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Pierre Jean Jouve, par David Gascoyne

28 septembre 2008

par David Gascoyne

Uncollected translations

From SUEUR DE SANG (1933 ; 1934)
Les Masques

Le désespoir a des ailes

Despair has wings
Love has despair
For shimmering wing
Societies can change


From SUEUR DE SANG (1933 ; 1934)


Spittle on the asphalt has always made me think
Of the face painted on the veil of holy women.

First appearance in the Encrages article, op. cit.




The sky the vast sky of wind breaths and stone
Stone of azure harden and tremble air of rock
What steel sings in the ancient violins
How caressing are the green genius’s hearts

How precious is the stone with the mounts of ash
How pure ! unseasonable, the gold’s volume
How cold the ardour in its folds
Inviolable hymen of the day

The earth would thrust its breast into justice’s domain
The azure, azure, azure ! would perish tender and blue.

But the hour just as in a drama of glances inter-changed
Like a virgin’s mother violating love
Like the poisonous flesh of flowers of the field
Or great as was Christ’s passion in the dark
Has changed.

Heavenly hurricane held back by an edge
The void is hung on the edges of your eyes
Male hurricane ! All is lost, all is calm
All is white all is dying but dazzling bright
With what is passing across the suffering of your eyes
All collapses into naked springs of tears,
Falls silent, and in the silence angels keep
The most precious pale surrender is fulfilled.

I am he who loves
Child whose swaddling clothes are now spread out
In clouds in insights of the soul and prayers
Child whose eyes were pierced by rays
Child of amorous wrath
While I was shutting my own grown man’s eyes.




In the Common Grave/Mozart dans la fosse commune

Sobbing bleeding smiling thunderclap
And the cherubim’s swords enflamed therein
Here lies at rest a song of stark perfection
Genius ! Unfolds a love vaster than incense is
More beautiful even than the universe
More sensitive than God who first created it Himself.




Viaticum/Viaticum (Mozart)

Death’s extraordinary terrors
Will be borne by an angel’s wavering
The agonies of the head’s
Compression and the relinquishing of all flowers or tears
Will be borne away in an angel’s sob
The battles of the dark be glorified
In such a silence that you go forward pure
Unwavering genius
The words and the song will be no longer flesh but blood
The sun will be no longer orb but flower of blood
The soul will be no more, a new-born church
Of blood will then find out its own nether abode.



Nul n’en était témoin

Don Juan/Don Juan

I listen to you O so deeply profound Song – come back
From the realm of the powerful dead
Having endured the loss of flesh and every work
Having lost the white genius with the sombre phallus
Having clasped the hand of the Stone Guest.

O genius sweet Child, pity my wretchedness !
I’ve searched for you among the blackest floods.

I believe that your dawn is more beautiful, my eyes
Go further, that the spell is stronger, that sex
Is darker and death’s brilliance greater
To the old bones in the sorcerous cemeteries
Brought back by the mountain – and that my woe
Is great – that the light of the great secret things
With the painted heroes of life and death
Has in my heart at least been manifested and said
When the hand of the Stone Guest held my own.

The four poems on the theme of Mozart were first published in Adam International Review, No. 422-24 (1980), pp. 48-49. English versions only.


From LANGUE III (1954)

At so many years’ distance from the day of birth, with death
distant by only a few days, after so many figures that appeared
to rise and fall in the same sky of desire wherein disappointment
and pleasure were both of the same shade of blue,
after all the monotony befallen in the gardens – the distance
that seemed so close at hand yet so remotely lost – and all the
insecurity at the end – art in its repetitions altogether terrified to
be alone amidst unbounded and bare space,
one seeks the meaning and the letter and the spirit : the mean-
ing is dear to God : the meaning is what reaches the God-consc-
iousness, and as a phrase resounds from the main vocable and
rings through all the rest that are disposed on either side of it,
the word of life is only to be read in the absurd – imprinted
within absolute Absurdity and shining there like love of which
the forms are infinite.

First published in ‘A New Poem by Pierre Jean Jouve : “Language”’, in the London Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 2 (February 1955), pp. 49-52, and reprinted in Selected Prose 1934-1996, edited by Roger Scott (London : Enitharmon Press, 1998). Unaccountably, this translation was not included in either the Collected Verse Translations (Oxford University Press, 1970) or the Selected Verse Translations (London : Enitharmon 1996).



Unpublished draft translations

From LES NOCES (1931)
Young Spirit/L’Esprit Jeune

The trees whose height the eye takes in are blue with joy
The earth whose contours the eye follows has an intense
ruddy hue
The sky when it is glimpsed appears a pink or lilac blue ;
The plumy grasses flow and plunge like ocean waves
We feel press down on us the unseen power
The spirits who dwell behind the wind send up their
From chimneys spirals of adoring smoke ascend ;
The music of contemplation seizes the birds
And the dilating soul is caught away up beyond space
Far beyond conceptions and higher even than love.

One of three previously unpublished translations of poems by Jouve which Gascoyne contributed to
John Lehmann’s Third Programme poetry series, New Soundings, 12, broadcast on 11 March 1953.
This poem, included in the original script, was cut from the recording. The other two, ‘Par contre,
Paysage’ / ‘Landscape in Another Direction’ and ‘Paysage Intérieur’ / ‘Interior Landscape’ (see
below), were read by John Glen.


From SUEUR DE SANG (1933 ; 1934)
Les Masques :

When I was born appeared this strange white sign
That now I keep on seeing under every downcast sky
The swaddling cloth that was divided at my birth
Was stamped on the right with shadow marks
that spelt the word ‘Welcome’
And upon the left appeared the letter P
Standing for Pity towards everyone.

