Secret Ode

In honor of Bastille Day, we present this work by one of France’s brightest poets.

Paul Valery
French
1871 – 1945

 

The fall so splendid, the end sweet,
The struggle forgotten, what bliss
To stretch the glistening body out
Against the moss, after the dance!

Never has such a glow
Shone out in victory
As these bright sparks of summer
Across a forehead sown with sweat!

But touched at last by the Dusk’s light,
This body that achieved so much,
That danced, that bested Hercules,
Dissolves among the clumps of roses!

So sleep, beneath sidereal steps,
Conqueror slowly come undone,
For now the Hydra in the hero
Unfurls its endless rows of heads…

Behold what Dog, what Bull, what Bear,
What signs of sweeping victory,
The soul imposes, entering time
Without resort, on formless space!

Supreme end, sparkling light
That by these monsters and these gods
Universally proclaim
The glorious acts that are in the Skies!

Translation by Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody

Royal song of the most beautiful that ever was in the world

07-05 d'Amboise
Catherine d’Amboise
French
1475 – 1550

Angels, Thrones and Dominations,
Principalities, Archangels, Cherubim,
Bow to the lower regions
With Virtues, Potestés, Seraphim,
Fly through high crystalline skies
To decorate the triumphant entrance
And the most worthy adored birth,
The holy concept by mysteres tres haults
Of that Virgin, where all grace abounds,
Decree by dits imperiaulx
The most beautiful that ever was in the world.

Give sermons and sermons,
Devout Carmelites, Cordeliers, Augustins;
From the holy concept wear relationships,
Caldeyens, Hebrieux and Latins;
Romanians, sing on the Palatine Hills
That Jouachim Saincte Anne met,
And that by eulx is administered to us
Ceste Virgo without love conjugaulx
That God created of fruitful pleasure,
Without feeling any original defects,
The most beautiful that ever was in the world.

His honest beautiful receptions
Of soul and body in the beautiful places of the intestines
Have transcended all conceptions
Personal, by divine mysteries.
Because to feed Jesus with his painful breasts
God always has him without a maculle monster,
Declaring it by right and ultree law:
All beautiful for the all beautiful of the beautiful,
All clergy, nect, modest and world,
All pure above all bladders,
The most beautiful that ever was in the world.

Muses, come in jubilations
And transmigrate your crystal-clear streams,
Come, Aurora, by lucidations,
Precursing the beautiful morning days;
Come, Orpheus, sound harp and clarins,
Come, Amphion, from the beautiful country,
Come, Music, pleasantly acoustrée,
Come on, Royne Hester, adorned with joyaulx,
Come, Judith, Rachel and Florimonde,
Accompanied by special honors
The most beautiful that ever was in the world.

Tres doulx zephirs, by sibilations
Sow roses and roumarins everywhere,
Nimphes, stop your floods,
Marine stigieulx and carybd places;
Ring horns, viols, stools;
May my mistress, the honored Virgin
Either from everyone in all places decorated
Come, Apolo, play the blowpipes,
Ring, Panna, so hault that everything redundant,
Collapse all in generaulx terms
The most beautiful that ever was in the world.

Devoted spirits, faithful and loyal,
In paradise, beautiful mansions and chasteins,
To the pleasure God, the Virgin for us founds
Or see her in her Royaulx palaces,
The most beautiful that ever was in the world.

The Banner of Your Body

06-10 Dallas
Gilberte H. Dallas
French
1918 – 1960

 

The banner of your body floats in the Brandenburg wind.
An old woman wants to come in, I
can see her through the door, her red felt hand
pressing in vain on the latch, scraps
of her cries come at me like the barbaric
song of a violin mending the night;
I’m going to slip a rose under the door
a black-blooded rose, maybe she’ll go away?
And I could wallow in the bramble hammock
but her voice hiccups: Ophelia
My name is Ophelia, open the door, O-phe-lia…
—What do I care about her grotesque distortions
What lie will she bring me? Why
doesn’t she extend it to me through the sheets
of sand the way she extends her name… Ophelia
Ophelia, her shadow ricochets in the aura
of my dusk. Ophelia, her voice grates
like a leper’s rattle, philia, figlia…

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