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David Gascoyne : sélection de traductions

1er mai 2008

par David Gascoyne

A SELECTION OF DAVID GASCOYNE’S TRANSLATIONS OF POEMS BY PIERRE JEAN JOUVE

FromDespair Has Wings, edited with an introductory essay by Roger Scott (London : Enitharmon Press, 2007)

David Gascoyne’s engagement with the work of his friend Pierre Jean Jouve lasted a lifetime. In Paris in 1937, at a time when he was searching for a new poetic language, Gascoyne found a copy of Jouve’s Poèmes de la folie de Hölderlin and went on to read all his published novels and poetry collections. In 1938 he was introduced to Jouve whose influence would be crucial to the development of his own poetry and personal philosophy. Gascoyne had begun translating Jouve’s poems at the end of the 1930s when Blanche Reverchon-Jouve, a Freudian psychiatrist, became his analyst.

Roger Scott

***

SECTION 1
Previously published translations

From SUEUR DE SANG (1933 ; 1934)

Val Etrange

Gravida/Gravida

The rocky path is sown with sombre cries
Archangels keeping guard over the gorges’ weight
The naked stones beneath the twilight waves
Are emerald green with foam and blood.

How beautiful ! in illustration the sad mountainside
Sings of the death but not of the warm sex of night
Which trembles as it passes endlessly away
Towards that awesome place where I have always longed to live.

There, wall and bitter frontier, smell of wood,
Of tears and manure
And the touching son trembles once more to see
How hard is what was tender when he saw it in the womb.

First published in New Road 4 (1946).

***

From MATIERE CELESTE (1937)

Hélène

Woman and Earth/La Femme et la Terre
Was stronger than the light this heart which beat in her,
Her blood to the moon’s influence more open lay
Than lifeblood shed ; her night was denser and more hirsute than
The Night, and just as sparkling and as hard –
More sex than soul a star more than a sex
Temple with tresses drifting from the dome

Are sleeping now that other granite, roses overblown
That pass away and vanish in the light’s pure lake –
Old weakness felt no more, all distance done away :
O lofty lofty lands and alien azure sky
Weigh down on her who now is no more known
As bosom or as spasm or as hot tears spilt in Time :
Who underneath the ground has turned right round
To face another, a more ashen sun.

First published in Kingdom Come, Vol. 3, No. 9 (November-December 1941), then in New Directions 7 (USA 1942), and in David Gascoyne’s Poems 1937-42 (1943).

***


From MATIERE CELESTE

Matière céleste

Brow/Front
The sun’s come back upon the window-panes
The birds make song
And Hope invades the window-panes
Of golden-fired insurgent Morn.
Revolutions make dank mansions shake
While in the gracious light the Heroes march
And down across the blue roofs the bared heads
Of families of remorseless tyrants fall –

When Man bound to his evil fate
Is dead
Struck down by the myriad blows that he so well deserved
Behold his brow take form in the calm blue on high !

First published in New Directions 7 (USA 1942), then in Poems 1937-42 (1943).

***

From MATIERE CELESTE

Nada

Nada/Les gloires les plus belles

The most beautiful most naked and most tragic splendours
The oppositions between suns and darknesses
In night’s forever black protective space
The deepest ecstasy in unknown arms

All things that are no more
And yet are born in agony at dawn
See thee and lift thee up ineffable uproar
Innumerable flaming fireless sex of stars

Love’s flame too flaming and too crucified
Upon the intimate blackness of our eyes
Desert of love
Organ of God.

First published in Delta, 3me année, No. 1 (Easter 1939), then in New Directions 7 (USA 1942), and in Poems 1937-42 (1943).

***

From MATIERE CELESTE

Nada

The Desires of the Flesh are a Desire for Death/
Le désir de la chair est désir de la mort

The desires of the flesh are a desire for death
And the desire for flight is earthly, of the earth
The love of gold is the great cities’ excrement
Desires of youth are all a greed for graves

As hard some hungers are as a woman’s nakedness
I make love on the daily bed I lie in pain
Drowsy with light the pearls of morn lie strewn
Along death’s green-marged shore

O, it was not in vain that Christ’s sweet saints
Did with the devil wage long bitter war
Nor is it all in vain that Christ’s and the devil’s breasts
Are made to seem one and the same in this deep night

O take account but of the tears’ weight, not
For their own sake, but for the voids they leave behind
And sliding in black vertigo down the sheer sides of this
Obliterated world : draw nigh, draw nigh unto the One.

First published in New Road 4 (1946).

***

From MATIERE CELESTE

Hélène

A Lone Woman Asleep/Une seule femme endormie

When there came days sunk deep in damp your beauty seemed
increased
And ever warmer grew your glow when rain fell in despair
And when days came that were like deserts you
Grew moister than the trees in the aquarium of time
And when the ugly anger of the world raged in our hearts
And sadness lisped exhausted through the leaves
You became as sweet as death
Sweet as teeth in the ivory skull-box of the dead
And pure as the skein of blood
Your laughter made to trickle down from your soul’s parted lips
When there come days deep-sunk and damp the world grows still
more dark
When days like deserts come, the heart is drenched with tears.

