Après la bataille

Victor Hugo

Listen (to Cyrano read)

Mon père, ce héros au sourire si doux,
Suivi d’un seul housard qu’il aimait entre tous
Pour sa grande bravoure et pour sa haute taille,
Parcourait à cheval, le soir d’une bataille,
Le champ couvert de morts sur qui tombait la nuit.
Il lui sembla dans l’ombre entendre un faible bruit.
C’était un Espagnol de l’armée en déroute
Qui se traînait sanglant sur le bord de la route,
Râlant, brisé, livide, et mort plus qu’à moitié.
Et qui disait: ” A boire! à boire par pitié ! “
Mon père, ému, tendit à son housard fidèle
Une gourde de rhum qui pendait à sa selle,
Et dit: “Tiens, donne à boire à ce pauvre blessé. “
Tout à coup, au moment où le housard baissé
Se penchait vers lui, l’homme, une espèce de maure,
Saisit un pistolet qu’il étreignait encore,
Et vise au front mon père en criant: “Caramba! “
Le coup passa si près que le chapeau tomba
Et que le cheval fit un écart en arrière.
” Donne-lui tout de même à boire “, dit mon père.

There is a poetic English translation floating around on the net, but I find it a little contrived, and somewhat too far from the original. You’ll find it easily if you search for “After the Battle Victor Hugo”. I really like the fact that Hugo’s text flows easily and sounds pretty natural. So I’ll give you a verse by verse, pretty much a word for word translation.


After the battle

My father, a hero with such a sweet smile,
Followed by a single soldier whom he liked amongst all,
For his great bravery and his tall stature,
Was wandering on his horse, on the evening of a battle,
Across the field covered with bodies upon which night was falling.
He thought he heard a soft noise in the shadows.
It was a Spaniard from the routed army,
Who was crawling in his blood on the side of the road,
Groaning, broken, livid and more than half dead,
And who was saying: “Something to drink! Take pity, a drink!
My father, moved, gave to his faithful soldier
A flask of rum which hung from his saddle,
And said, “Take it and give a drink to the poor wounded man.”
All of a sudden, as the lowered soldier
Was bending towards him, the man, some kind of Moorish,
Steadies a pistol that he was still holding
And aims at my father’s forehead while shouting: “Caramba!”
The bullet went so close that the hat fell off
And the horse suddenly backed off.
“Give him a drink anyway” said my father.

Around 1800, Victor Hugo’s father was a general in the armies of Napoleon which invaded most of Europe to bring liberty, equality and brotherhood to the people oppressed in the neighboring countries. Surprisingly, the locals did not alway appreciate the wonderful presents that were forced upon them by foreigners. We now know better and such mistakes would not be repeated in the 21st century, but I digress.
This is a moving story told very efficiently as a modern filmmaker would. This would have made a great Kurosawa. Three shots. The camera pans across the bloody battlefield barely lit by an evening sky. Then the camera zooms in to the wounded Spaniard that we discover, low and back lit. Then a quick action scene, the explosion of a bullet, the camera follows the hat that flies off. As the camera zooms back out to the whole landscape, the famous last line is heard in a tired and weary voice, “Give him a drink anyway”.
This poem is quite famous in French speaking countries and several verses are often quoted, most notably the last one, when someone has a generous gesture for a fallen foe, –or cynically, whenever there is wine to be served, a common occurrence.

- Cyrano

Welcome Cyrano! Looking forward to more great readings from you! :)

[blackmamba]

February 20, 2009 at 11:47 pm 12 comments

Rosh Hashanah

Aharon Shabtai

Listen (in Hebrew)

Listen (in English)

Even after the murder
of the child Muhammad on Rosh Hashanah,
the paper didn’t go black.
In the same water in which the snipers
wash their uniforms,
I prepare my pasta,
and over it pour
olive oil in which I’ve browned
pine nuts,
which I cooked for two minutes with dried tomatoes,
crushed garlic, and a tablespoon of basil.
As I eat, the learned minister of foreign affairs
and public security
appears on the screen,
and when he’s done
I write this poem.
For that’s how it’s always been –
the murderers murder,
the intellectuals make it palatable,
and the poet sings.

(translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole)

For those of us who regularly seek solace in poems, acts of terrorism can be particularly hard to deal with, because (the deluge of poetry written in the aftermath of 9/11 notwithstanding) there just doesn’t seem to be enough good poetry about living with terrorism.

In times like these, I find myself turning to books like  J’Accuse (New Directions 2003), a collection of ‘political’ poems by Hebrew poet Aharon Shabtai. Shabtai’s poems seem matter of fact, even flippant, in tone, but beneath their nonchalance lies a deep groundswell of outrage – an outrage made all the more powerful for being directed impartially against all who traffic in hatred or hold human life cheap, whether Arab or Jew. Shabtai’s voice is the voice of a poet for whom terrorism is a fact of everyday life, and therefore something to be not dismayed by but struggled against. What you hear in Shabtai’s poems is the constant rediscovery of the balance of being human, of learning to endure the horrors of the news without either succumbing to hatred or surrendering to indifference. It is what makes these poems so unexpectedly comforting.

