Thursday, June 12, 2014

both lay me down and sleep: collaboration #3

june 12, 2014

In January, a friend suggested Paul Verlaine, but I had no time for translating just then.

Just then I had just caught my breath from one daughter's wedding and was plunging in for the second daughter's.
Un grand sommeil noir 
Tombe sur ma vie.  
Dormez, tout espoir. 
Dormez, tout envie!
A great black slumber
Tumbles on my life
Sleep, all aspiration.
Sleep, all envy. 

Just then I was at the hinge point of three hundred days -- on either end of those three hundred days I would be balancing schedules and needs, juggling requests and desires, planning out itineraries, chivvying the resident recalcitrants (how are they increased that trouble me!) to pack their bags for one kind of travel or another.  Too much cumbered about for translation of any kind.

And what's the point of reading French poetry someone else has cast as English verse?
 


It isn't until June, until now, that I have a whole sky above me and time to translate work into words, events into sense.  It isn't until now that I have hours to drive into the night.
Les chats-huants s'éveillent, et sans bruit
Rament l'air noir avec leurs ailes lourdes,
Et le zénith s'emplit de lueurs sourdes.
Blanche, Vénus émerge, et c'est la Nuit.
Hoot owls awake and noiseless
Row the black air with heavy wings
And the zenith fills with deaf glimmerings.
White, Venus emerges, and it is the Night. 

If I had been wise, though I am rarely wise, I would have been driving from the darkest morning into day.  But instead I'd spent the evening before, deep into the night, watering and weeding and transplanting violets and Corsican mint around my three small garden beds just outside the door, my kitchen plot, my potager -- more flowery still than food for pot.  No one is relying on these small rows to feed themselves, though the cabbages are shaping up and the kale looking stately, the lettuces verging on magnificent just in time for me to leave them undefended from the voracious foraging of gastropods.



What's the point of this tiny garden of pretty vegetables no one needs?
What's the point of poetry?
What's the point of anything we do beyond getting and begetting?

I was tired the next morning, which rose hot and bright.  To keep myself awake I had to stop every three hours at rest stations to stretch my legs on the sidewalks winding around the Navajo willows, to lay in the cool grass in the shade with my eyes closed while the boys practiced their soccer moves nearby.  I never slept exactly but rested my eyes, listening to the wind and the laughing voices of my sons, breathing in the spicy scent of Russian olive.

We drove, my two boys and I, through the mountains, through the dry plains, into the night, into the valley where their father's flight touched down shortly after midnight,  into the narrow valley where their final sister's final wedding festivity would take place the next day.
Et, dans la splendeur triste d’une lune
Se levant blafarde et solennelle, une
Nuit mélancolique et lourde d’été,
Pleine de silence et d’obscurité
 And, in the sad splendor of a moon
Rising pallid and solemn, one
Night melancholy and heavy with summer,
Full of silence and obscurity

All day we had driven, listening to Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods about his hiking the Appalachian Trail. He sets out, but never achieves all 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine.  It is no failure; he walks over a thousand miles; and who of us ever does entirely fulfill our aim?  We loved it, my boys and I: laughing as we listened, translating our experiences bike-tenting and bike-trekking into his experiences with rain and maps and wacko traveling companions.  Then translating his miles and climbs and solitary hours back into our own miles and climbs and hours of road.  The translations, as they always are, a little inexact but shining in the same general area of the sky for each of us. 


The owls are awake, in soundless flight          The hoot-owls, silent, wake and take their flight             the horned owls waken now and row
They row through the air on heavy wings,            They plow the black air with weighty wings;                    with heavy wings in silent flight,

The zenith fills, sombrely glowing.                              The heavens fill with soundless glitterings.                         the zenith fills with a dull glow.
Pale Venus emerges, and it is Night.                           White, Venus sallies forth, and it is night.                              Pale, Venus comes forth; and it is Night.   
     (trans. by A.S. Kline)                                                              (trans. by Norman Shapiro)                                                        (trans. by C.F. Macintyre)

When we arrived at last at our daughter's house, there was no answer at the door.  It was late.  She and her husband had work early the next morning and we didn't want to knock too loud. 

Fritz wanted to find a motel.  
But the night was so warm and fine.  
And mostly spent.

While Fritz headed back to sleep in the car, the boys and I slipped around to the back, lay down beneath the trees with our pillows and a sleeping bag on the thick lush grass in the warm night beneath a soft full moon slipping with bellied sails through archipelagos of cloud.  Young slept.  Mijo stared wide-eyed at the night.  I lay on my side with an arm over him, reassuring him that it was safe, that we were fine.  The night was fragrant and full of peace whether sleep came or not.

Je suis un berceau
Qu'une main balance
Au creux d'un caveau:
Silence, silence!
I am a cradle
that a hand balances 
in the hollow of a vault:
silence, Silence! 


For an hour we lay there.  

And then, before the sprinklers roused themselves to drench the stretch of lawn we'd stretched out on, our daughter and her husband awoke suddenly, throwing open their doors -- "Family, wake up! Come in!"  And we came in and slept.

1 comment:

Lisa B. said...

Hi, I've missed you, and this is beautiful.

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