Asia, burning Africa,
a whole far-off world
absent, almost dead
lives in your depths, aromatic forest.
As other spirits manifest
through music, mine, O my love, swims
in your perfume.
I will go where men
and trees full of sap swoon
slowly in the burning clime.
Dense tresses, be the swell
that bears me off; you contain,
ebony sea, a dazzling dream
of sails, of oarsmen, flames
an echoing port where my soul
great waves of perfume,
colour, sound; where vessels
gliding in gold and silk
open their vast arms
to embrace the splendour
of a pure sky
where eternal heat shimmers.
I will plunge my head
drunk with rapture
into the black ocean where the other
is enclosed, and my subtle mind
which the wave's roll caresses
will know to find you
there, O fertile indolence!
Infinite lullaby of balmy leisure!
Blue hair, tent
of shadows, you bring me the azure
of the sky, round, immense,
on the downy shores
of your plaited locks;
for I grow drunk
on the mingled scents
of coconut oil, tar and musk.
For long, forever,
my hand in your heavy mane
will sow rubies, pearls, sapphires
so that you will never
be deaf to my desire:
for are you not the oasis
where I dream, and the gourd
where I drink my long draughts
of memory's wine?
A HANDFUL OF HAIR
Let me breathe, long, long,
the odour of your hair,
and plunge my whole face there
as you do to slake
your thirst in water from a spring.
Let me take hold and shake it
like a scented handkerchief
to wave memories in the air.
If you could only know all I see,
smell and hear in that hair! My soul
travels on its perfume
as other men’s do on music.
Your hair holds an entire dream,
full of rigging and sails;
it holds vast seas whose storms
carry me away to charming climes
whose space is deeper, bluer
and carried on its air
the scent of fruit and leaves and human skin.
In the ocean of your hair I glimpse
a harbour teeming with sturdy men
from every nation under heaven,
loud with their sad shanties,
and ships of every form,
their outlines, complex, delicate
cutting into a huge sky
where sprawls an everlasting heat.
And in your hair’s caress I feel again
the languor of uncounted hours
passed on a divan
in a fine ship’s cabin, rocked
gently by the harbour,
between the pots of flowers
and earthenware decanters.
In the hearth I breathe
the fragrance, mingled together,
of tobacco, opium and sugar;
in your dark hair’s night
my head spins with the confused
and heady scents of tar,
musk and oil of coconut.
And let me bite at ease your thick back tresses.
every time I feel between my teeth
your hair, elastic, rebellious
it feels as though it’s memories I eat.
THE SOUL OF THE WINE
One evening, the wine’s soul sang from the bottle
'I pour for you, man, dear, disinherited,
from my prison of glass and vermilion wax
a song of light and brotherhood!
I know how on the scorching hill
such sun and sapping toil are needed
to engender my life and give me my soul
but I’ll never be unkind or unheeding
for I feel an immense joy when I fall
down the throat of a man worn by work
and his warm breast is a gentle tomb
more pleasing to me than cold cellar or cork.
Do you hear repeating the Sunday choruses
and the hope bubbling in my pulsing breast?
Your sleeves rolled up, elbows on the table,
you will glorify me in your well-earned rest.
I will light the eyes of your charming wife
and restore to your son his strength and colour
and be to the fragile athlete of life
the oil which revives the muscles of wrestlers.
I will sink into you, a vegetal ambrosia,
precious seed thrown by the eternal Sower
so that from our love will be born poetry
which will leap towards God like a rare flower.'
Under the sheltering yews
the owls stand in a row
alien gods, their eyes flighted
darts. They meditate,
will, motionless, until
that moment, melancholy, still
when, facing down sunset,
their shadows at last settle.
Stock still in that gloom
they mock that lust to roam
that scourges us: tumult
and motion our undoing,
drunk on each passing shade
and its price unpaid.
So heavy a load to lift:
Sisyphus, lend me your heart!
However ardently we shift,
Art is long and Time is short.
Far from celebrated tombs,
near a long-neglected church
my heart like a muffled drum
beats out its funeral march.
Many a gem is sleeping, buried
in the depth of a forgotten shade,
beyond the reach of spade or rod;
beyond the lonely flower’s regret
as its perfume spills, secret, sweet,
through the abyss of solitude.
