By ANDRÉ du BOUCHET.
Translations by Paul Auster and Hoyt Rogers.
LEAVES OF DAY
THE FIRST BLOW echoes forever on the metal box
we hear everything that breathes
the lamppost’s icy gold quivers in the bath
you—a voice of air swallowed by air
and rolling in the room once more.
In the thick of night I saw a door blazing like a sun.
I cannot leave the room till the earth itself becomes the blade of earth.
Daylight spreads to the sheets, kindling white cloth. Wall—blind, deaf. Gravel above this speechless fire, the great water-cup of dawn. The brazier eats the sky in silence, like a burnisher. We hear no voices, no shouts. Nothing makes a sound outside—within our head, or on the ground and the stones.
The curdling light of the first lamp.
The red plowshare. Heatless fire, frozen light, voiceless heat.
We walk through heavy wool, in a muffled wave.
Before the heat sizzles—no flies, no heat.
[from a notebook dated May 5, 1953]
_______I no more ask to be read
_______do you think we can live like that
In fact, I want to keep myself in a state of poverty and not
of knowledge in relation to the world.
my head full of earth
in the awesome scrambling of the wind
happy all the way to the crown
I know quite well how to distinguish reality from the taste it gives
the secret on the surface: what is most secret, unique,
or so you’d assume, in broad daylight, and circulated through this
ordinary language—as though it could only become aware
of its secret through this public measure—
it means giving others a new taste of what daylight is
this reality that he draws from himself, he who is only the lamp
of others, a man increased, and for
he represents man: the simple words are doubled,
echoed—day—bread—with strength increased—
hunger fulfilled by this abnegation—
he draws it from himself but at that moment, he represents all the others
in reality, nothing can be too clear
but poetry can be too clear—you see nothing
the eye must get used to it
I, the envoy of reality
sent by reality
“the earth is under words like a field under flies”:
my greatest desire is to make myself ordinary, out of being
powerless—after reckoning with my lack of power
—to swim back up this immense current
so my old helplessness will color, will give a new
gleam to every ordinary thing I could say—and whatever might be
ordinary, I will say it.
Because it is precisely to my poems that I have gone blind,
even more than to the real world.
eyes: that lost their power after having
served—for me, at least—
they cannot see except through others
poetry: losing your personality
— Hoyt Rogers
“AND YOUR HAND PASSES OVER OPEN EYES…”
[from a notebook dated July 19, 1953]
and your hand passes over open eyes
like a cup of water
the decimated air
a few decimated boughs—we start enjoying
lighting up our sky
and suddenly I wheel around
to surprise the sky
a few steps
________and I lose you
in the daunting earth
________that has risen up
the wild earth
we were the tilled ground
we found ourselves alone
against the air
________and I am amazed to find myself becoming what a child had
wanted to become
I wanted my poem to write itself without me
For an instant, we have been as real as a wall. We
were able to die.
_______________is up there
________under the dust
I plunge into the road
we were making up our minds
we were taking shape
in this immensity
___where our fire pulls on the leash
we don’t have an instant
the air has taken on its true face again
a little higher
________where the trees are burned
________where the ash of the trees subsides
where the branches have stopped abruptly
a child shouts as much as the wind
it’s the same mingling
a flame of the same fire
to which we bow
I am there
________and I come back to tell the tale
the earth spiked by trees
________and the empty sky
the sky filled with burnt-out phrases
and it walks around everywhere
___with this fire, sharp
________we were in all that was most high
and the wind shook the windowpane
I was surrendered to the light
a barking in the air
tight as a drum
the moment I’m outside I recover
the morale from before the harvests—the reason for the wind
in the field delivered of its harvest
and now suddenly vacant
— Hoyt Rogers
“THE PROFOUND COHERENCE…”
[from the end of the same notebook]
The profound coherence of certain superficial, ill-assorted
images, from which they clearly draw their power—while they
remain muted and dull—merely reflects fidelity
to outward evidence—of which often no trace
is left—like a poem as soon as it stops being bound
to the poet’s striving
this coherence that makes us blindly accept a poem—
as blindly as reality—and confers on both the same
it could be said that in regard to this reality we have made
no headway at all, and Rimbaud was no different from the others.
