Category Archives: Translations

LOVE ROSE BETWEEN US (Miguel Hernández)

(from the Spanish of Miguel Hernández)

Love rose between us
like the moon between two palm trees
that never embraced.

An intimate murmur in both our bodies,
love swelled to a song,
but the sound was hoarse and strained.
Our lips were like stone.

The urge to cling drove on our flesh,
lit up our fevered bones,
but our arms when they reached out
died in each other’s arms.

Love passed, the moon, between us
and consumed our lonely bodies.
Now, two ghosts who seek each other,
we meet far away.

THE MOON COMES OUT (Federico García Lorca)

(from the Spanish of Federico García Lorca)

The moon comes out
and bells ring unheard;
impenetrable
pathways appear.

The moon comes out
and sea covers the land;
the heart feels like
an island in infinite space.

Nobody eats oranges
under a full moon.
You have to eat
green fruit, ice-cold.

The moon comes out
from a hundred identical faces
and silver money
sobs in the purse.

THE BALLAD OF THE SLEEP-WALKER

 

(from the Spanish of Federico García Lorca)

Green, how I love you green.
Green wind. Green boughs.
The ship on the sea,
the horse on the mountain.

The shade at her waist,
she dreams on the balcony,
green flesh, green hair,
cold silver eyes.

Green, how I love you green.
Beneath the gypsy moon
things look at her
but she cannot look at them.

Green, how I love you green.
Huge stars of hoarfrost
come with the fish of darkness
which opens the path of dawn.

The fig-tree rubs the wind
with the dogfish skin of its boughs,
and the mountain, a wild cat,
bristles with harsh maguey.

But who will come, and from where …?
She stays on her balcony,
green flesh, green hair,
dreaming in the bitter sea.

Friend, I want to swap
my horse for your house,
my saddle for your mirror,
my knife for your blanket.
Friend, I come bleeding
from the passes of Cabra.

If I could, lad,
I would do a deal.
But I am no longer myself,
my house no longer my house.

Friend, I want to die
decently in bed.
An iron one, if that may be,
made up with linen sheets.
Do you not see this wound
from my breast to my throat?

Three hundred dark roses
soak your white shirt.
Your blood oozes and smells
around your sash.
But I am no longer myself,
nor is my house now my house.

At least let me up to
the high balconies.
Let me go up! Let me
up to the green balconies.
Balconies of the moon
where the water echoes.

So up the two friends go
to the high balconies.
Leaving a trail of blood.
Leaving a trail of tears.

Little tin lanterns
flicker on the roofs.
A thousand glass tambourines
fragment the sunrise.

Green, how I love you green,
green wind, green branches.

Up the two friends climbed.
The sharp wind left a strange
taste in the mouth, of bile
and of mint and of basil.

Friend! Where is she, tell me,
where is your embittered daughter?

How many times she expected you!
How many times she awaited you,
fresh face, black hair,
on this green balcony!

On the surface of the tank
the gypsy girl floated.
Green flesh, green hair,
cold silver eyes.
An icicle of moonlight
kept her above the water.

The night grew as close
as a small town square.
Drunken civil guards
hammered at the door.

Green, how I love you green.
Green wind, green boughs.
The ship on the sea.
The horse on the mountain.

Translation © James Munro

WITH THAT KISS …

Ramón Jiménez

(from the Spanish of Juan Ramón Jiménez)

With that kiss, your mouth
to my mouth, a rose-tree
was sown whose roots
gnaw at my heart.

It was autumn, the vast, empty sky
filled with sunlight
that sucked up all the gold of life
in columns of splendour.

Now, dry summer-time
has come, and the rose-tree – everything passes! –
has opened, too late
a bud of pain in each of my eyes.

Translation © James Munro

BREAKFAST

jacques prevert

(from the French of Jacques Prévert)

He put the coffee
In the cup
He put the milk
In the cup of coffee
He put the sugar
In the white coffee
With the little spoon
He stirred
He drank the white coffee
He put down the cup
Without speaking to me
He lit
A cigarette
He blew smoke-rings
With the smoke
He put the ash
In the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put
His hat on his head
He put on
His raincoat
Because it was raining
And he left
In the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And me I took
My head in my hands
And I wept.