THE DEATH OF THE POOR
Its death alone that consoles us,
that keeps us keeping on,
it is the aim of life, the sole
hope which like an elixir, lifts
and revives us, holding
us upright until the evening;
through tempest, snow, and frost,
it is that faint vibration,
light on the limit of our black horizon,
the inn of the Samaritan
where we can eat, sleep and sit;
it is an angel in whose magnetic
fingers lie sleep and the ecstatic
gift of dreams; who makes
the bed of the poor and naked;
it is all of these; God’s glory,
the poor man’s purse, the mystic granary,
it is the old country; a gate
opening onto an uncharted sky.
Music often takes me like a sea!
Towards my star pale
under a tent of mist or through vast ether
I must set sail.
Breasting the waves, my lungs filled out
like billowing canvas,
I ride on the backs of walled waves
veiled by the darkness.
I feel shake within me every passion
of a ship in torment:
the fair wind, the storm’s convulsions
above the dark trench
rock me: otherwise calm, flat, giant mirror
of my despair!
Man has been given, to pay his ransom
two fields of deep rich clay,
and must travail to make it pay
with the iron blade of reason.
To bring the least rose to flower
or the least ear of grain, he must
water without stop or rest
with his mingled sweat and tears.
One field is Love, the other Art.
when the final judge appears
on that dreadful day of ire
he will have to stand, faint-hearted,
throw open to the world his granges,
lay his harvest bare, and hope
his flowers’ growth, their tints and shapes
win the approval of the angels
VOYAGE TO CYTHEREA
My heart was light as a bird, hovering free above the sails,
the sky cloudless, the ship rolled on, an angel
in thrall to the radiant sun –
‘But there, grim,
gloomy, what’s that island called?’
‘Oh, that,’ it’s Cytherea,’ they told us.’Yes, the same,
the one they sing about, the old boys. Pretty tame
for an Eldorado, eh?’
Ah, Cytherea, isle
of the heart’s secrets and sweet feasts,
swept by the shade of Venus like a perfume
filling men’s souls with love and languor,
island of flowers in bloom, valleys of myrtle,
revered beyond time by every nation;
like incense through a rose bed, the adoration
in a heart’s sigh, or the long, smooth
cooing of a turtle dove – bleak now,
barren, a desert rock pierced
by stabbing cries – and worse, that horrid
thing I glimpsed!
No long, tree-shaded
temple, where a young priestess aflame
with desire, walks with loose robes
to catch the passing breeze:
no, as our passing sails disturbed
the gulls, we saw a three-pronged gibbet
black against the sky like a grotesque
cypress. Perched on their prey, fierce
birds were disembowelling the corpse
who hung there, their beaks plunging scalpels;
already his eyes were holes,
his belly burst, guts rolled
down his thighs; his balls
had been gobbled up like hideous morsels.
And at his feet, the slavering jaws
of prowling jealous beasts; one couldn’t wait:
the biggest. It leapt, it howled –
the torturer, surrounded by his acolytes.
Ah, you who lived under that lovely sky,
silently you endured those indignities
In expiation of those infamies
for which no grave would take you. Horrid thing,
dangling there, your sufferings are mine!
Watching your swinging limbs, my teeth
were set on edge, my gorge rose, swollen with the bile
of all my former sins.
Seeing you there, poor devil,
your memory dear to me still, I felt again
the beaks, the fangs, the brush
of swooping crows, the snarling breath
of panthers - how they too, loved
to batten on my flesh!
Yes, the sky was charming, the sea like glass,
but not for me – all was twilight or worse,
the blue and green blood-smeared. Alas,
my heart lay in that allegory as in a shroud -
such, Venus, was your island, barren, waste
but for that symbolic gallows and my image -
Dear Lord, give me strength and courage
to view my heart and body without disgust!
Wine can conjure fabulous porticoes
in its red vapour’s gold
like a sun going down in a cloudy sky,
and clothe the filthiest dive in luxury.
Opium magnifies things that have no measure
lengthens even the limitless
and fills the soul until it tips the brim
with dark and dismal pleasures.
Nothing compares with the poison that flows
from your eyes – yes, those green eyes,
lakes where my soul trembles
to see itself reversed; where my dreams
throng to slake their thirst in its bitter depths.
And nothing equals the fearsome bite
of your saliva, that horrid marvel
as it plunges my remorseless soul
down into the dizziness of oblivion
and spins it fainting to the shores of death.