[British Library, Add. MS71704E]

From SUEUR DE SANG (1933 ; 1934)
Sueur de sang
Landscape in another direction/Par Contre, Paysage

The pathways winding through the largest woods lead on
the soul
And out at last across the calm of terraces of sward
Towards the mist-wrapped mountains in the gaps of which
there sleep
Temples standing on guard over the dead in their old tombs.

Far-off, old memories glow like gold in the smouldering
Of the heroic days gone by. Oh innocent highland places
Oh smiling temples and you towns, scenes hovering in the



Pity upon the naked god within our darkness dying
But no pity upon
Him who would have our flesh of darkness taken
And would have taken us in sin back to the dark
And added yet more darkness to our sin ! And carried us
On still more torture-swollen waves of blood
Back to be then brought back at the dead stroke of dark
To life, so that the filtered darkness sacrificed in him
Might change, through death’s travail like worm’s work
in the heart,
Today breaking on our soul with so celestial a blue
As yet it cannot know, for only death can show our soul
such sky.

[British Library, Add. MS71704H]



He is far more than a prince, for he’s a man
Sarastro in The Magic Flute

O joy of so many years ! And you magic flute

Re-echo one more day upon the secret surge

Bathe the primal love
Grant us the pledge

Out of the church tombs
Make those old black rituals laughing blaze
But cure us of the iron and of the drunk substances
Which with a dead horizon conceal the primal love.

From a Notebook dated ‘1983-1995’.
It is clear from the notebook that Gascoyne intended, too, to work on versions of two other Mozart
poems : ‘Dernier signe à Salzbourg’ and ‘Sanctus à Salzbourg’ ; he had copied out both in the original
French, and had translated half of the second : see below. Jouve’s ‘Un Tableau de Balthus’ is on a
later page.


From KYRIE (1938)
Interior Landscape/Paysage intérieur

Against the trees the golden blue sky strikes
And shadows of the eyes’ pupils are cast upon the trees
The trees are of gigantic size, the temples’ columns stand
Like perfect teeth upon their rocky shelf
The river’s flow bears down with it the sands it cherishes
The depths by recollection are relieved
The mighty pillars of poetry form towns
Evening sinks and solidifies about men’s mortal limbs
A mourning girl goes gathering into her aproned gown
The scattered ashes of the man she loved.

The suns you hold between the folds of your titanic thighs
Shine with as hard a radiance as they once had in kings’
Their heavy-weighing majesty fulfils the function of
The human column and draws up all but the drops
Of grief’s salt water (for the oneness of the sky
Could never reach the depths of any vessel so profound).


From HYMNE I (1947)

Plaine des Renards

Green is the waveswept plain at the hour of the budding corn
Green are three windswept trees, green the pensive/thoughtful
Green is the sleeping wood that winds across the scene
Green are the ditches, and the soul, O vast scope of my eyes

Green and grey of scar and the limpid wrath
Of the sky above, and for ever the gentle kindness quiet
The rooks fly off/move away towards the stern horizon’s rim
Where presently the huge smokes of the city shall appear.

I have transcribed the English draft from a page in Gascoyne’s ‘ Commonplace Notebook (1948)’ in
the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Yale University.


From DIADEME (1949)
La Main de Dieu
Dragon Intérieur

I sit aimlessly waiting in the ante-room
Of death. Thou hast done injury to my soul
Adversity of countless coils and jaws of gold
Rings wrapped in smoke and twisted wings
And loathsome fuzz

Long bristling of the force of nothingness
Over the ancient lands the gates of decadence
Long sigh. But o thou dragon navigating
Across the sky since childhood’s graceless days

Art thou not the daydream of the sky ?
Yet art thou not the reason for the dawn
And I not guilty O thou rainbow-face
Of the serpent that adores ?

British Library, Add. MS70714G, 1950.



Of a Town/D’une Ville

A red object enamelled green
Enamel of blood-red of plants of tears
Over illustrious canals of magical density
Where frantic towers raise up their weapon-like beauties
to the sky
And grassy silences reign over the old bodies strewn about

Magical effects of blackened green of old green of green green
Velvets coloured like Christ’s precious blood and charms
Of crypts exalted by their hoard of pious corpse
Spanish sunlight lighting a unique kind of brick
And musical effusions as of bridges and warm angels

Of murders and of love intrigues the aged residue.

British Library, Add. MS71704G, 1950


La Main de Dieu


And Christ appeared to Mary in the guise
Of a gardener, she just then saw
The empty tomb in which angels or shades
Seemed like her grief as dusty as that shrine

And with her tears still dripping from her cheeks
upon her breast
Just then her glistening eye was struck by a man’s form
‘Where hast thou laid him, gardener ?’ she asked
That I may go and bring back his remains

And lay them here again ?’ And the man spoke but one
Mary, so far-away so broken and so robbed of life

That she dropped to the ground and heard him say
Do not touch me. O Master ! O Rabbouni !

British Library, Add. MS71704D, 1944-1950.



La Main de Dieu
Les Plantes de la Solitude

Solitude has its own strange way
Of mirroring as in a frozen marsh
Defeat arising out of victory
The doubt by breeding clearly disclosed

And strange proliferating seedy grass
Embraces blue on spring cactuses
Vivid rose leaning towards the dahlias inert
In the glare of the massive, nude and stuporific sun

And countless anxious pangs that matter feels
Devoured by insects’ pious hordes
The coloured fibres : tranquil destitute
Is death’s slow last extremity in this abandoned place.

British Library, Add. MS71704D, 1944-1950.

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