Saturday, June 18, 2005

A May night (translation of La Nuit de Mai by Alfred de Musset)



[This translationl appears in the new collection Removals]


MUSE

Poet, take up your lute and kiss me
The eglantier's flower feels its buds emerge:
Spring was born tonight; the winds come to embrace it
And the shepherd girl, waiting for dawn
Perches on the first green bushes
Poet, take up your lute and kiss me


POET

It's dark in the valley
I thought a veiled shape
Floated there above the trees
She left the meadow
Her feet skimmed the flowered grass
In the strange dream
She faded and disappeared


MUSE

Poet, take up your lute; night cradles the breeze
In its scented veil
The rose, a virgin once more, jealously clasps herself
Against the pearled hornet she drugged to death
Hark! All becomes quiet; dream of your dearest one
This evening, beneath the dark-propped limes,
The sleeping light-beam leaves a sweeter farewell
This evening, all will flower: eternal nature
Renews perfumes, love and whispering
Like the newly-wed's bridal bed


POET

Why does my heart beat so quickly?
What do I have within me that flutters
Making me feel fearful?
Will there be a knock on the door?
Why does my half-dead lamp
Dazzle me with light?
Good God! My whole body shivers
Who comes? Who calls me? Noone
I am alone; it is the hour striking
O solitude! O poverty!


MUSE

Poet, take up your lute; the wine of youth
Ferments this night in the veins of God
My breast is uneasy; sensuality constricts it
And the changing winds have raised a fire in me
O lazy child! Look, I am beautiful
Our first kiss- do you not remember it?
When I saw you, so pale it touched my heart
And you, teary-eyed, fell into my arms
Ah! I consoled your bitter suffering
Alas! Still so young, you were dying of love
Console me tonight, I am dying of hope
I need a prayer to live to dawn


POET

Is it your voice that calls me?
O my poor Muse! Is it you?
O my flower! O my immortal!
The only one who is pure and true!
Yes, you are there, it's you, my fairest
It's you, my mistress and my sister!
And I feel, in the deep night,
Your robe of gold enfolding me
Shining rays into my heart


MUSE

Poet, take up your lute; it's me, your immortal
Who you saw this sad and silent night
And who, like a bird whose nest calls,
Comes down from the heavens to weep with you
Come, you suffer, friend. Some lonely trouble
Upsets you, something grieves your heart;
Some love has come to you, such as one sees on earth,
A shadow of pleasure, the appearance of happiness
Come, let us sing before God; let us sing in your thoughts
In your lost pleasures, in your past pains;
Let us leave, with a kiss, for an unknown world.
We will shake awake the echoes of your life
We will speak of fortune, of glory and madness
And that will be a dream and anybody
We will invent forgotten places;
Let's leave, we are alone, the universe is ours
Here is green Scotland and brown Italy
And Greece, my mother, where honey is so sweet
Argos and Pteleon, city of hecatombs
And the divine Messa, pleasantly doved
And the ragged brow of changing Pelion
And the blue Titarese, and the silver gulf
Which shows in its waters, where the swan admires itself
White Oloossone and white Camyre
Tell me, what dream of gold will our songs rock to sleep?
From whence will come the tears that we will spill?
This morning, when day touches your eyelids
What thoughtful angel, curled up on your bed
Will shake the lilac in its thin robe
And bury you under the loves that it revives?
Shall we sing of hope, sorrow or joy?
Shall we temper with blood the soldiers of steel?
Shall we hang up love on a silken ladder?
Shall we throw to the wind the sweat of the steed?
Shall we say which hand, in the lamps without number,
In the heavenly house, burns night and day
The holy oil of life and of eternal love?
We will call to Tarquin "It is time: here is the shadow!"
Shall we go down to collect pearls on the sea bed?
Shall we drive the goat to the bitter ebony trees?
Shall we climb into the sky like Sadness?
Shall we follow the hunt on the craggy peaks?
The girl watches him; she cries and begs;
Her heather waits for him; her does are newborn
He bows; he slaughters them; he throws down
To the sweating dogs the prey's still-living heart
Shall we paint a rose-cheeked maiden
On her way to Mass?; a page later
And she looks disturbed, on the shore
Her parted lips forgetting her prayer
She listens, trembling, in the echo of the pillar
To the clanging spur of a bold knight
Shall we tell the ancient heroes of France
To send their armies to the battlements of their towers
And revive the simple fable
That their forgotten glory taught the minstrels?
Shall we clothe in white a pale elegy?
The man of Waterloo will tell us his life
And that he reaped the human herds
Before the envoy of the endless night
Came onto this green mound to glance at them
And on his iron heart crossed his arms?
Shall we nail to the post a high satire
The name seven times sold by a pale pamphleteer
Who, forced by hunger, from the depth of forgetfulness
Comes, rattling with envy and impotence,
Before the insulted spirit of hope
And bites the laurels his breath has tarnished?
Take up your lute! Take up your lute! I can no longer suppress it
My wing lifts me on the breath of Spring
The wind will carry me; I will leave the earth
A tear from you! God hear me: it is time.


