Now that everything’s been put off again until tomorrow.

Language: French
Poet: Pierre Reverdy
Translator: Dan Bellm

SHARE:

Now that everything’s been put off again until tomorrow

Six poems from Painted Stars by Pierre Reverdy, translated by Dan Bellm

Pierre Reverdy was born in Narbonne, France, in 1889, and came to Paris in 1910, where he founded the groundbreaking, highly influential journal Nord-Sud in 1917 with Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire, publishing those poets as well as the early work of André Breton, Tristan Tzara, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, Vicente Huidobro, and Jean Cocteau. He also became closely associated with Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris, each of whom later illustrated one or more of his books. André Breton, in his first Surrealist Manifesto, hailed Reverdy as “the greatest poet of the time.” Yet after living at the center of French poetry and culture for some fifteen years, Reverdy withdrew from it almost completely, converting to Catholicism in 1926 and leaving Paris with his wife, Henriette, for Solesmes, a village near the Belgian border best known for its Benedictine abbey. During the German occupation of France of World War II, he served as a partisan in the resistance movement. Except for intermittent visits to Paris, Reverdy continued to write and to live what he called a “quasi-monastic life” in Solesmes until his death in 1960.
Dan Bellm is a poet and translator living in Berkeley, California. His translations of poetry and fiction from Spanish and French have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Two Lines, The Village Voice, and other journals and anthologies. He is a recipient of the 2013 Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he has also published three books of poetry, most recently Practice (Sixteen Rivers Press), winner of a 2009 California Book Award. He teaches literary translation at Antioch University Los Angeles and at New York University.

Le monde plate-forme

La moitié de tout ce qu’on pouvait voir glissait. Il y avait des danseurs près des phares et des pas de lumière. Tout le monde dormait. D’une masse d’arbres dont on ne distinguait que l’ombre — l’ombre qui marchait en se séparant des feuilles, une aile se dégagea, peu à peu, secouant la lune dans un battement rapide et mou. L’air se tenait tout entier. Le pavé glissant ne supportait plus aucune audace et pourtant c’était en pleine ville, en plein nuit — le ciel se rattachant à la terre aux maisons du faubourg. Les passants avaient escaladé un autre monde qu’ils regardaient en souriant.  Mais on ne savait pas s’ils resteraient plus longtemps là ou s’ils iraient tomber enfin dans l’autre sens de la ruelle.

The platform world

Half of what was visible was sliding. There were dancers near the beacons and footsteps of light. Everyone was asleep. Out from a mass of trees where nothing could be seen but shadow—the shadow that was walking, detaching itself from the leaves—little by little a wing flew free, shaking off the moon with a quick and muffled beat. The air kept completely still. The slippery pavement would bear no more audacity, but it was right in the middle of town, in the dead of night, the sky fastening itself to the earth with its rows of houses. Passersby had scaled another world that they gazed at with a smile. But there was no way of knowing whether they would stay there any longer or go fall at last into the other direction of the little street.

L’ombre et l’image

Si j’ai ri ce n’est pas du monde éclatant et joyeux qui passait devant moi. Les têtes penchées ou droites me font peur et mon rire aurait changé de forme en une grimace. Les jambes qui courent tremblent et les pieds plus lourds manquent le pas. Je n’ai pas ri du monde qui passait devant moi — mais parce que j’étais seul, plus tard, dans les champs, devant la forêt énorme et calme et sous les voix qui, dans l’air endormi, se répondaient.

Shadow and image

If I laughed it wasn’t because of the bright and joyful world passing before me. Heads leaning forward or facing straight ahead scare me, and my laugh would have turned into a grimace. Running legs tremble and heavy feet misstep. I wasn’t laughing at the world passing before me—I laughed because I was alone, later on, in the country, standing in front of the calm enormous forest under voices that answered each other in the drowsy air.

Mécanique verbale et don de soi

Aucun mot n’aurait mieux pu, sans doute, exprimer sa joie. Il le dit et tous ceux qui attendaient contre le mur tremblèrent. Il y avait au centre un grand nuage — une énorme tête et les autres observaient fixement les moindres pas marqués sur le chemin. Il n’y avait rien pourtant et dans le silence les attitudes devenaient difficiles.  Un train passa derrière la barrière et brouilla les lignes qui tenaient le paysage debout. Et tout disparut alors, se mêla dans le bruit ininterrompu de la pluie, du sang perdu, du tonnerre ou des paroles machinales, du plus important de tous ces personnages.

