Skip to content

Five poems by Jules Supervielle.

Translations by IAN SEED.

In a Foreign Country

Have these faces come from my memory
and have these gestures touched earth, or sky?
Is this man alive as he seems to believe
with his voice, and this smoke on his lips?
Chairs, tables, unfeeling wood, you I can touch
in this snowy country whose language I do not know.
Stove, with your warmth whispering to my hands,
who is this man before you who resembles me
even in my past, knowing what I think,
touching when I touch you and filling my silence,
who then rises, opens the door, and disappears,
leaving this emptiness behind where I have no place.

En pays étranger

Ces visages sont-ils venus de ma mémoire,
Et ces gestes ont-ils touché terre ou le ciel?
Cet homme est-il vivant comme il semble le croire,
Avec sa voix, cette fumée aux lèvres?
Chaises, tables, bois dur, vous que je peux toucher
Dans ce pays neigeux dont je ne sais la langue,
Poêle, et cette chaleur qui chuchote à mes mains,
Quel est cet homme devant vous qui me ressemble
Jusque dans mon passé, sachant ce que je pense,
Touchant si je vous touche, et comblant mon silence,
Et qui soudain se lève, ouvre la porte, passe
En laissant tout ce vide où je n’ai plus de place?

 

Figures

I shuffle faces like cards
in spite of myself, and all
are dear to me. Sometimes
one falls to the ground
and I look for it in vain.
The card has disappeared.
I know nothing more.
Still, it was a fine face
I had grown fond of.
I shuffle other cards.
There’s unease in this room,
I mean to say my heart
continues to burn
but not for that card
replaced by another.
The face is a new one.
It completes the hand,
yet it remains disfigured.
That’s all I know.
No-one knows any more.

Figures
Je bats comme des cartes
Malgré moi, des visages,
Et tous, ils me sont chers.
Parfois l’un tombe à terre
Et j’ai beau le chercher
La carte a disparu.
Je n’en sais rien de plus.
C’était un beau visage
Pourtant, que j’aimais bien.
Je bats les autres cartes.
L’inquiet de ma chambre,
Je veux dire mon coeur,
Continue à brûler
Mais non pour cette carte
Qu’une autre a remplacée.
C’est un nouveau visage
Le jeu reste complet
Mais toujours mutilé.
C’est tout ce que je sais,
Nul n’en sait d’avantage.

Fish

Fish with your slow memories in deep creeks,
what can I do here with these? I know nothing
of you, except a little foam and shadow
and that one day, like me, you will die.

So why do you come to question my dreams
as if I could somehow be of use to you?
Go back to the sea, leave me on my dry earth.
We were not made to mix our days.

Les poissons

Mémoire des poissons dans les criques profondes,
Que puis-je faire ici de vos lents souvenirs,
Je ne sais rien de vous qu’un peu d’écume et d’ombre
Et qu’un jour, comme moi, il vous faudra mourir.

Alors que venez-vous interroger mes rêves
Comme si je pouvais vous être de secours?
Allez en mer, laissez-moi sur ma terre sèche,
Nous ne sommes pas faits pour mélanger nos jours.

A Poet

I do not always go alone to the bottom of myself.
I drag more than one live being with me.
Can those who are made to enter my cold caves
ever be sure of coming out again, even for a moment?
Like a sinking vessel, I pull passengers and sailors
pell-mell into my night. I darken their cabins,
I extinguish the light in their eyes.
I make friends with great depths.

Un poète

Je ne vais pas toujours seul au fond de moi-même
Et j’entraîne avec moi plus d’un être vivant.
Ceux qui seront entrés dans mes froides cavernes
Sont-ils sûrs d’en sortir, même pour un moment?
J’entasse dans ma nuit, comme un vaisseau qui sombre,
Pêle-mêle, les passagers et les marins,
Et j’éteins la lumière aux yeux, dans les cabines,
Je me fais des amis des grandes profondeurs.

He Alone

If you touch his hand, it’s without knowing.
You remember him, but under another name.
In the middle of the night, in your deepest sleep
you say his real name and invite him to stay.

One day – it could be any time at all – there’s a knock
and I guess it is he who has come to be near us,
and you look at him with such forgetfulness that he goes
far away to the place he came from, yet leaving

a door, faint and living, as he is.

Lui seul

Si vous touchez sa main c’est bien sans le savoir,
Vous vous le rappelez mais sous un autre nom,
Au milieu de la nuit, au plus fort du sommeil,
Vous dites son vrai nom et le faites asseoir.

Un jour, on frappe et je devine que c’est lui
Qui s’en vient près de nous, a n’importe quelle heure
Et vous le regardez avec un tel oubli
Qu’il s’en retourne au loin mais en laissant derrière

Une porte vivante et pâle comme lui.


supervielleJules Supervielle (1884-1960) was born into a French-Basque family living in Uruguay. At ten, he was sent to Paris, where he completed his education at the Sorbonne. For the rest of his life, he divided his time between Uruguay and France. He made early literary friendships with André Gide, Paul Valéry and Jacques Rivière. In 1923, he met Rilke, who was to prove a crucial influence on his work. Supervielle’s poetry is imagistically rich, describing both inner and outer landscapes, often fusing the two imperceptibly. Much of it embodies a deeply-questioning and exploratory faith, expressing a yearning to bring the self and the exiled other into one whole. Supervielle also wrote a number of works of fiction as well as several plays. His collections of poetry include: Gravitations (1925), Le Forçat innocent (1930), Les Amis inconnus (1934), La Fable du Monde (1938, 1946), Oublieuse Mémoire (1949), Naissances (1951), and L’Escalier (1956).

Ian Seed’s translations have appeared in such journals as Shearsman, PN Review and Poetry Salzburg Review. His translations from the Italian of Ivano Fermini were published as the straw which comes apart by Oystercatcher Press in 2010. See http://www.oystercatcherpress.com/ifermini.html. No-one Else At Home, a translation of a short story by the Polish author Joanna Skalska, was published by Flax in 2007 as part of a Lancaster Litfest project. Seed’s own collections include Makers of Empty Dreams (2014), Shifting Registers (2011) and Anonymous Intruder (2009), all published by Shearsman. See http://www.shearsman.com/ws-shop/category/1016-seed-ian/product/4607-ian-seed-makers-of-empty-dreams. He teaches at the University of Chester.

Google BookmarksGoogle GmailPrintPrintFriendlyYahoo MailTwitterKindle ItReddit

3 Comments

  1. Pauline Keith wrote:

    Thank you for these – a bonus as the day is darkening.

    Friday, 28 November 2014 at 15:25 | Permalink
  2. Martine Bourdeau wrote:

    I am so thankful you have such beautiful translations of these poems. Could you tell me if there is any translation of the poem “le Matin du Monde.”
    I would be willing to translate it for your magazine. I am french and have a Ph.D in comparative literature.

    Wednesday, 4 May 2016 at 16:37 | Permalink
  3. rebecca wrote:

    Found this translation on this site:
    http://www.bu.edu/agni/poetry/print/1975/5-supervielle-morning.html

    The Morning of the World
    by Jules Supervielle
     
    translated from the French by Geoffrey Gardener

    
***
     
    Jules Supervielle was an important force in French poetry. He has not received his deserved recognition in this country due to spotty translations.

    Geoffrey Gardener is busy rectifying this error. His poems and translations have appeared in Bleb, Cottonwood Review, New Letters, Skywriting, and APR. (Spring 1975)

    Tuesday, 15 November 2016 at 04:33 | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *
*
*

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.