New Series No. 16 - 2000
from Thirty-three Sonnets
I dreamed that I carried you in my arms
from the courtyard to your darkened room.
You seemed a sister to cherished creatures
whom I adore, but I did not know you.
It was a moonlit night with hoarfrost,
a vibrant night, echoing with adventure.
And as I tried to discover your face,
I felt you light and trembling with cold.
Then I lost you, like so many other things,
the pearl of secrets, the saffron of roses,
offered to my heart in dreams or reality.
With every sun so painfully reshaped,
memory’s ciphers, enigmas all lead me
to a paragon of sorrow, keen and lucid.
Rose of Alexandria . . . It was a song
spangled and streaked by rockets on the beach.
And the night effervesced all over, as it does
when the first celebration takes place at home.
Yes, a childlike joy rushed us onto the balcony
and we gazed down at the dancing in the village.
And yet, beloved, your face was shadowed,
and our hands trembled as we turned that page!
Then, with summer, hope came too and brusquely
caught us in its clutches, fantastic hope!
There it was! – Perhaps it is still with us.
We sense something prowling alongside our lives,
across the forest where our steps become wearier,
a ferocious beast, never appeased.
My companion, you will only have known the dark
side of my star and its sightless eyes,
unyielding mouth and its aridity,
only the austere aspect of a mortal shadow.
Who else should have had my glances and the tuneful
liquid cupped in my hands when it was light?
My exotic promises soon slipped away
to the distant rim of the fatal sphere.
Return to your own light and your own strength,
– your angel still prospers – and be
a Narcissus without pride, desire or tears,
bewildered and blushing to know yourself lovely.
You alone have let me offer at my altars
a felicity fashioned from alarms.
Hand in hand assiduous dreams pass in turn,
turning all my trodden paths into one dark lane,
blowing such a devastating sigh over it
because in your heart, where my story is known,
I can only reflect illusions and grief
and languishing stars on a meandering road,
a conjuncture of dissonant chords that trail
without echo or measure or mirrored semblance.
If I drink at your sky it is because
my bitter cup has filled it to the brim.
My eyes are dazzled when my grieving perceives yours,
gaping holes of flame multiply all around,
as many blue ocelli as in the peacock’s tail,
your glances ripped on the rocks of my night.
Like the secret sense of a child’s roundelay,
hasn’t everyone longed to hear his own voice one day
and see his own gaze and the marks
of his footprints as his steps move away?
My poorly beloved, Time, that arrant impostor
robbed us of our time and wily, flew away,
leaving us a shred of his spiteful song
as a lullaby. It sometimes seemed to me
that this life was not entirely our own.
But don’t you see, it was surely she and no one else.
The wandering girl with wasted hands, who came to sit
in the cold chimney corner one windy evening,
just look at her, look at her fearful glance
of a forlorn bird, of a languishing star.
When we enter that Chinese city,
I shall limp a little but I shall know love.
Poor pawns, crouched at ploughs or else
at feverish walls and gates and towers
will rush to guide us to the cisterns,
and a mild moon, sister to the day’s end,
will welcome us with a retinue of lanterns
and a battery of cymbals and muffled shouts.
I shall go clinging to the folds of your beloved gown
and to the furtive kisses that your eyes give,
eyes of paradise, of music and prayer.
Oh! What an unexpected recompense
to discover, like twin glints of stars lost
then lit again, the breath of our buoyant souls.
Jean Cassou (1897-1986) was born in Bilbao but spent his adult life in Paris, where he directed the Museum of Modern Art for twenty years. He was an anti- Fascist in the Spanish Civil War and a leader of the French Resistance in the Second World War. As well as poetry, his writings include novels, short stories,
biographies of painters, historical studies, translations from Spanish and journalism. His Thirty-three Sonnets Composed in Secret were written while he was imprisoned during the Occupation.
Jacqueline Kiang was born in New York and lives in Paris. She is an engraver and watercolourist, and received the Guy Levis Mano Prize for poetry illustration in 1984. Three of her translations of Cassou’s sonnets appeared in MPT 1.
The Thirty-three Sonnets were published clandestinely by Editions de Minuit in 1944, with an introduction by Aragon. Eight of the sonnets, together with part of Aragon’s introduction, were translated by Timothy Ades and
appeared in MPT 9.
Translated by J Kiang
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The