Your gaze as though seen through a mist,
your eyes – are they green, blue or grey? –
by turn tender, vague, cruel, echo
the indolent pale of the sky;
recall mild, dreamy days that melt
into tears those poor bewitched hearts
when, twisted with pain, overwrought
nerves rail at a slumbering spirit;
sometimes like those lovely horizons
sunlit in misty seasons
or a gorgeous damp countryside, rays
firing a cloud-tumbled sky.
Seductive climes, dangerous lover!
Will I worship your pitiless shade
and draw from implacable winter
pleasures sharper than ice or the blade?
You are a fine autumn sky, clear and salmon-pink.
But sadness rises in me like the sea
and leaves, as it withdraws, on my sullen
lip, only the lemon aftertaste of memory.
Your hand glides in vain over my unfeeling breast.
What you seek, my love, is a place laid waste
by the fierce claws and fangs of women; my heart’s
not worth looking for: wild beasts have fed on it.
That heart is a palace ravaged by the mob. They cut,
They tug at fists of hair: they gorge, they kill -
yet such perfume hovers round your naked throat,
Beauty, flayer of souls. If such is your will,
your eyes brilliant as a flare at feasts,
calcify these strips of flesh ignored by beasts.
Soon it will be time for time to drop
into the chilly shadows. Adieu, vivid,
too-brief summer. Already I hear them chopping
winter logs; their thud echoes in the courtyards.
Winter will lodge entire in my innards:
anger, hatred, fever, the horror of forced labour
and like the sun in its northern hell, my heart
will be nothing but a block, frozen, scarlet.
The tumble of each log gives me the shivers;
no hammering on a gallows could be as dull
or terrifying. My mind is like a tower
pounded to collapse by a relentless bull.
Rocked from thud to thud, it seems as though
somewhere not far, a coffin’s being nailed -
for whom? Last night summer, autumn now,
and still that noise resounds, a parting bell.
Gentle beauty, how I love the long, green,
light of your eyes. But all today is bitter
and nothing – love, home, hearth –means
as much as sea and sunlight’s glitter.
Yet love me still, warm heart; be as a mother,
however unworthy I am, however, ungrateful;
whether mistress or sister, be like the ephemeral
glory of autumn, or the sun as it sinks under.
It won’t be for long. The greedy grave awaits.
Ah, rest my head on your knees; let me regret
the white torrid bliss of summer days,
and taste the gentle gold of autumns rays.
They say to me, those eyes of yours like crystal
"You, my strange lover, what do you see in me?"
Be charming, stay quiet! My heart which everything worries
except the candour of a primitive animal
can't bring itself to share its hellish secret
nor its dark legend written in similar flame,
Lady in whose baot I lie, sleep-smitten.
I loathe passion and nauseating wit!
Let us love each other gently. Love, that guerrilla
draws his bow in ambush, darkling, fatal.
I know of old the weapons in his arsenal:
crime, horror, madness! O pale marguerite,
are you not, like me, a faint autumnal
sun: so white, so cold, my marguerite?
LOVE OF FALSEHOOD
The band’s song breaks on the ceiling as you pass,
- Dear idle one! - pausing to look around,
your gaze deep and bored; your pale brow
tinted by gaslight, lovelier for its morbid charm
where evening’s torches light a dawn; your eyes
hypnotic as those on a gallery wall.
I tell myself: ‘How beautiful, how strangely fresh.
Great memory, a weighty tower, crowns her
and her heart bruised like a peach is ripe,
her body ripened for that scholar, love.’
Are you the fruit of autumn, those supreme tastes?
A funeral urn awaiting mourners’ tears?
A scent that wakens dreams of far oases,
softness of pillows or a bed of flowers?
I know of melancholy eyes that keep no secrets,
caskets with no jewels, rummaged lockets
emptier and more profound than even skies.
But isn’t it enough for you to be a front,
to give joy to a bruised heart fleeing truth:
what matter your dimness, your indifference?
Hail, mask or gilding: I adore your beauty.
Do you know the anguish, Angel of gaiety,
the shame, remorse, the stifled sobs, the worries,
the formless terrors of those frightful nights
when the heart's clutched like a paper crumpled tight?
Do you know the anguish, Angel of gaiety?
Do you know the hate, Angel of bounty,
the wormwood tears, fists clenched in the shadows
when Vengeance beats its infernal tattoo
that makes him master of our faculties?
