Ils éclosent à l’aube. Je les refoule
A l’abri de ma paupière, essaim labile
Une forme presque aussitôt disparaît
Parmi d’autres noires et rayées
Dans un puits au pied d’un immeuble
Une jette par la fenêtre un seau
Et des larmes roulent sur la chaussée
Une est penchée gravement vers la voix
Inaudible d’un gramophone à manivelle
Une autre relève un voile de cheveux
Et façonne comme un nid sur sa nuque
Avant d’entamer le rituel du jour
Déesse de la vie, vestale bien-aimée!
Sous les flèches du soleil je la
Fixe, la cloue au centre de ma soif
Emigrée d’une histoire sans paroles
Elle va peut-être ouvrir enfin la bouche
Me conter son voyage à vingt mille lieues
Sous ma mémoire, au pire
Me donner rendez-vous à un prochain épisode
Elle secoue la tête. Il y a dans la mienne
Trop de nuages, de neige, d’ornières, de vent
Translations of this Poem
Translator: Marilyn Hacker
They hatch at dawn. I push them back
Into my eyelid’s shelter, mutable swarm
One shape almost instantly disappears
Among others, black ones and striped ones,
In a well near a building’s foundation
One empties a bucket out the window
And tears roll out onto the road
One is gravely bent toward the inaudible
Voice of a hand-cranked phonograph
Another lifts her veil of hair
And twists it in a bird’s nest at her nape
Before beginning the day’s ritual
Goddess of life, beloved vestal!
Beneath the arrows of the sun, I
Fix her, nail her to the center of my thirst
Emigrant of a wordless history
Who will, perhaps, open her mouth at last
To tell me of her voyage, twenty thousand leagues
Under my memory; at least
Make an appointment for the next installment
She shakes her head. There are, in mine,
Too many clouds, snowbanks, routines, winds
About this poem
Two poets from France and one from America read at the Scottish Poetry Library’s Edinburgh International Festival event on 14 August 2001.
Claire Malroux was born in Albi, and now divides her time between Paris and Cabourg. Her most recent collection is Suspens (Paris, 2001), from which she read several poems at the Scottish Poetry Library event, ‘How to translate a poem’, held at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It was fascinating to hear how different these were from the earliest work in Edge, her selected poems in a bilingual edition, translated by Marilyn Hacker. The process of being a translator herself – notably of Emily Dickinson, Derek Walcott and Douglas Dunn – has definitely influenced not only the style but also the choice of material of her poems. We heard excerpts from her long, autobiographical poem Soleil de Jadis (1998), in the translations by Marilyn Hacker, at the Library reading. Her translator has emphasised how innovative this lyric narrative is in contemporary French poetry; a poem primarily about memory, but with the backbone of the terrible events of 1936-45: ‘the story of a child’s plunge, half-willing and half-resisting, into the abyss of history’.
Just as Claire Malroux is immersed in Anglophone poetry and prose – her current project is translating Wallace Steven’s Ideas of Order – so Marilyn Hacker is becoming more and more at home in France. She read from her new collection, Squares and Courtyards, with its vivid evocation of lives and locations in Paris and New York, of resilience and endurance despite the toll of illness and of history.
Jérôme Game, currently completeing a PhD at Cambridge University, read from published and unpublished work; the occasional English phrase floated into his spare French, marked by spaces and pauses. He is also a translator, his Dix Poètes de langue anglaise: une anthologie pour aujourd’hui appearing in 2001.
The excellent reading took place on an unusually sunlit afternoon, with music from the cellist Su-a Lee and violinist Lise Aferiat.