The Flowers

04-18 Mallarme
Stephane Mallarme
French
1842 – 1898

 

From golden showers of the ancient skies,
On the first day, and the eternal snow of stars,
You once unfastened giant calyxes
For the young earth still innocent of scars:

Young gladioli with the necks of swans,
Laurels divine, of exiled souls the dream,
Vermilion as the modesty of dawns
Trod by the footsteps of the seraphim;

The hyacinth, the myrtle gleaming bright,
And, like the flesh of woman, the cruel rose,
Hérodiade blooming in the garden light,
She that from wild and radiant blood arose!

And made the sobbing whiteness of the lily
That skims a sea of sighs, and as it wends
Through the blue incense of horizons, palely
Toward the weeping moon in dreams ascends!

Hosanna on the lute and in the censers,
Lady, and of our purgatorial groves!
Through heavenly evenings let the echoes answer,
Sparkling haloes, glances of rapturous love!

Mother, who in your strong and righteous bosom,
Formed calyxes balancing the future flask,
Capacious flowers with the deadly balsam
For the weary poet withering on the husk.

 

Translation by Henry Weinfield

To Nepotianus, both grammarian and rhetorician

Decimius Magnus Ausonius
French
c. 310 – c. 395

 

Old with a young heart, witty, kind, whose mind,
dipped in much honey with now gall,
imparted nothing bitter in your whole life.
Nepotianus, comfort to my heart,
partaking as much in games as serious work:
when silent, you’d outdo Amyclas in speechlessness:
Ulysses—who left the Sirens singing their enchantments—
could not leave you when you were talking:
honest and modest, moderate, thrifty, abstemious,
eloquent, in style yielding place to no orator:
debater approaching the Stoic Cleanthes:
knowing well by heart Scaurus and Probus,
your memory greater than Cineas’s of Epirus:
friend table-companion and frequent guest—
too seldom, for you stimulated my mind.
No one gave counsel with so pure a heart
or hid confidences with deeper secrecy.
With the honor of an illustrious governorship conferred,
having lived through the changes of ninety years,
leaving two children, you meet your death,
with much grief to your family, as to me.

 

Translation by Deborah Warren

Tomorrow at Dawn

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 220th birthday.

02-26 Hugo
Victor Hugo
French
1802 – 1885

Tomorrow, at dawn, when the countryside brightens,
I will depart. You see, I know that you wait for me.
I will go through the wood, I will go past the mountains.
I cannot remain far from you any longer.

I will walk, eyes set upon my thoughts,
Seeing nothing around me and hearing no sound,
Alone, unknown, back bent, hands crossed,
Sorrowful, and for me, day will be as night.

I will not watch the evening gold fall,
Nor the distant sails going down to Harfleur,
And, when I arrive, I will put on your grave
A bouquet of green holly and heather in bloom.

In This World

01-31 Prudhomme
Sully Prudhomme
French
1839 – 1907

 

In this world all the flow’rs wither,
The sweet songs of the birds are brief;
I dream of summers that will last
Always!

In this world the lips touch but lightly,
And no taste of sweetness remains;
I dream of a kiss that will last
Always.

In this world ev’ry man is mourning
His lost friendship or his lost love;
I dream of fond lovers abiding
Always!

 

Translation by Samuel Byrne

from Tartuffe

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 400th birthday.

01-15 Moliere
Moliere
French
1622 – 1673

 

A love of heavenly beauty does not preclude
A proper love for earthly pulchritude;
Our senses are quite rightly captivated
By perfect works our Maker has created.
Some glory clings to all that Heaven has made;
In you, all Heaven’s marvels are displayed.
On that fair face such beauties are displayed.
On that fair face such beauties have been lavished,
The eyes are dazzled and the heart is ravished;
How could I look on you, O flawless creature,
And not adore the Author of all Nature,
Feeling a love both passionate and pure
For you, his triumph of self-portraiture?
At first, I trembled lest that love should be
A subtle snare that Hell had laid for me;
I vowed to flee the sight of you, eschewing
A rapture that might prove my soul’s undoing;
But soon, fair being, I became aware
That my deep passion could be made to square
With rectitude, and with my bounden duty.
I thereupon surrendered to your beauty.
It is, I know, presumptuous on my part
To bring you this poor offering of my heart,
And it is not my merit, heaven knows,
But your compassion on which my hopes repose.
You are my peace, my solace, my salvation;
On you depends my bliss—or desolation;
I bide your judgment and, as you think best,
I shall be either miserable or blest.
I may be pious, but I’m human too:
With your celestial charms before his eyes,
A man has not the power to be wise.
I know such words sound strangely, coming from me,
But I’m no angel, nor was meant to be,
And if you blame my passion, you must needs
Reproach as well the charms on which it feeds.
Your loveliness I had no sooner seen
Than you became my soul’s unrivalled queen;
Before your seraph glance, divinely sweet,
My heart’s defenses crumbled in defeat,
And nothing fasting, prayer, or tears might do
Could stay my spirit from adoring you.
My eyes, my sighs have told you in the past
What now my lips make bold to say at last,
And if, in your great goodness, you will deign
To look upon your slave, and ease his pain—
If, in compassion for my soul’s distress,
You’ll stoop to comfort my unworthiness,
I’ll raise to you, in thanks for that sweet manna,
An endless hymn, an infinite hosanna.
With me, of course, there need be no anxiety,
No fear of scandal or of notoriety.
These young court gallants, whom all the ladies fancy,
Are vain in speech, in action rash and chancy;
When they succeed in love, the world soon knows it;
No favor’s granted them but they disclose it
And by the looseness of their tongues profane
The very altar where their hearts have lain.
Men of my sort, however, love discreetly,
And one may trust our reticence completely.
My keen concern for my good name insures
The absolute security of yours;
In short, I offer you, my dear Elmire,
Love without scandal, pleasure without fear.

