Three Bilingual Poems from France

January 4, 2021
translated by Don Boes & Gabriella Bedetti
Two books standing but open in a library. One of them has a world map inset that is partially unfolded
Photo by George Kourounis / Unsplash

[I ask everybody]

I ask everybody
have you noticed today
when the time passed
with its voice of silence
with its common appearance
I had a word to share
it will happen next time
when I am awake I am listening

je demande à tout le monde
avez-vous vu aujourd’hui
le temps quand il est passé
avec sa voix de silence
avec son air des toujours
j’avais un mot à lui dire
ce sera la prochaine fois
depuis je veille j’ai l’oreille

from Tout entier visage (Whole Face) [Arfuyen, 2005]

[my grammar has tenses]

my grammar has tenses that
are not in any of the worlds
that I pass through time and again
I only know myself in
what I do not know
but there I am fastened
even myself
I do not capture

ma grammaire a des temps qui
ne sont dans aucun des mondes
que je passe et je repasse
je ne me connais que dans
ce que je ne connais pas
mais là je suis imprenable
même moi
je ne me saisis pas

from Et la terre coule (And the Earth Flows) [Arfuyen, 2006]

[Those who speak have a country]

Those who speak have a country they have
a voice joyous with language
they do not see their tracks
they become their tracks
they carry their borders in their mouths
though their story dances on thorns
they are a book who needs no other books
their laughter rebuilds culture
all tears lead them there.

Ceux qui parlent ont un pays ils ont
la gorge hereuse dans leur langage
ils ne voient pas leurs traces
tant ils s'y confondent
ils portent leurs frontières dans leur bouche
même si leur histoire danse sur des épines
ils sont un livre qui n'a pas besoin de livres
leurs rires reconstruisent des murs
toutes les larmes y conduisent.

from Dans nos recommencements (In Our New Beginnings) [Gallimard, 1976]

Translations from the French

Henri Meschonnic (1932–2009) is a key figure of French “new poetics,” best known worldwide for his translations from the Old Testament and the 710-page Critique du rythme. During his long career, Meschonnic generated controversy in the literary community. His poetry has received prestigious awards, including the Max Jacob International Poetry Prize, the Mallarmé Prize, the Jean Arp Francophone Literature Prize, and the Guillevic-Ville de Saint-Malo Grand Prize for Poetry. He was also nominated for the 1992 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

Don Boes is the author of Good Luck with That, Railroad Crossing, and The Eighth Continent, selected by A. R. Ammons for the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in the Louisville Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, CutBank, Zone 3, Southern Indiana Review, and Cincinnati Review.

Gabriella Bedetti studied translation at the University of Iowa and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her translations of Meschonnic’s essays and other writings have appeared in New Literary History, Critical Inquiry, and Diacritics. Meschonnic was a guest of the MLA at her roundtable with Ralph Cohen and Susan Stewart.