First published in New Road 4 (1946).

***

From MATIERE CELESTE

Hélène

In Helen’s Land/La-bas depot tombé du ciel

Like some deposit dropped from a mystic sky
Yonder intones an organ hewn of rock : which leaning, pores
Over the rain’s grey shadow as though over its own thought ;
But what is in its heart ? There Helen lies.

This is the shattered rock of Helen’s majesty and state
Which rules over that uterine deep land
Wherein her milkwhite flesh had life ; and where
She met her death, in splendour, sick with love, adorned with
flowers,

Where naked forests trembled at her breath.

First published in David Gascoyne’s Selected Poems (London : Enitharmon Press, 1994).

***

From KYRIE

Transpierce me Lord with my own Grief/
Pénètre-moi Seigneur de ma propre douleur

Transpierce me Lord with my own grief
Give work to the machinery of my tears
Remove from me my last repose
And drive me from my knowledge, Pitiless One

Soul ! filled with music O surround
My ugliness unceasingly like an erotic shade
Giving direction to my pains

O pensive Soul of God
Silent when I cried out in hunger or joy
Most beautiful (and to be dealer to me of my death)

Suave eucharist
To be devoured by my mouth’s bloodless lips
Thou knowest how in blindness I pray unto thee
O wounded side death can no more corrupt

The deeper sin, the more truthful the light
And higher like a flag on high
Torn but resplendent from its black
Worn backward-leaning flagstaff knowledge flies

First published in New Road 4 (1946).

***

From KYRIE (1938)

Les Quatre Cavaliers

The Two Witnesses/Les Deux Témoins

Have pity, O harsh Lamb upon these last two
Witnesses who shall in scarlet cloak be slain and have no tomb
And take O Liberty into thy charge their red remains
For these are the two holy candle-bearers of the Lord
For they have been given power to shut the sky
For their mouths’ fire has quite consumed the unjust man
For they have turned the waters into blood
But at last the Beast of the abyss
Has been sent power to deliver them
Has made war and has killed them and all their deeds has undone.

First published in New Directions 7 (USA 1942), then in Poems 1937-42 (1943).

***

From KYRIE

From Nul N’En Etait Témoin/Austère nudité de l’érotique Hélène

Austere nudity of the erotic Helen
Thou my prayer in stone and wind
Smile and insult through the rending veil
Woman too greatly beautiful beyond the passing years
Mourning memory green grass.

First published in New Road 4 (1946).

***

From KYRIE

Insula Monti Majoris/Ces roches qu’elles étaient tenders sur les marais

How tender were the rocks upon the marsh
How hard the rocks were in the rock

How the birds climbed in the eternal sky
How the winds swung to and fro
The summer earth’s black essences

How violently those suns beat down upon the plague
How frightened were those hearts
To be deprived of woman’s sex
How deeply slept the shadows in the shadow of the stones

How holy was the terror of the day
Around the sounding stone
Their stony modulation was without fault
They sang

How sepulchral and giant was their soul
That God had pierced with a wound greater than the soul !
How far had they gone out from woman’s womb
And how the odour became sweet out of their tombs !

How black were those white men against the fine day’s light
Sleeping yet never asleep
For the Master was in agony always
Until the end of time beneath the glowing sky.

First published in Folios of New Writing (Spring 1940), then in New Directions 7 (USA 1942).

***

From DEFENCE ET ILLUSTRATION (1943)

Freedom or Death/La Liberté ou la mort

I see it once again, in rather a sombre, a windless corner, tight-
stretched and unwrinkled by any fold. The stuff it was made of was
softest silk, which seemed to make a profound, suave, unsounding
music ; consisting of three cruelly torn pieces, each seeming enlarged
by the (two) others.
That which first made my heart stand still was the crimson piece ;
not crimson though, no, rose-red, as of a rose with crushed and dried
up petals ; yet rose-blossom red, did I say ? not so ; but in a sort of
anguish verging on lilac, of a graver tone, that exquisite tone that the
assassinated victim’s blood has acquired at last, the blood of Marat.

First published in Selected Verse Translations (London : Enitharmon Press, 1996), edited by Alan Clodd & Robin Skelton, with an introductory essay by Roger Scott. From Add. MS56045 in the British Library Manuscripts Department.

***

From LA VIERGE DE PARIS (1946)

Résurrection des morts

The Resurrection of the Dead/Le sang humain, l’espoir, le souvenir humain

Man’s blood, and hope, and human memory
From the black-tinged ingredients of space
That Daniel’s lion-den beneath the smouldering eye
The blue hole of the heavenly throne

The great skies have been raised up like high walls
The black of cracks is outlined by the bluish sheen of steel
The millions of the judgment called, like planets all too pale
With memories of underneath the earth, go flying past

And the harlot seated high upon the waters, and
Downfallen, the great death poured from the cups
And I have seen what blows the heavenly host endures
And the white giant who has a dagger in his mouth

I’ve seen the only liberty there is vanquished by death
Beneath the swaddling-linen of the sky
Bathed in the black blood of the cups and wounds
When the great harlot of the waters had burst into flame

I was a man ; O now illumine my remains !
And grant me pardon if I lived but for a Beast
And if I was voluptuously in love with lovely Death,
I was the poet : O illumine the whole

And if thou wast not God I will establish still
On Nothing over Nothingness the soul’s supremacy,
For God not of the dead but of the living is the God
And no more can they die, the risen dead.

