In Translation: Two Poems by Henri Meschonnic

Two untitled poems by the French poet, linguist, essayist and translator Henri Meschonnic, “so much of me is to come” and “the bird when I see it,” translated by Don Boes and Gabriella Bedetti. The original follows the English translation.

so much of me is to come
that I barely live in the present
so completely I lack a place
that I can’t be found         there
where I am         yet I move
here         what I need         and I speak
like everyone with a mouth
full of what does not exist
yet and I am not
in exile exile places everything
in the past even the future
from here it makes an elsewhere
it dwells in a common place
the desert is crowded
I come from there I can no longer play
with the grains of that sand
because I am made of it         I prefer
to see eyes that hear me
before I find the words
we never know when we should

tellement je suis à venir
que j’ai à peine le present
tellement je manque de lieu
qu’on ne me trouve pas          là
où je suis          pourtant je bouge
ici          ce qu’il faut          et je parle
comme tous avec la bouche
pleine de ce qui existe pas
encore et je ne suis pas
en exil l’exil met tout
au passé  même l’avenir
d’ici il fait un ailleurs
it habite un lieu commun
le désert est surpeuplé
j’en viens je ne peux plus jouer
avec les grains de ce sable
parce que j’en suis fait           j’aime
mieux voir des yeux qui m’entendent
avant que je trouve les mots
on ne sait pas quand it faut

from Voyageurs de la voix (Travelers of the Voice), Verdier, 1985


the bird when I see it
it is my wings it is my voice
I count the grains of sand
I know my infinity
the grass makes its way into me
the tight thread also says something
the trees never stop remaking me
I empty the trails
the sky opens the sky closes I pass by
the worms weaken the wood in silence
on each leaf of the tree I write
the windows reveal the view
the top of the trees is pleasing to the eyes
a field a footstep there is no end to the journey
the trees are stronger than the walls
I walk this field to unlock my ideas
an old wall gossips about its story
a gap in the trees is wide enough for me to pass
a face is also a door
it is enough to strike the bell the future comes

l’oiseau quand je le vois
c’est mes ailes c’est ma voix
je compte les grains du sable
j’apprends mon infini
l’herbe fait son chemin en moi
le fil tendu dit aussi quelque chose
les arbres ne cessent de me refaire
je vide les chemins
le ciel s’ouvre le ciel se ferme je passe
les vers minent le bois en silence
sur chaque feuille d’arbre j’écris
les fenêtres ouvrent le regard
le haut des arbres fait du bien aux yeux
un champ un pas il n’y a pas de limite au voyage
les arbres sont plus forts que les murs
je prends ce champ pour m’ouvrir les idées
un vieux mur bavarde son histoire
un trou d’air entre les arbres suffit pour partir
un visage est aussi une porte
il suffit de sonner l’avenir vient

from Demain Dessus Demain Dessous (Tomorrow Above Tomorrow Below), Arfuyen, 2010

About the Author

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 poems appear in more than a dozen languages; however, almost none of Meschonnic’s poems have been translated into English. 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.

About the Translators

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 The 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.

Appears In

Issue 12

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