 

Translation by Richard Wilbur

A New Language

12-09 Deschamps
Eustache Duchamps
French
1346 – 1406

 

Whose name will sound among the fields?
Whose battle-cries will grind the grain?
Once, learned men and layfolk both
swore Basque and shouted English oaths:
“Help, Holyhead!” “Saint George, to me!”
were then in fashion, for we feared
the noble deeds their troops had done.
A new language always comes.

After those two, Breton displaced
the Basque and English from our lips.
Their fame exploded! No one clung
to words outworn, outmoded songs,
and all you heard was, “By God’s grace!”
from every father and his son.
The mad spoke Breton, and the dumb.
A new language always comes.

Forgotten now, no longer good,
Breton’s found peace with last year’s coins.
We only speak Burgundian!
“No god for me” — all in one voice.
You might well ask, which, of those four,
is worth the ransom, at this price.
I’ll shut up now: my song is sung.
A new language always comes.

Prince, which people will have won
the “title,” “name,” or “lawful right”
to grind the grain today? Tonight?
A new language always comes.

 

Translation by Samantha Pious

I Write for the Day

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 145th birthday.

11-15 Noailles
Anna de Noailles
French
1876 – 1933

 

I write for the day when I will no longer be here
To share how pleasure wept for joy – was air!
For carried into the future’s throng, my book
Should show how I loved life with a natural look.

Attentive to all toil, in dwellings as in pastures,
Every day I’ve traced a season’s changing contours:
Water, earth and a flaming torch uplifts
No corner quite so much as through my spirit’s gifts.

I’ve shown what I have seen, and what I’ve sensed,
With a heart for which the truth is no extravagance,
And now I have this yearning, as if for an affair,
To be, beyond death, loved, more loved than heretofore.

And that a young man, say, deep into what I’ve written,
Feels through me his heart: moved, astonished, smitten;
One who just erases all his commonplace amours,
Takes me to his breast, and tells me, I am yours!

 

Translation by Anthony Howell

Royalty

We present this work in honor of the 130th anniversary of the poet’s death.

11-10 Rimbaud
Arthur Rimbaud
French
1854 – 1891

 

One fine morning, in the country of a very gentle people, a magnificent man and woman were shouting in the public square. “My friends, I want her to be queen!” “I want to be queen!” She was laughing and trembling. He spoke to their friends of revelation, of trials completed. They swooned against each other.

In fact they were regents for a whole morning as crimson hangings were raised against the houses, and for the whole afternoon, as they moved toward groves of palm trees.

 

Tranlsation by John Ashbery

The Steps

We present this work in honor of the author’s 150th birthday.

10-30 Valery
Paul Valery
French
1871 – 1945

 

Your steps, children of my silence,
Holily, slowly placed,
Towards the bed of my vigilance
Proceed dumb and frozen.

Nobody pure, divine shade,
That they are soft, your steps selected!
Gods!… all the gifts which I guess
Come to me on these naked feet!
If, of your advanced lips,
You prepare to alleviate it,
An inhabitant of my thoughts
The food of a kiss,

Does not hasten this tender act,
To be soft and not to be not?
Because I lived to await you,
And my heart was only your steps.

The Head

08-05 Cendrars
Blaise Cendrars
French
1887 – 1961

The guillotine is the masterpiece of plastic art
Its click
Creates perpetual motion
Everyone knows about Christopher Columbus’ egg
Which was a flat egg, a fixed egg, the egg of an inventor
Archipenko’s sculpture is the first ovoidal egg
Held in intense equilibrium
Like an immobile top
On its animated point
Speed
It throws off
Multicolored waves
Color zones
And turns in depth
Nude.
New.
Total.