a site by John Cobley

a coppice gate


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Aloysius Bertrand: Two Books from Gaspard de la nuit

Translation of two books from Bertrand's Gaspard de la suit

 Gaspard de la nuit, Book III   The Night and Its Marvels I.  The Gothic Room Nox et solitudo plenae sunt diabolo      [The night and my bedroom are full of devils.]The Church Fathers  “Oh!” I murmured to the night, “The earth is an scented calyx whose pistil and stamen are the sun and the stars!” And eyes heavy with sleep, I closed the window inlaid with a cross of the Calvary, black in the yellow aureole of the stained glass. *** Still, if it were only at midnight—the hour emblazoned with dragons and devils!--that the gnome gorges on the oil of my lamp!

Paul Reverdy: "Toujours la" translated

Translation of a well-known poem by Paul Reverdy

This well-known poem describes a failed attempt to achieve self-knowledge. It has three mostly unrhymed stanzas of 10,12 and 8 unequal lines. Like Apollinaire, Reverdy doesn’t use punctuation. The first stanza describes the chaos in the poet’s mind as he tries to come to terms with himself. This can only be done if the noise of the world, especially from people, can be shut out or left far away. But life can’t be shut out or escaped; despite all efforts, “unforgotten memories” like cold draughts can still be felt. Throughout all this suicide lurks. Ultimately the poet fails in his attempt but lives on to try again.

Fet’s Two Late Poems on the Rose

Translation of two poems of Fet, with notes

Autumn Rose The forest has speckled its peaks,The garden has bared its brow,September has died, and the dahliasHave burned in the breath of night. But in the draught of frostAlone among the dead,There’s still you, queen rose,Fragrant and magnificent. Despite some cruel ordealsAnd the malice of fading days,You waft to me the imageAnd the breath of spring. 1886 September Rose After the morning sigh of frost,How strangely the rose smilesWith a flush of parted lipsOn a fleeting September day!

Turgenev: Two Autumn Poems

Translation of two poems by Turgenev

Ivan Turgenev, of course, is much better known as a novelist, but for a few years before achieving fame, he wrote poems. From 1841 to 1844, when in his mid-twenties, he wrote 29 poems. At this time he completed university and began to work in the civil service.  Two of these poems, written in 1842, used a favorite Russian topic—Autumn. In writing these poems, Turgenev would have known the celebrated poem on this theme by Pushkin. And more than likely he would have also read autumn poems by Lermontov, Baratynsky and Tyutchev.

Transtromer's Baltics

Translation of Transtromer's Baltics with short intro

According to Tomas Tranströmer, the title of this major poem is a “non-existent plural for the Baltic,” implying the multiple approach he used to describe the Baltic Sea. Thus the persistent reader encounters the geographical Baltic, the political Baltic, the historical Baltic, the shipping Baltic, the family-history Baltic, the multi-language Baltic, the threatening Baltic—to name a few. Baltics is unique among Tomas Tranströmer’s poems. It’s the only long poem that he wrote. He has described it as “a sort of long poem where I put everything.” The poem has 245 lines divided into six sections. As well he uses poetic form in a totally different way from his normal practice.

Doctor Zhivago: Pasternak on Writing

Extracts from Doctor Zhivago on writing poetry--with comments

Although his hero, Yury Zhivago, is a poet, Pasternak doesn’t introduce the topic of poetry writing until near the end of Doctor Zhivago. He chooses to wait until the tragic climax of the novel, when Yury and Lara spend a few days in secluded cabin at Varykino.  In this article, it is taken for granted that both Yury’s and his author’s opinions are the same. There are four passages on writing in the fourteenth “Again in Varykino” chapter:1. Writing under inspiration2. Writing the final draft

Jacottet: Earl Poems Translated

Translation of eight early Jaccottet poems

Philippe Jaccotet  (1925-2021) published poetry for over 50 years. The eight translated poems below were written over the first 30 years of his career. They all appear in Derek Mahon’s important Philippe Jaccotet: Selected Poems (1988). Choosing at least one poem from each of the seven collections Mahon has used, I have made my own translations. These differ somewhat from Mahon’s in that I have stayed closer to the original, whereas Mahon, from my perspective, took some “liberties” with Jaccottet’s original words. This means that Mahon’s translations are better poems in English, while my translations keep as closely as possible to the original French.

Nabokov in 1919

Biographical description of Nabokov's life in 1919, with 14 poems

I sailed across misty seas, Languished in a cloudy land….                                                                                                            Nabokov, “Wondrous Excitement”  Vladimir Nabokov’s 20th year was full of life-changing events, yet he still wrote poetry regularly. He had become devoted to poetry writing at the age of 15, after realizing he didn’t have the talent to excel as an artist. Inspired by Pushkin and by contemporary writers such as Gumilyov, he devoted his last two school years to poetry. In June 1916, having turned 17 in April, he published his first book of poetry, Stikhi.

Apollinaire: Seven War Poems

Translation into English of seven Apollinaire poems about WW1

Ocean of Earth                                                            To G. de Chirico I’ve built a home in the middle of the Ocean, Its windows are the rivers that flow from my eyesOctopuses are crawling wherever a wall is standingHear their triple hearts beat and their beaks tap on window panesDamp home Fervent homeRapid seasonSongful season  The planes lay their eggs  Look out they’re dropping anchorLook out they’re going to spurt ink

Vladimir Nabokov: Two Early Poems on Creativity

Two poems on poetic creativity by Vladimir Nabokov

These two poems were written by Nabokov when he was in his early twenties. Both explore aspects of poetic creativity. “The Magician’s Shop” has an ironic tinge: the ambitious quest is treated with an image from the Icarus myth. “How Can I Explain?” is much more serious and conveys the difficult search for creativity. I could find no previous translations of these poems.  The Magician’s Shop In a tiny shop on a castal side street,a magician in glasses and a blue-grey frock coat once sold

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