Do you know the hate, Angel of bounty?
Angel of health, do you know those fevers
making their way by dingy workhouse walls
like worn-out exiles dragging their feet, forever
seeking a hidden sun, their lips like gall?
Angel of health, do you know those fevers?
Angel of beauty, do you know those wrinkles,
the fear of ageing, the hideous revelation
of reading the secret horror of devotion
in those eyes where for years our own eyes drank?
Angel of beauty, do you know those wrinkles?
Angel of joy, of happiness and radiance,
a dying David would have been restored
merely by your enchanted body's fragrance.
But Angel, all I ask of you is a prayer.
Angel of joy, of happiness and radiance!
Once, just that once, lovable, gentle woman
you placed your arm in mine.
In the dark recesses of my soul
I have that memory still:
the hour was late, the moon full,
burnished like a newly-minted medal,
and the solemnity of night
flowed like a river while Paris slept
and with their ears pricked back, cats crept
along the houses, under the wide gates
or slowly kept us company
like easy-going shadows.
Suddenly, in the middle of that intimacy
born out of trust in the dim light,
from you of all people, there escaped
- yes you, whose voice is an instrument
rich, cheerful, ever radiant;
from you, bright as a row of trumpets
glittering at their dawn fanfare
there came a strange, plaintive cry,
a faltering note, almost bizarre
like a sickly, horrid sullen child, a secret
shame to his family, who for years
will rear him on his own in a cellar
out of sight of the world - your strident note,
poor Angel: ‘Nothing on earth is certain;
only that however hard we try
to cover it up, the vanity
of human nature will betray itself;
that it’s so hard, being a beautiful woman
no more than being a mad, cold dancing girl
whirling with that false unchanging smile
until she crumples and is carried off;
that anything built on the heart is sure to collapse
for everything cracks, even love and beauty
until Oblivion wheels them off and tips them
into the rubble of eternity.’
How many times since have I recalled it:
enchanting moon, long languor, silence,
and whispered in the heart’s confessional
that dreadful confidence.
WHAT WILL YOU SAY
What will you say tonight, poor solitary soul
and you my heart, until this moment withered,
to her who is most dear, good, beautiful,
whose divine look has suddenly made me flower?
Our power shall all be set to sing her praises:
nothing approaches the sweetness of her authority;
her flesh, not of this world, is angelic, fragrant,
her gaze clothes us in a robe of clarity.
Whether alone and in the heart of night
or borne along at rush-hour in the street,
her image always hovers like a beacon
saying “I, your Muse, your Madonna, your Guardian,
am beautiful: for love of my love, you
must pledge to love only what is so.”
Now come the days when, shimmering on its stalk,
each flower’s perfume wafts as from a censer;
the sounds and scents spiral on evening air,
a languorous, melancholic, giddy waltz.
Each flower’s perfume wafts as from a censer;
like an afflicted heart the violin halts;
languorous, melancholic, giddy waltz!
The sky is sad and lovely as an altar.
Like an afflicted heart the violin halts,
a tender heart that hates the vast black void.
The sky is sad and lovely as an altar,
the sun has drowned in its congealing blood.
A tender heart that hates the vast black void,
gathers from its past each bright remembrance.
The sun has drowned in its congealing blood:
your memory gleaming in me like a monstrance.
You asked where it comes from,
my strange sadness, welling like the sea
on a bare, black rock?
My heart is harvested, every grape
is plucked, what good is left?
This is a sorrow known to all
and like your joy, a thing none can conceal.
O my curious beauty, ask no more, keep silent
the childlike laughter always on your lips
for even more than life, death
has us in its grip;
leave my heart then to drink deep
of a lie, to lose itself in your eyes
as in a perfect dram; to sleep
without end in your lashes’ shade.
MAN AND THE SEA
Free man, you will always cherish the sea.
It is your mirror, you contemplate your soul
in the waves’ unending roll,
and your mind’s a gulf no less bitter.
You plunge into the core of your own image,
you clasp it in your arms and eyes; sometimes
your heart forgets its own distracted rhythm
in that other howl, indomitable, savage.
Both of you are secretive and gloomy:
Man, no one plumbs the depth of your abyss
while none have combed the seas’ secreted riches.
You both embrace a self-honed intimacy.
