SOME ENGLISH VERSIONS OF JULES LAFORGUE
Those rush-lashed pools, your eyes
– O valiant lady of leisure –
When, when will they mirror
My soul, its lofty moonrise?
For the longest hour ever
Has my so artless heart
Soaked up your ugly spite
With devoted doggy eyes.
Lady, it will not do,
When you’re no Mona Lisa,
To try to make, like her,
This poor old world feel blue.
Ah, the divine affection
I cherish for Cydalise
Now she eludes the lunacies
Of my incomprehension!
True, I make myself sick
With distress in her flowery land
Only to understand
What makes the lady tick
– which, you say, is to be mine?
Too bad! You well know I deny
All affectations absolutely
That smell of moonshine.
What blank nights, sleepless, and no Moon,
What nightmares of ingenuity!
Do I not see there our white swan?
Is this my Open Sesame?
And it’s you who’ve brought me here,
Made my conscience to see double,
My heart to fish in troubled water:
Eve, Delilah, Mona Lisa!
Under this soaring circumflex,
This ogive arch where in agony
I dangle, crucified, what will it cost me
To know the raison d’être of Your Sex!
You say that my starved heart
On its own can’t play its part,
But that my gaze only cajoles
In the sublimest borrowed rôles.
And you imagined an affair
With some poor bookworm... Alas
It’s true my brain at times does swell
With others’ brains: a mighty sphere!
But come, my flower sweet-and-twenty,
My carnation! Although, you know,
I do not ask that much of you,
I feed you with fine souls aplenty!
I’m only a moony reveller
Making fountain rings
With nothing else in mind
Than legendary imaginings.
With an air of defiance I roll
My sleeves up, pale mandarin;
I blow smoke rings... I exhale
Sweet nothings from the Cross.
Yes, a legend at the door
Of a charlatan age, what fun!
But where are the Moons of yesteryear?
And why can’t God be re-done?
First, I lap up their fed-up eyes...
I would kiss their feet,
To death. Ah, do please
Take my bleeding heart!
Then, we talk... which leads to Pity;
And so I offer up my friendship, finally.
It’s only out of pity I give myself, as guide,
As brother. But they, they think
I’m shy, and softly wink
‘One word, I’m yours!’ (I bet you are.)
And I, I’m to display the heart’s
Wrinkles, and smile into the void...
Then I withdraw, abruptly,
(That was a close call.)
At least she’ll write to me?
No. And I sob all season...
But damn these games, I’ve had my fill!
Who’ll tame this heart? Some miracle cure...
I’m oh-so true by nature,
Gentle as a nun.
Oh come on, I’m no Don Juan!
Would it be such a big deal?
– in broad daylight, in this lush green...
[Gareth Reeves has published four collections of poetry, all with Carcanet Press: Real Stories (1984), Listening In (1993), To Hell with Paradise: New and Selected Poems (2012), and Nuncle Music (2013), a psycho-drama in the voice of Dmitri Shostakovich. He has also written two books on T. S. Eliot and a co-authored book on poetry of the Nineteen Thirties. Until recently he was Reader in English at Durham University, where he ran an MA creative writing course in poetry.]
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