- falstaff

(recording courtesy: PBS)

November 27, 2008 at 8:28 pm 9 comments

Shaam

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Listen (to Faiz read)

is tarah hai ke har ek peR ko’ii mandir hai
ko’ii ujRaa huaa, benuur puraanaa mandir
DhuunDtaa hai jo Kharaabii ke bahaane kab se
chaak har baam, har ek dar kaa dam-e-aaKhir hai
aasmaaN ko’ii purohit hai jo har baam tale
jism par raaKh male, maathe pe sinduur male
sar-niguuN baithaa hai chup-chaap na jaane kab se
is tarah hai ke pas-e-pardaa ko’ii saahir hai

jis ne aafaaq pe phailaayaa hai yuN seh’r ka daam
daaman-e-vaqt se paivast hai yuN daamna-e-shaam
ab kabhii shaam bujhegii na andheraa hogaa
ab kabhii raat Dhalegii na saveraa hogaa

aasmaaN aas liye hai ke ye jaaduu TuuTe
chup ki zanjiir kaTe, vaqt kaa daaman chhuTe
de ko’ii shanKh duhayii, ko’ii paayal bole
ko’ii but jaage, ko’ii saaNvlii ghuuNGhat khole

Translation by Agha Shahid Ali

Evening

The trees are dark ruins of temples,
seeking excuses to tremble
since who knows when–
their roofs are cracked,
their doors lost to ancient winds.
And the sky is a priest,
saffron marks on his forehead,
ashes smeared on his body.
He sits by the temples, worn to a shadow, not looking up.

Some terrible magician, hidden behind curtains,
has hypnotized Time
so this evening is a net
in which the twilight is caught.
Now darkness will never come–
and there will never be morning.

The sky waits for this spell to be broken,
for history to tear itself from this net,
for Silence to break its chains
so that a symphony of conch shells
may wake up to the statues
and a beautiful, dark goddess,
her anklets echoing, may unveil herself.

(from The Rebel’s Silhouette)

[blackmamba]

May 23, 2008 at 6:42 am 8 comments

Tanhaa’i

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Listen (to Faiz read)

phir ko’ii aayaa, dil-e-zaar! nahiin, ko’ii nahiin;
raah-rau hogaa, kahiin aur chalaa jaaegaa.
dhal chukii raat, bikharne lagaa taaron kaa ghubaar,
larkharaane lage aiwaanon mein khwaabiida charaagh,
so ga’ii raasta tak takke har ek rah guzaar;
ajnabi khaak ne dhundlaa diye qadmon ke suraagh.

gul karo shamiin, barhaa do mai-o-miinaa-o-ayaagh,
apne be khwaab kivaaron ko muqaffal kar lo;
ab yahaan ko’ii nahiin, ko’ii nahiin aayega!

Solitude

Someone, finally, is here! No, unhappy heart, no one -
just a passerby on his way.
The night has surrendered
to clouds of scattered stars.
The lamps in the hall waver.
Having listened with longing for steps,
the roads too are fast asleep.
A strange dust has buried every footprint.

Blow out the lamps, break the glasses, erase
all memory of wine. Heart,
bolt forever your sleepless doors,
tell every dream that knocks to go away.
No one, now no one will ever return.

Tr. by Agha Shahid Ali

More Faiz.

[blackmamba]

May 17, 2008 at 12:57 am 11 comments

Paas Raho

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Listen (to Faiz read)

tum mere paas raho
mere qaatil, mere dildaar, mere paas raho
jis gha.Dii raat chale
aasamaano.n kaa lahuu pii kar siyah raat chale
marham-e-mushk liye nashtar-e-almaas chale
bain karatii hu_ii, ha.Nsatii hu_ii, gaatii nikale
dard kii kaasanii paazeb bajaatii nikale
jis gha.Dii siino.n me.n Duubate huye dil
aastiino.nme.n nihaa.N haatho.n kii rah takane nikale
aas liye
aur bachcho.n ke bilakhane kii tarah qul-qul-e-may
bahr-e-naasudagii machale to manaaye na mane
jab ko_ii baat banaaye na bane
jab na ko_ii baat chale
jis gha.Dii raat chale
jis gha.Dii maatamii, sun-saan, siyah raat chale
paas raho
mere qaatil, mere dildaar, mere paas raho

Be Near Me

You who demolish me, you whom I love,
be near me. Remain near me when evening,
drunk on the blood of skies,
becomes night, in the other
a sword sheathed in the diamond of stars.

Be near me when night laments or sings,
or when it begins to dance,
its stell-blue anklets ringing with grief.

Be here when longings, long submerged
in the heart’s waters, resurface
and everyone begins to look:
Where is the assasin? In whose sleeve
is hidden the redeeming knife?

And when wine, as it is poured, is the sobbing
of children whom nothing will console–
when nothing holds,
when nothing is:
at that dark hour when night mourns,
be near me, my destroyer, my lover me,
be near me.

Agha Shahid Ali’s translation. From The Rebel’s Silhouette

[blackmamba]

May 13, 2008 at 5:45 pm 5 comments

Crickets

Aram Saroyan

Listen

crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets

(from Complete Minimal Poems; audio courtesy Ubuweb)

April 24, 2008 at 2:16 am 4 comments

The Iliad (Excerpts)

Robert Fagles

Listen to Fagles’ Homer lecture that is filled with excerpts from the Iliad (in mp3, in .rm for folks on dialup access)

The lecture is approximately an hour long. Fagles is an excellent storyteller who sprinkles the lecture with readings from his translation, the original Greek text and some very funny comments. Do give it a listen.

His translation at Amazon.com.

April 8, 2008 at 5:12 pm 2 comments

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