POET

There is no need, dear sister
For a kiss from your loving lip
And a tear from my eyes
I will give you freely;
So that you'll remember our love
If you ascend back to the clouds
I do not sing of hope
Nor glory, nor fortune
Alas! Nothing's like suffering
The mouth keeps silent
To hear the speech of the heart


MUSE

Do you believe that I'm like the autumn wind
Which feeds from the tears upon a tomb
And for whom sorrow is just a drop of water?
O poet! A kiss, it is me who asks it of you.
The grass that I wanted to tear from this place
Is your idleness; your sorrow is to God.
What sorrow is it that your youth suffers?
Let it grow, this holy wound
That the black angels have given your heart
Nothing makes us so great as a great sorrow
But, for it to touch you, do not believe, O poet
That your voice here below must keep mute.
The most hopeless songs are the most beautiful
And I know the pure immortals sob.
When the pelican, departed on a long journey
In the evening mists returns to his reeds
His little starvelings running on the bank
To see him from afar dropping to the waters.
Already, thinking to seize and share their prey
They run to their father with joyous cries
Succouring their beaks on their terrible goitres
He, reaching with slow steps a raised rock
Protects his dangling throat from his brood,
Sad fisherman, he looks to the skies.
The blood runs in slow waves from his open chest
In vain has he plumbed the depths of the seas
The Ocean is empty and the shore deserted
To provide food for all he offers his heart.
Sombre and silent, straggled on the pebbles,
His sons share the father's flesh,
In his sublime love he soothes his sorrow
And, watching his bloody breast drop
On his death-feast he sinks and staggers
Drunk on pleasure, on tenderness and horror.
But sometimes, in such divine sacrifice,
Weary to death from too long pain
He fears that his children will not let him live
Then he raises himself, opens his throat to the wind
And, striking his heart with a wild cry,
He splits the night with such a sorrowful farewell
That the seagulls leave the shore
And the traveller on the beach is stayed,
Sensing his death, and commending him to God.
Poet, it is thus that great poets are made.
They leave those who live once to make themselves happy
But the generous dishes served at their feasts
Are in the main like those of the pelicans.
When they speak thus of false hopes
Of sadness and oblivion, love and misfortune
This isn't a reason to speed the heart
Their speeches are like sword-blades
They trace dazzling circles in the air
But there always hang some drips of blood.


POET

O muse! Insatiable spectre,
Don't ask so much of me
One can write nothing on black
At the hour of the eagle's flight
I saw the times when my youth
Was on my lips continually
Ready to sing like a bird
But I have suffered a hard trial
And to say the least of it
If I tried my lyre
It would snap like a reed

2 comments:

Erin said...

Martin! This is a cool piece, long for my short attention span, but I like the conversational tone. Now, send me an email will ya? I can't find your address to send the gmail invite to...

martin said...

You think it's long. God, it goes on, doesn't it?... there's an account of how I came to translate it at A few words.