from How Many Names

September 24, 2020 in French, Poetry by ndannels

Original by Henri Meschonnic
Translated, from the French, by Don Boes and Gabriella Bedetti

from Combien de noms (How Many Names)
Improviste, 1999

 

between each word a desert
inside the words the
desert
and with each letter I
am grateful
to the silence
for what it has allowed me to
shout

entre chaque mot un désert
à l’intérieur des mots le
désert
et à chaque lettre je
suis reconnaissant
au silence
pour ce qu’il m’a permis de
crier

* * *

we lacked words
we became like a book
with nothing but margins
the words were inside
like a memory
safe from oblivion
listening to what’s coming
to remake our language
with no words
at the bottom of time on the brink of
speech

nous avons manqué de mots
nous devenions comme un livre
qui n’aurait plus que des marges
les mots rentraient au-dedans
comme une mémoire qui se met
à l’abri à l’oubli à
l’écoute de ce qui vient
pour se refaire un langage
avec une absence de mots
au fond du temps au bord de
dire

* * *

words have no Sundays
as the year has no door
the set table is within us
the chair that remains empty
creates the prophecy of the day
where each day is a letter
and the completed word is us

les mots n’ont pas de dimanches
comme l’année n’a pas de porte
la table mise est en nous
le siege qui reste vide
fait la prophétie du jour
dont chaque jour est une lettre
et le mot complet c’est nous

Henri Meschonnic (1932-2009) is a key figure of French “new poetics.” A core figure of the French literary scene of the last half-century, Meschonnic is known worldwide for his translations from the Old Testament and Critique du rhythme. During his long career, Meschonnic generated controversy in the literary community. As a poet and as a translator of the Hebrew verse of the Bible, he contends that rhythm rules over meaning, flowing from the bottom up. For him, the revolution in the idea of language is the basis of a continuing change, not only in the poem but also in the idea of history and social life itself. 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. His poems appear in more than a dozen languages. However, even now, almost no Meschonnic poems have been translated into English. Selected from his nineteen poetry books, the accompanying works only suggest the richness, range, and intensity of his poetic output.

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 Louisville Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Cutbank, Zone 3, Southern Indiana Review, and Cincinnati Review.

Gabriella Bedetti’s translations of Meschonnic’s essays have appeared in New Literary History and Critical Inquiry, and she had an interview published in Diacritics, in addition to an article in New Literary History. Meschonnic was a guest of the MLA at her roundtable with Ralph Cohen and Susan Stewart. She studied translation at the University of Iowa and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

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