And yet you have for centuries unnumbered
warred each on each without a pause for breath,
so deep your love of carnage, wreck and death,
eternal wrestlers, implacable brothers!
I will strike you without anger
and without hate, like a butcher,
as Moses did the rock!
And I will make from your eyelids
to water my Sahara
call forth the waters of the suffering.
My desire swollen with hope
will swim in your salted tears
as a ship setting out to sea
and in my heart which they make race
your dear sobs will thump
like a drum beating the charge!
Am I not a mere discord
in the divine symphony
thanks to that voracious irony
which shakes and tears me apart?
She is in my voice, that serpent,
her black venom is now my blood;
I am the evil mirror
in which the shrew regards herself.
I am the wound and the knife
the blow struck and the cheek!
The rack and the stretched limbs,
the torturer and victim.
I am the vampire of my heart
one of the wholly abandoned
condemned to eternal laughter
but can never smile again!
THE FORMER LIFE
I lived long among vast porticoes
where a thousand suns blazed across the sea
and whose great pillars, tall, stately,
in the evenings gleamed like basalt grottoes.
The bay, a rolling image of the skies
interwove solemnly, mysteriously
their powerful, overwhelming harmonies
with sunset’s colours mirrored in my eyes.
There I dwelt in a voluptuous calm
surrounded by the blue, those waves and splendours
and naked slaves, skins perfumed with musk
who gathered round me, waving fresh-cut palms
to cool my burning brow, their only task
to feed the secret grief which fed my languor.
MISTS AND RAINS
End of autumns, winters, springs clothed in mud,
sleepy seasons! I love and laud
you for clothing alike heart and brain
in a cloudy grave, a misty shroud.
On this wide plain where cold winds play
and the weather-cock shrieks until first grey,
my soul, more at ease than in renewal days,
will stretch its wings wide as a raven.
Sallow seasons, queens of our dull climes, depression,
my heart of gloomy thought holds nothing dearer,
my heart on which hoar frosts have long fallen clear,
than your unchanging shade’s expression:
unless to lie in twos on moonless nights
trusting our sadness’ sleep as to a dice.
So splendid space, so wide!
Bareback let us ride
like a thoroughbred this wine
through fairy skies divine!
Like two angels tortured
by an implacable sea fever
we’ll chase the mirage settled
on morning’s blue crystal!
on a wise whirlwind’s wing
in a twin delirium
side by side we’ll float,
Sister, without respite,
to the Eden of my dreams!
THE LONELY MAN’S WINE
The singular look in a wanton face
as she glides towards you like a white ray
which the undulant moon casts on a trembling lake
where she wants to bathe her nonchalant beauty;
the last bag of coins in a gambler’s hand
a warm sloppy kiss from thin Adeline
the sounds of a music weakening and wild
like the far-off cry of a human in pain:
none of these equals, O bottle profound
the mind-piercing balms that your fertile deep
keeps for the poet’s pious wilting heart.
For him you pour hope, youth and life
- and pride, the treasure of the down and out
which sets him triumphant, one with the gods!
I have more memories than if I’d lived a thousand years.
A great chest of drawers packed with accounts,
with verses, love-letters, ballads, writs,
thick plaits of hair rolled up in receipts
has fewer secrets than my unhappy brain.
It is a pyramid, an immense vault
more full of corpses than a common pit.
I am cemetery the moon abhors,
where long worms, crawling like remorse,
forever batten on the dead I love;
an old boudoir filled with withered roses,
old-fashioned dresses scattered here and there
with only plaintive pastels and faded Bouchers
to breathe the odour of an opened flask of scent.
Nothing could be as dead as limping days
when, weighed down by the flakes of snowed-in years,
boredom, indifference’s sullen fruit
assumes proportions of immortality.
Living matter, from this day you are
no more than granite shrouded in vague terror,
sunk in the misty depth of a Sahara,
an old Sphinx the careless world ignores,
forgotten on the map, whose fierce humour it is
to sing only in the declining sun.
