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Even more new translations from ‘The Dice Cup’.

By MAX JACOB.

Translated from the French by Ian Seed.

The third such collection.

Introductory Note.

MAX JACOB WAS born in Quimper in Brittany in 1876. After a religious vision in 1909, he eventually converted from being an ‘atheist Jew’ (Jacob’s own term) to Catholicism in 1916. This did not prevent him from being arrested and transported in February 1944 to Drancy, a transit camp for Jewish deportees, where he died three weeks later.

Max Jacob’s father was a tailor and the owner of an antique shop. Jacob’s large family, including uncles, aunts and cousins, often make an appearance in his poems. In 1894 Jacob left Quimper to study law in Paris, but abandoned his studies two years later to become an art critic. In 1899 he decided to become a painter, supporting himself through a series of menial clerical jobs. When he met Picasso in 1901, the two became friends immediately. Picasso expressed his admiration for some poems Jacob showed him. From this time on, Jacob regarded poetry as his true vocation.

He became a central figure in the Cubist movement of poets and painters, and a mentor to Pierre Reverdy. His book of prose poems, Le Cornet à dés (The Dice Cup), was published in 1917. It remains to this day an innovative and important work, yet much of Le Cornet à dés remains unavailable in English, although some fine selections have been translated – see, for example, The Dice Cup: Selected Prose Poems, edited and with an introduction by Michael Brownstein (Sun, 1979), with translations by John Ashbery, David Ball, Michael Brownstein, Ron Padgett, Zack Rogow and Bill Zavatsky; The Selected Poems of Max Jacob, edited and translated by William Kulik (Oberlin College Press, 1999); and The Dice Cup: a translation of the first part by Christopher Pilling and David Kennedy (Atlas, 2000). The most beautiful versions are perhaps those by John Ashbery, included in his Collected French Translations: Poetry (Carcanet, 2014). I am currently in the process of translating the whole of The Dice Cup. Best of all, of course, is to go to the original Le Cornet à dés, available from Èditions Gallimard. — Ian Seed.

Frontispiece

YES, IT FELL from the nipple of my breast and I didn’t notice. As a ship with its crew emerges from the shelter of the rocks without increasing the sea’s trembling, without the earth feeling this new adventure, a new poem fell from my Cybele breast, and without me even noticing.

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Frontispiece

Oui, il est tombé du bouton de mon sein et je ne m’en suis pas aperçu. Comme un bateau sort de l’antre du rocher avec les marins sans que la mer en frémisse davantage, sans que la terre sente cette aventure nouvelle, il est tombé de mon sein de Cybèle un poème nouveau et je ne m’en suis pas aperçu.

 

Hellish Night

SOMETHING HORRIBLY COLD falls onto my shoulders. Something gluey attaches itself to my neck. A voice from the sky is crying, ‘Monster!’ without me knowing if it’s talking about me and my vices or the sticky creature that’s attached itself to me.

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Nuit Infernale

Quelque chose d’horriblement froid tombe sur mes épaules. Quelque chose de gluant s’attache à mon cou. Une voix vient du ciel qui crie :’Monstre !’ sans que je sache si c’est de moi et de mes vices qu’il s’agit ou si l’on m’indique d’ailleurs l’être visqueux qui s’attache à moi.

 

Translated from the German or the Bosnian

For Madame Édouard Fillacier

MY HORSE HAS stopped. Stop yours too, friend – I’m scared. Between us and the slopes of the hill, the grassy slopes of the hill, there’s a woman, unless it’s a great cloud. Stop! She’s calling me. She’s calling me and I see her beating heart. Her arm makes a sign for me to follow her, her arm…unless her arm’s a cloud.

– Stop, friend, I’m scared, stop! Between the trees of the hill, the trees at an angle on the hill, I’ve see an eye, unless that eye is a cloud. It’s staring at me, making me nervous. Stop! It’s following in our footsteps along the road, unless that eye’s a cloud.

– Listen, friend. Ghosts of this life or another, let’s not speak of them in the city or they’ll treat us as trouble-makers.

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Traduit de l’allemand ou du bosniaque

A Madame Édouard Fillacier

Mon cheval s’arrête ! Arrête aussi le tien, compagnon, j’ai peur ! entre les pentes de la colline et nous, les pentes gazonnées de la colline, c’est une femme, si ce n’est pas un grand nuage. Arrête ! elle m’appelle ! elle m’appelle et je vois son sein qui bat ! son bras me fait signe de la suivre, son bras… si son bras n’est pas un nuage.

– Arrête, compagnon, j’ai peur, arrête ! entre les arbres de la colline, les arbres inclinés de la colline, j’ai vu un œil, si cet œil n’est pas un nuage. Il me fixe, il m’inquiète; arrête ! Il suit nos pas sur la route, si cet œil n’est pas un nuage.

– Écoute, compagnon ! fantômes, vies de cette terre ou d’une autre, ne parlons pas de ces êtres à la ville pour n’être pas traités d’importuns.