SPRINGTIME LONG AGO

Luis Cernuda

(from the Spanish of Luis Cernuda)

Now, in the purple sunset of the evening,
With the magnolias in flower and wet with dew,
To walk along those streets while the moon
Waxes in the heavens will be a waking dream.

Flocks of swallows with their keening will make 
The sky more immense; the water in the fountain
Will loose the deep voice of the earth; then
Sky and earth will fall silent.

In the corner of some cloister, alone
With your head in your hand, like a ghost
Returned, you will weep thinking
How beautiful life was, and how pointless.

Translation © James Munro

A cloister in Barcelona

Book Review: DANSE MACABRE

The world into which François Villon was born in 1431 was one of extreme contrasts. On 30 May Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in the market square of Rouen. In the same year the newly crowned French king, Louis VII, was hiding from his enemies, shifting from castle to penniless castle. In December the nine-year-old English king, Henry VI, in cloth of gold on a white charger, rode triumphantly into Paris with his gorgeously apparelled retinue, the boy ‘staring for a long time’ at three lovely, naked girls representing mermaids in the fountain of St Dennis. Probably in the same year, but on the other side of the city, François Villon was born in the slums and alleys near the rue St Jacques.

The city was packed because the passage of army after army had left the countryside bare, anything that could be eaten had been eaten, anything that could be burnt burnt (and anyone who could be raped raped). One of the families taking refuge in the city was that of François Villon, but his father died leaving the family in extreme poverty when the poet was still only a child. That he received an education at all seems to have been due to the lucky chance that he would accompany his devout mother to church and in that way came to the attention of the priest, Guillaume de Villon, who later, probably in 1438, adopted the boy.

But, as Aubrey Burl comments, “there is a wise observation that an urchin can be taken out of the slums but the slums cannot be taken out of the urchin.” And Villon remained all his life a child of – and the poet of – the slums.

Burl is good on everything, but he is particularly good on the poetry. He begins by pointing out that it is much easier to write about Villon now than it used to be. “Censorship has relaxed. Earlier any faithful tranlation was unprintable.” As evidence, he translates for us, in a way that Swinburne was quite unable to in the late nineteenth century, some stanzas from La Vieille Regrettant le Temps de sa Jeunesse (the regret for her lost youth by the ageing but once beautiful mistress of a nobleman), and notes that “François Villon was never mealy-mouthed and he wrote as his old woman, the former courtesan, might have spoken.”

Long arms and groping fingers sly,
Fine shapely shoulders, and the round
Full breasts and heaving hips that fly
Smooth, slick and firm in thrust and pound
Against the place where we were bound.
Above spread loins my pulsing cunt
Between its gripping thighs was crowned
With gardened curls across its front.

[…]

But this is where our beauty’s sent,
Scrawny arms, hands weak and sick,
Crooked back and shoulders bent.
My flabby tits? Won’t stir a prick.
My arse the same. To tempt a dick,
My cunt? No hope! As for my thighs
Each one just skin, dry bone, a stick,
A pock-marked sausage. Beauty dies.

Yes, beauty dies – a favourite theme of Villon’s and one he frequently returns to, as in the quite different and very beautiful Ballades des Temps Jadis, in which he asks where all the fair women of the past are and concludes each stanza with the line, “But where is last year’s snow?”

Here is the second stanza in French and in English:

Où est la très sage Heloïs,
Pour qui fut chastré et puis moyne
Pierre Esbaillart à Sainct-Denys?
Pour son amour eut cest essoyne.
Semblablement, où est la royne
Qui commanda que Buridan
Fust jetté en ung sac en Seine?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!

Where is wise Heloise for whom
Pierre Abelard was gelded, then
Was made a monk in Saint-Denis?
For his love he bore this pain.
Similarly, where’s the Queen
Who ordered Buridan
Be thrown in a sack into the Seine?
But where is last year’s snow!

Villon lived and died surrounded by death, in a world in which “for the penniless, the only affordable entertainment was a public execution“. “He had elegiac eyes,” says Burl, in a memorable phrase. Villon recorded, like any great poet – or painter – the world he knew.

By the time you finish this book, that world, the Paris of the late Middle Ages and the danse macabre, is home, and François Villon is family.