When the sky, low and heavy, weighs like a coffin
ion the mind groaning under cares long-felt,
and when, coiled round the ring of the horizon
it pours dark day sadder than any night;
and the earth changed into a dank and dripping cell,
where Hope, black and bat-like, scrapes its wing,
making its nervous way along the walls
and knocks its head against the rotten ceiling;
when the rain, extending its huge fingers
imitates the bars of an enormous jail,
and a horde of disgusting noiseless spiders
begin to weave their webs inside our skulls,
suddenly the bells too, start to sing
and hurl towards the sky an angry howl,
for all the world as lost souls, wandering
will break into their own, relentless wail;
and long hearses, without drums or music,
proceed slowly through my soul, with Hope
tearful, defeated now; and round my neck
the tyrant Anguish sets his jet-black cape.
LONGING FOR NOTHINGNESS
Downcast mind who once so loved the tilt,
Hope, whose spur used stir your ardent flame,
no longer wants to mount you. Rest unashamed,
old steed whose stride at every trial wilts.
Resign, my heart, to the slumber of the brute!
And farewell songs of brass, sighs of the flute!
Defeated, worn-out mind, you held the fort,
now love’s no more enticing than dispute.
No point, Pleasure, in tempting this sombre heart.
Adorable Spring, your scent’s vanished forever!
And time swallows me deeper by the hour,
as an immense snow a body’s stiffening figure;
from on high, I see the globe in all its grandeur,
but no longer do I seek a hut for shelter.
Avalanche, in your mercy take me under!
My thoughts are of you, Andromache. That little stream,
that mirror, sad, pathetic, once resplendent
with the immense majesty of your widow’s grief,
that lying river-god that grew from your tears,
has suddenly enriched my fertile memory,
as I crossed the new Carrousel.
Old Paris is no more – a town’s outline, sad to say,
changes, more quickly than a human heart.
Only in my mind’s eye can I see that camp of shacks,
those piles of rough-hewn pillar-tops, the weeds,
great blocks of stone greened by pools of rain,
the jumble of bric-a brac gleaming in the shop-fronts.
A menagerie lay just here. I saw it there, one morning,
at the hour when Toil awakes beneath the clear, chill sky,
when the road-men send their dark uproar into the silent air,
I saw a Swan who had just escaped its cage.
rubbing the parched earth with his webbed feet,
his white plumes trailed along the raw ground.
Beside a dried-up gutter the creature, open-beaked,
was frantically bathing his wings in the dust,
his heart yearning for the lake where he was born,
he cried out: ‘When will you rain down, water?
O lightning, when will you rage?’
I still see that unhappy bird,
a strange and fatal myth sometimes like
that Man of Ovid lifting his eager head
on his writhing neck, towards the sky with its
ironic, cruel blue, as though reproaching God.
Paris is changing, but nothing in my melancholy
has moved. These new palaces scaffoldings, building blocks,
old suburbs, everything for me is now an allegory,
and my memories are heavier than rocks.
And so, as I approach the Louvre, a vision
seizes me: I think of my great Swan
with his frenzied gestures, ridiculous and sublime
like every exile, gnawed by an unremitting desire:
and then of you, Andromache, fallen from the arms
of a legendary spouse, become an object
in the hands of mastering Pyrrhus;
sad widow of Hector, then wife of Helenus!
I see the thin, consumptive African
trudging through the mud, her haggard eyes
peering in vain through the huge wall of fog
for the absent palm trees of her noble home.
And I think too of all those who have lost
what they can never hope to find again; of those
who quench their thirst with tears, and suck
the breast of Sorrow like a good mother-wolf.
and the under-fed orphans withering like flowers.
Thus, in the forest of my mind’s exile,
an old memory finds its horn: I recall sailors
forgotten on a desert isle, and those
who are captive or defeated... and of many another!
That vague, distant image - this terrifying
place, the like of which no mortal
eye has seen - enchanted me again this morning.
Sleep is full of miracles!
By a singular caprice I banished
all that was strange and natural
from these scenes, and like a painter
proud of his gift, I took pleasure
in what I’d made: the intoxicating monotony
of metal, marble, water.
A babel of stairways and long halls,
an endless palace filled
with fountains and falls that flowed,
it seemed, into rough or polished gold,
and ponderous cataracts hung like crystal
drapes, dazzling, a wall of metal.
The sleeping pools were ringed,
not with trees but colonnades
where gigantic naiads
admired themselves reflected,
as women do.
Sheets of water stretched out, blue,
between red and green shores,
a million miles or more,
towards the edges of the universe.
Unimagined stones were there,
and magic waves;
and enormous mirrors – what they showed
dazzled even themselves;
and in the sky, a silent, careless
Ganges tipped out their treasures
into a diamond abyss.