Verbal mechanics and gift of self

No doubt about it; no other word could have better expressed his joy. Everyone who was waiting against the wall trembled when he said it. There was a large cloud in the middle—an enormous head—and the others stared at the slightest marks of footsteps on the path. Yet there was nothing there, and it was becoming difficult to know in the silence what attitude to strike. Behind the fence a train went by, blurring the lines that held the scene upright. Then everything disappeared, mingled with the unbroken sound of rain, lost blood, thunder, or the mechanical words that the most important of these characters said.

Entre deux crépuscules

C’est dans ce carré de ciel plus clair qu’on allumera les étoiles pour le feu d’artifice. Par-dessus la hauteur des arbres — des mouvements de vent, des bruits d’orage — des appels menaçants. C’est l’endroit où l’on ouvre la grille. Les raies se détachent du mur et c’est une ombre oblique sur la route — qui court trop vite. On attend. Près du bois, d’où sort le pavillon, on entend — et ce sont certainement des pas tranquilles — en même temps que s’élève une prière ou, plus loin, un plus joyeux refrain. Puis le jour entre tout à fait, les cœurs se rétablissent. Puisque tout est encore remis au lendemain.

Between two twilights

It’s in this clearest patch of sky that they’ll light up the stars for the fireworks. Above the treetops—the motion of wind, the sounds of a storm—menacing cries. It’s the place where they open the gate. Lines come loose from the wall and it’s a diagonal shadow on the road, running too fast. We wait. Over by the woods where the house juts out we hear what must be quiet footsteps, just as a prayer rises up, or, further off, a more joyful refrain. Then the day arrives completely, and hearts are restored. Now that everything’s been put off again until tomorrow.

Mouvement interne

Se face écarlate illumine la chambre où il est seul. Seul avec son portrait qui bouge dans la glace. Est-ce bien lui? Serait-ce l’œil d’un autre? Il n’en aurait pas peur. Son pied manque le sol et il avance en éclatant de rire. Il croit que cette tête parle — celle qu’il a devant lui, ivre, les yeux ouverts. Le plafond s’abaisse, les murs vont éclater et il rit. Il rit au feu qui lui chauffe le ventre; à la pendule qui bat comme son cœur.  La chambre roule — ce bateau dont le mât craquerait s’il faisait plus de vent. Et, sans s’apercevoir qu’il tombe, sur le lit où il va s’endormir, il croit encore rêver que les vagues l’emportent. Trop loin. Il n’y a plus rien que le rire idiot du réveil et le mouvement inquiétant de la porte.

Internal movement

His scarlet face lights up the room where he’s alone. Alone with his portrait that stirs inside the glass. Is it really him? Could that be someone else’s eye? It wouldn’t frighten him. He missteps and as he moves forward he bursts out laughing. He thinks that this head is speaking—the one in front of him, its eyes open, drunk. The ceiling lowers, the walls are going to burst, and he laughs. He laughs at the fire that warms his belly, at the clock that beats like his heart. The room is rolling—a boat whose mast would crack if the wind picked up. And unaware that he’s dropping onto the bed where he’ll fall asleep, he thinks he’s still dreaming that the waves are carrying him away. Too far. Now there’s nothing but the idiot laughter of the alarm clock, the disquieting motion of the door.

Ciel ouvert

Le fil descend. Du haut du ciel le fil descend, lourd, droit, noir — la tête du vieillard qui s’arrête. Il est dans un jardin bordé de grilles, en cage et le monde est autour. Les autres gens tournent autour, le long des arbres. Le temps est lourd, les yeux, les étincelles éclairent la nuit noire ou la lueur du film — cette lueur qui n’est pas encore dans sa tête. Un nuage de suie se gonfle, avalanche de coton sans eau, la maison se gonfle aussi, la poitrine, les arbres se gonflent et la tête est perdue. La peau — sous les tiges de feu — ruisselle — et l’eau s’écarte de la masse d’huile qui glisse, qui joue — les gons de la plus grande porte qui tourne. Le ciel fendu — le fil descend — l’éclair. Le monde à sa lueur est à peine entrevu.

Open sky

The thread descends. From high in the sky the thread comes down, heavy, straight, black—down onto the top of the bare head—the head of the old man who has come to a stop. He is in a garden bordered by railings, in a cage with the world all around. The other people walk around, along the trees. The air is heavy, and eyes and sparks light up the dark night or the glow of the film—that glow not yet in his head. A cloud of soot swells up, a cottony avalanche without any water; the house swells, too, his chest and the trees swell up, and his head is lost. Skin—beneath the stalks of fire—streams—and water recedes from the mass of oil sliding and playing—the hinges of the largest door that turns. The cracked sky—the thread descends—the flash of lightning. Barely a glimpse of the world in its glow.