Two Poems

The Departure


Farewell my pond and all my many doves

Upon their tower and who kindly donned

Their silky plumage and its swollen loves

Farewell pond.


Farewell my home and all its gables blue

So many friends in every season come

To see us, though from leagues away they flew,

Farewell home.


Farewell laundry! upon a hedge it hangs

I’ve painted it so often, near the belfry!

— You know it is to you that it belongs

Farewell laundry!


Farewell wainscot! and many doors of glass.

Upon the mirror floor they shined a lot

With bars of white, whose colors brightly flash

Farewell wainscot!


Farewell orchards, the cellars and the panels

And on the pond our sailboats just like birds

Our white-coiffed maid along with all the flannels

Farewell orchards.


Farewell, oval river clearest of all,

Farewell my mountain! Farewell sweet forest!

It’s all of you who are my capitol

And never Paris.




Max Jacob, from The Central Laboratory (1921)

Translated by Alexander Dickow



Le Départ


Adieu l’étang et toutes mes colombes

Dans leur tour et qui mirent gentiment

Leur soyeux plumage au col blanc qui bombe

Adieu l’étang.


Adieu maison et ses toitures bleues

Où tant d’amis, dans toutes les saisons,

Pour nous revoir avaient fait quelques lieues,

Adieu maison.


Adieu le linge à la haie en piquants

Près du clocher! oh! que de fois le peins-je –

Que tu connais comme t’appartenant

Adieu le linge!


Adieu lambris! maintes portes vitrées.

Sur le parquet miroir si bien verni

Des barreaux blancs et des couleurs diaprées

Adieu lambris!


Adieu vergers, les caveaux et les planches

Et sur l’étang notre bateau voilier

Notre servante avec sa coiffe blanche

Adieu vergers.


Adieu aussi mon fleuve clair ovale,

Adieu montagne! adieu arbres chéris!

C’est vous qui tous êtes ma capitale

Et non Paris.



The Screamer


The gallows is the guillotine,

No more of that, it’s just for kings!

The humble one who writes these things

Would like a cross to end his spleen.

I dip my reed in the blood of my heart:

Title, damage? animalcule

God will laugh at your ridicule!

Now go hang yourself somewhere else!

We’ll give you the right

To rope and a bed for the night.


Astounding foxgloves by the woods would make

Good trim around my tombstone all in rows

Now make of it an extract, then partake,

And then you shall be healed of all your woes.


Go on! cut me a nice slab of marble

With my name in golden script upon it;

And beside it plant a shady arbor

And the day I died, don’t you forget it


I never could be in the military

Being half of steel and half of butter

But all my friends were never treated better,

They block the way to a good monastery.


It smells like strawberries! It smells like mandarine!

Guard-judges say the king is on the sauce

I, Bourtibourg, I say they’ll do me in

Judge, stop! I want to die upon a cross!


This act of love to writing I commit:

To each his fate! If I have the Spirit

I desire naught but to die tonight

To die, and yet still living by His Light




Le Kamichi


L’échafaud, c’est la guillotine.

On n’en veut plus, c’est pour les rois!

L’humble auteur qui t’écrit ces lignes

Veut pour le moins mourir en croix

Je trempe mon roseau dans le sang de mon cœur :

Titre ou dommage? animalcule

Dieu vous trouvera ridicule!

Allez donc vous faire pendre ailleurs!

On vous accorde

L’Asile de nuit et la corde.


La digitale étonne au bord des bois

J’en veux avoir autour de mon tombeau.

Fais un extrait de cette plante et bois,

Et tu seras guéri de tous tes maux.


Allons! découpez-moi un bon morceau de marbre

Avec dessus mon nom en lettres d’or;

Vous planterez auprès tel ou tel arbre

N’oubliez pas la date de ma mort


Je n’ai jamais pu être militaire

Etant moitié fil de fer et coton

Mais je fus dévoué aux compagnons,

Obstacle au bien que fait le monastère.


Ça sent la fraise!  Ça sent la mandarine!

Juges-gardiens disent que le roi boit

Moi, Bourtibourg, je dis qu’on m’assassine

Juge, arrêtez! Je veux mourir en croix!


Acte d’amour que je mets par écrit:

Chacun son lot! Si j’ai le Saint-Esprit

Fors que mourir, je ne veux rien sur terre

Mourir, encor vivant de Sa lumière



Max Jacob (1876-1944) was a French modernist poet. Born to a secular Jewish family in Quimper, Brittany, he had mystical visions in 1909 and subsequently converted to catholicism in 1915, with his close friend Pablo Picasso as godfather. He is most renowned in the United States through his collection of prose poems The Dice Cup (1917), but continued to write many novels, collections of poetry in verse and prose, and fictional letters and monologues. The present poems are excerpted from his greatest collection of modernist verse, The Central Laboratory (1921). Max Jacob died in Drancy at the hands of the Nazis in 1944.


Alexander Dickow (1979-) is a literary scholar, poet, and translator. He writes in English and French, and is the author of poetic works including Caramboles (Paris: Argol Editions, 2008), Trial Balloons (Corrupt Press, 2012), and Rhapsodie curieuse (Mugron, France: Louise Bottu, 2017). He studied Max Jacob’s work in a critical essay on French modernism, Le Poète innombrable: Blaise Cendrars, Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob (Paris: Hermann, 2015). He works as an associate professor of French at Virginia Tech.




Share This