To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Aimé Césaire: From Ferrements, “Tombeau de Paul Eluard” (1960)

Translation from French by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman

Blazon of blows on the shattered body of dreams
                         first snowy morning
very amorphous when all lights out
the landscapes collapse
onto the most distant sandbanks
the sirens of lightships have been sounding two nights
                          Paul ELUARD has died

you who were the lay of innocence
who returned science to its origins
standard of the fragile seed stronger
than chance in the struggle of the wind
neither can you lie in
nor have access to earth purer
than these eyelids
                            than these simple people
                            than these tears
in which pushing aside the finest grass of the fog
you stroll quite clear
joining hands
connecting paths
challenging the purple word of the shipwreckers of dawn
perched on the sun

It is however much too gripping to hear you
winding up the great rose window of time
we have never seen you so sharply and so near
as in this effervescence
of the bread of snow that raises when its time has come
in the smoldering utmost depth of the compost of the storm
an abyss of silex
cavalier of men’s eyes for whom gleams
veracious the water hole for grazing on the mirage
gentle severe incorruptible tough
when by degrees you prepared to dismount
to confound by surprise
the death of the impossible and the deed of spring

Captain of the goodness of bread
he passed beneath the skies fighting
with his voice scourged by the inflexible flower of the midday flail

and his step converting into bread
the highlands of the future
with a trembling of monsters vomited through the nostrils insisting that in
left auricle of
each prisoner blaze up
as a single heart
all the dead wood in the world and the singing forest

under your eyelids you never make night having
in order the better to see night and day
thrown into the cross-fire of the cobblestone’s swirls
the false fire driven away by the consecration of gems

Surveyor measurer of the wider horizon
lookout beneath a fire’s cellars beneath blowholes
on grey seas greeter of the most subtle flakes

o time thanks to your opulent tongue
at this hour the water shines man like water in the meadows shall shine
behold him toward him whistles the docility of a leafy

Look basilisk

the breaker of gazes today gazes at you
whom an impure evening of ice floes warmed in its fingers like the secret of summer

                what root surprise
                will embrace you this evening
                or the torrent
                                                are you possibly already descending
                 the other  face of the divide
in vain a deafness thickens the non-miraculous vigil
from its pierced eyes the rukh lets loose its birds

o capricorn pack
the words their pulse beat are known to be fabulous
suckled outside of time by an aviary hand the fallen words
gathered the seasons folded rounded like carriage gates
seasons for him wide open


to preserve your body
no climber of rituals
on the jade of your own words may you be laid down in simplicity

conjured by the warmth of triumphant life
in compliance with the operculated mouth of your silence
and the lofty amnesty of seashells

note. This translation is from The Complete Poetry of Aimé Césaire, translated by Arnold and Eshleman, to be published in 2017 by Wesleyan University Press.

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