The Landscape

April 25, 2006 at 4:01 am 2 comments

Robert Desnos


I dreamt of loving. The dream remains, but love
is no longer those lilacs and roses whose breath
filled the broad woods, where the sail of a flame
lay at the end of each arrow-straight path.

I dreamt of loving. The dream remains, but love
is no longer that storm whose white nerve sparked
the castle towers, or left the mind unrhymed,
or flared an instant, just where the road forked.

It is the star struck under my heel in the night.
It is the word no book on earth defines.
It is the foam on the wave, the cloud in the sky.

As they age, all things grow rigid and bright.
The streets fall nameless, and the knots untie.
Now, with this landscape, I fix; I shine.

(Translated from the French by Don Paterson)

Given that it's been over 60 years since Desnos died, this poem doesn't strictly qualify as contemporary poetry, but I include it here because it appeared in this week's issue of Poetry (which I've blogged about here) and because, well, I like it.

Paterson, writing about the poem in his translator's note, describes it as "one of those poems so deeply folded in its own music, it almost defines the 'problem of translation'". I can't speak to the quality of the translation here, not having read, or being capable of reading the poem in its original [1], but I think that music is very much in evidence here. Each individual line of this poem, when you sit down to dissect it, is not particularly impressive, and if the overall effect is powerful, it can only be because of the graceful rhythm of the whole. And isn't that true of landscapes themselves? That breath-taking as they may seem in perspective, closer scrutiny will show them to be merely picturesque. And empty.

[1] Paterson himself is careful to make the point that this is a 'version' not a translation. He writes:

"By definition, pursuing a lyric aesthetic in translation makes it an act of versioning, no translation proper. Because you know the original surface-sense will suffer as a result, your allegiance switches from the original words to your subjective interpretation of them, i.e. to that wholly personal mandala of idea and image and spirit that floats free of the poem, and functions in a kind of intercessory capacity in it reincarnation. A translation is different. It tries to remain true to those original words and their relations, and its primary aim is usually one of stylistic elegance (meaning essentially the smooth elimination of syntactic and idiomatic artifacts from the original tongue, a far more subtle project than it sounds) – in which lyric unity is only one of several competing considerations."

Worth remembering for the next time we have the discussion about translations of Faiz on this blog.


Entry filed under: 'New' Poetry, English, Robert Desnos.

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2 Comments Add your own

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