And I, the architect of it all
made at a whim an ocean pass
through a gem-encrusted tunnel
and all, even the colour black was burnished,
clear, iridescent; in the water
glory was embedded like a jewel
in light it crystallised.
And furthermore, no star, no sun
hanging low, lit up these wonders;
their fire was their own. Moreover,
dreadful novelty – beauty for the eye
only, nothing for the ear - there hovered
over all the silence of eternity.
And then, as full of flames,
my eyes opened; I beheld
as though for the first time
the horror of my circumstance
and felt like a hook the curse
of care digging again into my soul;
noon struck with a funeral toll
and the sky tipped its dense
twilight on the mournful, sluggish world.
Great woods, you appal me like cathedrals.
Your organs roar and in your hearts full of curses
chambers of everlasting mourning where old death rattles
echo resounding like your De Profundis.
I hate you, Ocean! Your wave-walls and tumults
pound in my mind, your bitter laughter
as of a down-and-out, his sobs and insults
I hear in the laugh of sharp, unmeasured water.
How I would love you, night, without those stars
whose light speaks a warm familiar tongue
since I must seek the empty dark, the numb.
But the half-lights are themselves a canvas tarred
where’s spattered, one by one, a million-haze
of long-dead beings on whom I’m doomed to gaze.
From what sky, bizarre and livid,
tormented as your destiny,
what thoughts alight in your empty
soul? Libertine, reply!
for the obscure and uncertain
I won’t whine like Ovid
expelled from Augustus’ Eden.
Skies split apart like coasts,
in you I see my pride;
your vast clouds, widow’s weeds
are my dreams tightly hearsed,
your gleams the mirrored art
of the hell that warms my heart.
THE ALCHEMY OF PAIN
One man illuminates you with his ardour,
for another you’re his mourning, Nature;
and while one can only whisper ‘Sepulchre’
another says No! Life and Splendour!’
You, unknown Hermes who aids me
and yet always intimidates me,
you raise me level with Midas,
saddest of all the alchemists;
through you I make iron from gold,
hell from Paradise,
in the winding-sheet of the sky
I find dead loves of old
and in celestial rises
I built huge sarcophagi.
Look at them, my soul. How truly frightful,
mannequin-like, vaguely ridiculous
yet with the terrifying way of sleepwalkers
their eyes dart here and there, forever sightless
from which the last of the divine spark has fled.
But see. Although they stare into the distance
it’s always skyward; never do their heads
bow or droop wearily toward the pavement.
So they pass on endlessly through dark,
that brother of eternal silence. City,
while you sing and bellow laughter round us,
pleasure-bent even to atrocity
I drag along too, but more bemused than they.
What are those blind men seeking in the sky?
A sinister, inscrutable god,
this clock, whose terrifying finger
threatens us – Remember! Pain will all too soon
find the bullseye of your quaking heart!
Pleasure will vanish like a distant cloud,
an ingénue disappearing in the wings.
Each moment eats into that portion
of delight allotted to your season;
three thousand six hundred times an hour
the second hand whispers ‘Remember!’
With its quick, insect voice, the Present says
‘Already I’m your past, have drained
your life with my hateful suckers! Souviens-toi,
remember, wastrel! Esto memor!
(My metal throat speaks every tongue.)
The minutes, boy, are seams you can’t abandon
before extracting all their gold. Remember, Time
is a grasping gambler, never cheating,
never losing on a spin: c’est la loi!
Day thins, Night fattens, don’t forget;
the pit drinks all, the well runs dry,
soon comes the hour when divine Chance
or august Virtue, that spouse you haven’t touched,
or that last chance saloon, Repentance,
everything, in fact, will say
‘Die, old weakling, you’ve had your day!’
Under a bled-out light
runs, dances, pirouettes
Life, shameless, in your face.
And when on the horizon
voluptuous night appears
appeasing even hunger
effacing even shame
the poet cries “At last!
My spirit like my spine
is crying out for rest:
heart of funereal dreams
I shall lie here supine
and roll among your drapes
refreshed by dying day!”
When I was a youngster
my cot backed onto a Babel,
the book-case where everything was jumbled,
novels, fables, all the dust since Homer.
I heard two voices
then; the first, firm, insidious,
“The earth is a cake bursting with sweetness,
you can have as huge an appetite,
pleasure as endless.”