First published in Folios of New Writing (Spring 1940), then in New Directions 7 (USA 1942).

***

From LA VIERGE DE PARIS

Résurrection des morts

When Glory’s Spring Returns/Au Printemps de la gloire
The sun sheds its incandescence on the new-sprung shoots,
A sun no eyes ever beheld, there were none pure enough –
Sun rearisen after the combustion of long death.
The Spring of ancient glories is all crystal and fresh air
And the works of the great masters – Dante, Virgil – now appear
As sacred garments that adorn the naked outward form
In which they walk abroad. One may perceive
As with miraculous candour the child Baudelaire shewed forth
And Delacroix and Courbet from their tents of light emerged
To reassume eternally their golden fleece of dream.
From high savannahs of the air Rimbaud smiles down at last.

First published in Poetry (London), No. 11 (September-October 1947).

***

From LA VIERGE DE PARIS

Prière du soir

Evening Prayer/O mon dieu, toute éternité de mon amour

O Thou to all eternity God of my love,
My prayer beholds Thee in this silence dense and dark
Whereunto I after yet one more day am come :
Sacred the dark, wretched the ragged wound,
Wound wedded to the darkness and with peace welded as one.
O God, Thou art substantial made through Thy rebirth by night,
Out of Thy absence, from that grievous wound no less ;
Thou art as the pure void and all else emptiness is blind,
Thou art the lamb of jet-black fleece whereon clear may the brand
Of death be read, though letterless ; and now allow the wound
To close, as closely the soft curtains to be drawn that shelter hope.

First published in Selected Poems (London : Enitharmon Press, 1994).

***

From GENIE (1948)

Siegl

Le doux rire d’Hélène arrive par la vitre

Helen’s sweet laughter pierces the panes to reach
The solid wall upon the heights ; and the cold lakes
Weep joyful tears for a hundred acts of love and shame
Of transport and desire over those most strange plants
Sent here in memory of her, at the pure hour
When warming ’neath the sensual velvet of another sky
Aurora combing her gold hair beckoning her towards death.

From Notebook 3 (c. 1950) in the British Library Manuscripts Department. First published in
Selected Verse Translations (London : Enitharmon Press, 1996).

***

From DIADEME (1949)

Ciels


To Himself/A Soi-Même

Write now only for the sky
Write for the curved arc of the sky
And to no black letter of lead
Resort to wrap thy writing in
Write for the odour and the breath
Write for the sheet of silver leaf
Let no unlovely human face

Have glimpse or knowledge or rumour thereof
Write for the god and for the fire
Write for the sake of a beloved place
And may nothing to do with man intrude.

From Notebook 3 (c. 1950) in the British Library Manuscripts Department. First published in
Selected Verse Translations (London : Enitharmon Press, 1996).

***

From LANGUE (1954)

Ah ! Le poète écrit pour le vide des cieux

I

During the moulting season of the formless final world
The conquerors held out still : alone and without horses either of
plaster or of gold
And without money (lost in the sands and in the circuses, and on all
fronts)
Without even a moist lance’s oriflamme. And then what thrusts
of troops that never moved !
Pure conquerors of ancient time – and all cathedrals in their train –
They awaited with their passion in the swarming towns of dwarfs
An extraordinary onslaught of empty emotion and explosiveness
Which might enable all to be recovered by the vitals that were losing
all their blood.

II

Ah ! the poet writes only for the heavens’ empty space
Pure blue that winter can no longer see ! he writes in conjuration of
the silence of the snows
Of the stifling of fallacious festal days ! and in the lack and in the
lacklustre it reveals, each line he writes is just as though he were
not there (and his slim figure, dressed as a matador, is just as
though he were not there),
And in his solitude devoted to that admirable, secret conjuration,
behold him pleading his peculiar loves
When none would undertake to risk love’s courage in his stead :

Then on the fabled winds’ black shore, over the seaweeds’ slumber,
under nearly weightless whirling swells of fog,
He seals the word up in the bottle of green glass,
Bells of despair and horrible seawrack !
He launches on the highest wave a bottle without action, force or
aim, yet which one day
The waves will wash up to love’s level, beyond beauty, beyond
glory, beyond day.

III

Clear light of day ! flow once more through the furrow you have
worn upon the mortal avenues,
Gleam on the capitals and globes of stone, waken the sacred snakes,
All men’s activities ! And mortal thought of mine pursue once more
Your way towards hope’s narrow zone, with great deliberate works
in view :
Both works and death before my eyes stand like glad monuments
devoured by the sky’s plants,
Pure ruin well contented to be filled with its vast future and its natural
love.

First published in the London Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 2 (February 1955).


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