It’s above all in regard to the imagination that we can say
we’re making headway—imagination, whether lofty or weak—also finding
its echo in the real—whether exalting or repugnant
and so the most beautiful poems have led to some blank texts
like a sheet of blank paper—are available: that is,
they have not ceased to act. Like everything that has begun
I always write to make myself worthy of the poem that is not
— Hoyt Rogers
“AT MY FEET…”
[from a notebook dated August 15, 1953]
at my feet, I’m on a cloth still colorful and vivid
even in the night—like a flattened breath—
I set aside the fruits
as my daughter said
after cutting her finger
on a chunk of stone
the radical force
that kneads us
a great force
and living only by our features
_______which it seizes
without this deaf and blind torment
like a child
as soon as her mother has left her
I find myself alone
before a wall
________________________I met up with my wife outside
she followed me
________________to the room
where we had a fight
and I called her my love
we have known this marvel
________of an exquisite shade of blue
I thank you
for the permission to live
I had slept all night in this fire
_______I came close to dying
but death did not belong to me
as the brightness
________from the white night
does not belong to the night,
— Hoyt Rogers
FROM THE EDGE OF THE SCYTHE
The dryness that discovers the day.
To and fro, as the storm goes to and fro.
On a path that stays dry in spite of the rain.
The immense earth spills, and nothing is lost.
For a rift in the sky, the strength of the soil.
I quicken the bond of roads.
________________________the earth drunk by the day, without
________the wall moving.
_________________like a fault in the breath
_________________the body of the glacier.
The clouds flying low, level with the road,
_____lighting the paper.
I do not speak before this sky,
______a house given back to breath.
I saw the day shaken, and the wall never moved.
The day scorches the ankles.
Keeping watch, shutters closed, in the whiteness of the
The whiteness of things comes out late.
____________________________________I go straight into the eddying day.
___________in the waterless lands of summer, leaves us
_______________________________________on a blade,
_________________________________________________what is left of the sky.
The earth defines itself in several fissures. The earth endures, equal to itself, in the breath that strips us bare.
__________________________Here, in the blue and motionless world, I have almost reached this
wall. The bottom of the day is still ahead of us. The bottom of ignited earth. The bottom and
the surface of the forehead,
leveled by the same breath,
I gather myself anew at the foot of this facade like the blue air at the foot of the plowing.
______________________________________________Nothing quenches my step.
Excerpted from Openwork: Poetry and Prose by André du Bouchet, selected, translated, and presented by Paul Auster and Hoyt Rogers. Reprinted with the permission of Yale University Press.
André du Bouchet, born in 1924, is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest French poets of the twentieth century. Among many other honors, he received the National Poetry Prize of France in 1983. His family fled wartorn Europe to the United States in 1941. He studied literature at Amherst and Harvard, and returned to France in 1948. In 1961 he published Dans la chaleur vacante (In the Vacant Heat), a poetry collection that brought him to the forefront of international letters. This was followed by Où le soleil (Where the Sun) in 1968, a cycle of poems that further sealed his reputation. In the late sixties he founded the influential literary and artistic journal L’Éphémère along with Yves Bonnefoy, Jacques Dupin, and Paul Celan. A versatile translator, he produced French versions of Shakespeare, Hölderlin, Joyce, Mandelstam, and Pasternak. He was a prolific essayist on contemporary art, the author of seminal studies of Giacometti in 1972 and 1991. He collaborated on books with Pierre Tal Coat, Bram van Velde, and many other artists. In the seventies, eighties, and nineties, he published a steady stream of innovative poetry. He assembled selections from his notebooks as well as anthologies drawn from his previous work. Until his death in 2001, André du Bouchet spent many months each year in the mountains of the Drôme.
An introduction by Hoyt Rogers to this portfolio is here.
A review by Peter Riley is here.
Paul Auster is known worldwide for his novels, which have won him numerous awards, as well for his films, memoirs, essays, and poetry. But he is also an authority on French literature and a noted translator from the French. In 1982 he edited The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry, and he has published translations of Joubert, Mallarmé, Sartre, Blanchot, Dupin, and many other authors. He did his translations of du Bouchet between 1967 and 1971; they were first published in book form by Living Hand in 1976. He has revised them for Openwork. Paul Auster lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the writer Siri Hustvedt.
Hoyt Rogers, a contributing editor of The Fortnightly Review, is the author of a collection of poetry, Witnesses, and a volume of criticism, The Poetics of Inconstancy. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in many periodicals. He translates from the French, German, Italian, and Spanish. His translations include the Selected Poems of Borges and three books by Yves Bonnefoy, The Curved Planks, Second Simplicity, and The Digamma. He lives in the Dominican Republic and Italy.