The other “Come, oh, come,
no voyage can compare with that in dreams,
beyond the possible, the known:”
And that voice was the wind
from distant shore to shore,
a keening phantom from who knows where.
And I said “Yes.” From then,
my wound, my catastrophe.
For behind the curtain
of immense existences I see
strange, entrancing worlds, and trapped
by my vision’s clarity, I walk where snakes snap
at my feet. So like the prophets
I’m drawn to desert and sea,
I laugh at others’ grief
and cry at feasts;
nothing is smoother than bitterest lees,
truth and lies
are one; and looking at the sky
I stumble, never learning, into holes.
But still the Voice consoles,
saying “Guard your dreams,
none so beautiful can be had
by the wise as by the mad!”
A PAGAN’S PRAYER
Don’t hold back your flame;
warm my numbed heart once more,
Voluptuousness, tormentor of souls!
Lady, hear my prayer:
Goddess, spread throughout the air,
lamplight in our Hades,
grant a downcast sinner’s prayer
who offers you a song of bronze,
Voluptuousness, my queen always!
Assume the flesh and velvet mask
the Siren wears, or give me rest
heavy as that formless, mystic
wine poured out at end of day,
Voluptuousness, elastic ghost!
A furious angel drops from the sky like an eagle
wraps his hand round a fistful of the miscreant’s hair
and shaking him, shouts, ‘You know the rule.
I’m your angel. What I say goes. It that clear?
Know this – you must love, with a straight face,
the poor, the thick, the twisted, the criminally nasty,
so as to make for Jesus, when he passes,
a triumphal carpet with your charity.
Such is Love. Before your heart turns dry,
rekindle it in God’s glorious ecstasy,
the true Voluptuousness whose charm endures!
And the good angel, chastising like a lover,
berates him with his fists over and over.
But the damned keeps on answering ‘Kiss my arse!’
Wait patiently, my sorrow, and be still.
You longed for evening; here it comes, it falls,
its darkling air enveloping the city.
To some men it brings peace; to others, worry.
While the common herd of mortals, lashed by pleasure
- Pleasure, that remorseless torturer -
store up their own remorse in slavish orgies,
Sorrow, give me your hand along this pathway.
Dead years in faded robes are leaning, bent
over heaven's balcony, and from the depths
rises the smiling fountain of regret;
the sleepy sun dies underneath an arch
and like a long veil from the Orient -
listen, my love, to gentle night's approach.
Pascal had his pit which followed him about.
Alas, all is abyss – action, desire, dream,
words! and on my skin whose hair stands on end,
time after time, fear passes like a wind.
High, low, all round nothing but depth and desert,
silence, space, horrible and hypnotising;
In the depth of my nights God with artist’s hands
draws a nightmare teeming without respite.
I fear sleep as I do a vast abyss
brimful of vague horror leading who knows where.
From every window I see mere infinfity.
And my mind, ripped by eternal vertigo
envies the insensibility of nothing.
Is there no escape from escape Numbers or from Beings?
Lovers of whores are happy, sated and content,
as for me, my arms are racked in the embrace of clouds,
the nonpareil stars in the skies’ remotest trench
have made my scorched eyes memories of suns.
Space, its end, its centre a vanity,
my soaring body carried like a wish;
now under an unknown eyes of fire,
I feel the molten drip, drip of my wing
and burnt by love of beauty I give sublime
to this abyss my tomb, my wax, my name.
Friday the thirteenth, auspicious date!
The midnight clock ironically
asks what use we made
of this all-but vanished day
and how can we reply
but that against our better
judgement, what we did
was little less than heresy;
that we blasphemed Jesus
that most incontestable
of gods; that, licking up to Croesus
like parasites feasting at his table
in a frenzy to please that brute
or his like, most fit for hell
we insulted what we love
praised all that was despicable
and like vile, craven bullies
we stood in line to kick
the weak man unjustly despised
paid homage in turn to thick-
browed Stupidity; embraced
dense Matter – kissed with great devotion,
and blessed the sweetly-sick
light of putrefaction.
And finally, to drown
our light-headedness in delirium
we, proud priest of that Lyre
whose glory is to have shown
in all sad things, their rapture
drank without thirst, ate without hunger...
Quick, blow out the lamp,
let merciful darkness swallow us up!