Yves Bonnefoy

A God | A Poet | “Facesti come quei che va di notte…” | The Mocking of Ceres
August 14, 2012 Bonnefoy Yves

A God

 

Here lies a god who was obtuse, just like us.

Who never knew how to love, with a child’s

Simple love. Who was awkward and brash,

Because he had no words to clear the air.

 

And who died without unleashing

His powers—in this, he was our twin.

And who never ceased to be amazed

At being, like ourselves in our last days.

 

Was he a son? Yes, but a son in revolt,

Who insulted his father. A son who chose

To die, in the derangement of his pride.

 

Still, he wished he had lived, if only for an hour,

To hold the hand of that child he could not be—

Though their tears were often one and the same.

 

 

Un dieu

 

Ci-gît un dieu qui n’aura pas compris

Mieux que nous. Qui n’aura pas aimé

Comme un enfant le peut. Qui était gauche,

Qui fut violent, faute des mots qui clarifient.

 

Et qui mourut sans avoir fait usage

De ses pouvoirs, en ceci notre proche,

Un qui ne cessa pas de s’étonner d’être

Comme nous le faisons, à nos derniers jours.

 

Fut-il un fils ? Certes, mais révolté,

Qui insulta son père, et décida

De mourir, par désordre de son orgueil.

 

Mais qui aurait voulu, au moins une heure, vivre,

Prenant la main de l’enfant qu’il ne put

Ëtre, bien qu’avec si souvent les mêmes larmes.

 

 

A Poet

 

Did he want to be a torch

He could toss into the sea?

He went far among the puddles

Between distance and the sky.

 

When he came back to us, by then

He’d been unwritten by the wind–

Even though his fist had clutched

Entire worlds of smoke.

 

Scattered leaves of Sibyls,

Phrases warped and racked …

What was he saying? Who can tell.

 

He believed in finding plainer words;

But distance is still here. No sign

Will be revealed by water’s gleam.

 

 

Un poète

 

Se voulait-il une torche

Qu’il eût jetée dans la mer ?

Il alla loin dans les flaques

D’entre là-bas et le ciel,

 

Puis il se retourna vers nous,

Mais le vent l’avait désécrit

Bien que sa main fût crispée

Sur les mondes de la fumée.

 

Feuilles éparses de Sibylles,

Parole extrême déchirée,

Que dit-il ? Nous n’avons pas su.

 

Il croyait en des mots plus simples,

Mais là-bas n’est qu’ici encore,

Et nul signe n’est l’eau qui brille.

 

 

“Facesti come quei che va di notte…”

 

He brandished a peculiar torch:

Its double gleam perplexed the souls

Who groped along behind him,

Striving not to fear the abyss.

 

Guide, why have you never shone

On your own body the light you hold?

Have you no need to see the cleft

That opens up beneath your steps?

 

But such is allegory’s fate: its deviser

Never knows, and must not know, where

His words arise, and where they fall.

 

His foot seeks toeholds in the void.

His flights of speech veer and quake,

Like flames more dreamless than ash.

 

 

« Facesti come quei che va di notte… »

 

Il agitait une sorte de torche

Dont la double lueur déconcertait

Ces autres qui cherchaient derrière lui

À ne pas avoir peur, le long du gouffre.

 

Guide, pourquoi n’as-tu, sur ton propre corps,

Rien de cette lumière que tu offres ?

N’as-tu aucun besoin de percevoir

Le vide qui se creuse sous tes pas ?

 

Mais tel est le destin de l’allégorie :

Qui parle ne pourra ni ne doit savoir

D’où vient et où s’abîme sa parole.

 

Son pied cherche le sol à même le vide,

Son vol hésite et vire dans ses mots,

Flamme de moins de rêve que la cendre.

 

 

The Mocking of Ceres

 

Trying to befriend his fever’s words,

He peered through the clouded glass

Of his sleep. Outside, he heard talking.

He cracked the door: darkness, night…

 

Painter, whose hand is this you hold

While you sleep? Why not let go?

Can clinging to the hand of a child

Save you from the unrelenting fear

 

That blights your images? I dream

You will guide his trust to Ceres, who judges,

But also suffers; condemns, but also loves.

 

I dream you will make peace between desire

And the child: so his bafflement will cease,

And desire no longer lead him to his doom.

 

 

La dérision de Cérès

 

Par amitié pour les mots de sa fièvre

Il regarda par la vitre embuée

De son sommeil. On se parlait, dehors,

Il entrouvrit sa porte, il faisait nuit.

 

Ah, peintre, qu’est-ce donc que cette main

Que tu prends dans la tienne quand tu dors,

Pourquoi la retiens-tu, cette main d’enfant,

Comme si sa pression te délivrait

 

D’une peur qui ravage tes images ?

Moi, je rêve que tu en guides la confiance,

Jusqu’à celle qui juge, qui condamne,

 

Mais qui aime, et qui souffre. Que tu réconcilies

L’enfant et le désir. Qu’il n’y ait plus

D’étonnement dans l’un, de vindicte dans l’autre.

Yves Bonnefoy, often acclaimed as France’s greatest living poet, has published nine major collections of verse, several books of tales, and numerous studies of literature and art. He has also served as the chief editor of an important dictionary of world mythology, in two volumes. He succeeded Roland Barthes in the Chair of Comparative Poetics at the Collège de France, and is perennially cited as a leading candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. His work has been translated into scores of languages, and he himself is a celebrated translator of Shakespeare, Yeats, Keats, and Leopardi. Most recently, he has added the European Prize for Poetry of 2006 and the Kafka Prize for 2007 to his long list of honors. He lives in Paris.