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Romance

THERE’S ONLY EVER been one cosy little house for me. It’s in Quimper and has two little windows which open onto a small balcony. Coming back from high school, our eyes were always on them. One day, to take revenge for some trick, someone threw ink out of the window over my overcoat. What spite there was in those purple stains! I grabbed the guilty wrist and pulled. Out came the hip of a woman in a dressing gown. That woman would one day be mine.

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Le Roman

Il n’y a jamais eu qu’un rez-de-chausée bourgeois pour moi : c’est deux petites fenêtres à Quimper ouvertes sous un petit balcon. En revenant du collège, nos regards étaient là. Un jour, pour se revenger de quelque farce, on jeta de la fenêtre de l’encre sur mon pardessus. Quelle méchanceté ! des perles violettes ! je tins le poignet coupable e j’attirai dehors la hanche d’une femme sous un peignoir. Cette femme devait, un jour, être la mienne.

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How Confession Works

ON THE ROAD which leads to the racetrack, there was a beggar who looked like a servant. ‘Have pity,’ he said, ‘I’m sick, I’ll gamble away the money you give me.’ And that’s how it went after the confession. He had great success, and he deserved it.

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Succès de la Confession

Sur la route qui mène au champ de course, il y avait un mendiant pareil à un domestique: ‘Ayez pitié, disait-il, ‘je suis vicieux, j’irai jouer avec l’argent que vous me donnerez.’ Et ainsi de suite sa confession. Il avait un grand succès et il le méritait.

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Movie

A FAMILY FROM the provinces in a carriage: it’s pretty amazing that the two maids are in the hood. Then they’re on the seat, then on the footboards, where they fall asleep. Meanwhile, two thieves climb into the hood and get up to some odd tricks They attach cardboard ears to everyone asleep, and the next morning, sir, madam and the maids will no longer recognise one another.

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Cinématographe

Une famille de province dans un fiacre: il est bien étonnant que les deux bonnes soient dans la capote, on les met ensuite sur le siège, puis sur les marchepieds, où elles s’endorment. Pendant ce temps, deux cambrioleurs sont montés dans la capote et se livrent à des excentricités. Ils mettent à tout ce monde qui dort des oreilles en carton et, le lendemain matin, monsieur, madame et les bonnes ne se reconnaîtront plus.

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A Little Theosophy, Unforeseen but not Unforeseeable

THE FORTIFICATIONS ARE whiter and further away. One can no longer make out the doors. It’s time to think of my dead child. Divorced, remarried, I’m a widower and I remember. Oh exquisite face of my first wife! She was blonde, she had the innocent air of those who have not suffered.

Oh, angelic figure of our child: our dead child! Many evenings have I seen in my mind the burial of that child. All the evils followed that hearse: those that affect the stomach, those that affect the forehead, those that affect the thigh, those that affect the foot. Moreover, there were some missing an arm, some lame, some on crutches, and some blind.

Weep over your deceased wives! Weep over your beautiful, dead child. You would weep with less suffering if the procession did not lead even the gargoyles of Notre-Dame to the cemetery.

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Un Peu de Théosophie Imprevue mais Non Imprévisible

Les fortifications sont plus blanches et plus lointaines. On ne distingue plus les portes. C’est l’heure de penser à mon enfant mort. Divorcé, remarié, je suis veuf et je médite. Ô visage exquis de ma première femme ! elle était blonde, elle avait l’air candide des gens qui n’ont pas souffert.

Ô figure angélique de notre enfant : l’enfant mort ! J’ai revu bien des soirs l’enterrement de l’enfant : il y avait tous les vices derrière le corbillard : ceux qui touchent le ventre, ceux qui touchent le front, ceux qui touchent la cuisse, ceux qui touchent le pied. Il y avait aussi des manchots, des boiteux, des béquillards et des aveugles.

Pleurez vos femmes défuntes ! pleurez votre bel enfant mort, vous pleureriez avec moins de douleur si les cortèges n’avaient emmené au cimetière les gargouilles même de Notre-Dame.

 


Contributing editor Ian Seed’s most recent collection of poetry, New York Hotel (Shearsman, 2018), was selected by Mark Ford as a Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year. Writing in the TLS, Ford comments: ‘I greatly enjoyed the latest collection of Ian Seed’s beautifully-crafted prose poems, New York Hotel. Seed’s micro-narratives and oblique parables are at once droll and haunting, as unpredictable as quicksand, and as elegant as the work of those masters of the prose poem, Max Jacob and Pierre Reverdy (both of whom Seed has translated)’. Seed’s other publications include Distances (Red Ceilings, 2018), Identity Papers (Shearsman, 2016), The Thief of Talant (Wakefield, 2016) (from the French of Pierre Reverdy’s Le Voleur de Talan), Makers of Empty Dreams (Shearsman, 2014), and Amore Mio (Flax, 2011). He teaches at the University of Chester. An archive of his work appearing in the Fortnightly is here.

 

More translations by Ian Seed from Max Jacob’s The Dice Cup are here.

 

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