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Jacques Reda: Last Song of the Forests

by John Cobley

Monday Mar 19th, 2018







Sometimes we have borrowed

The art and voice of your poets

So that the silence of the woods,

Which makes a home for beasts,

Approaches you, and keeping

At a distance the rumbling motion

Of out-of-tune machines,

Surrounds you with a forest

Of words where our leaves

And your words might assemble again.


For these cadences of your verses

Balance themselves like our branches,

Filling also the universe

With a deep breath of silence.

And in the enigma of the sounds of trees

We recognize ourselves   

By an impulse which, streams

From the dark root towards the sky,

Like the word that prophesies

From the confidential heart.


But the silence, fading

With the disarming space,

No longer leaves you

With ears just for the din.

Its constant iron grip

Holds sky, cities, heads

In a circle of hell.

Your songs for the slaughter of a pig

Express the last exaltation

Of a world without woods and prophets.


From that time, without shame or regrets,

Pouring out your gas and detergents,

Your rubbish and your manure,

You follow your convulsive ways                        

While a feeble hum,

With our breath that dies,

Passes over this indifference.

We are left with the invincible pride

Of dying how we have lived,

In integrity and silence.                                 


Already the elms, the cypresses;

Soon the beech trees, the plantains:

Here are the peaked minarets

Or else the livid watermarks

On the rose-coloured page of evening

Whose rays love to rain down

Across their gilded branches;

Henceforth this cancerous wood

Imprints on the sky the dark

Decree weighing on our edges.      


When all our great united bodies

Will have become skeletal,

With the fawn horsehair of nests

Hanging empty at porticos

Like skulls of the tortured,

Will you go, almost asphyxiated,

To worry, with useless prayers

At the prosperous clumps of mistletoe,

Our frontage that attracts, weakened                      

And corrupted, the flow of rivers?


It will be too late. spring

Without birds, without flowers, without moss;

Summer, along the floating paths,

Without plays of light, of soft shadows;

And autumn, our splendor,

Drab scrap iron in the prowling wind,

Under its destructive breath—

Eternal winter will extend

Over our shoulders, like a sheet

Of dirty mundane snow.


Then we will enter oblivion

Like the monsters of caverns

And the echo which already

Weakens the fables. Faded rings

On the map will circle

Our ruins. The Red Riding Hood,

The Wolf, the Ogre and the Doe,

Without refuge in our thickets

And in your perverse hearts,

Will get lost across fallow lands.


Alone perhaps one day,

Beyond steel cities under their bubble,

And from the long wild roaring

Of sports cars, a sleepwalker,

Encountering at the end of his foot

A blackened slab of paper

Made from our most tender flesh,

Will pull it from the ashes, and

The last song of the forest

Will arise from these ashes.


Different from you who read

Your meaning through a book,

In the carbonized pages

He will see signs come back to life again,

What you call phrases, words,

Become flowers or branches again,

And at the root of his amnesia

He’ll perceive our breath

Without knowing it, and the great parlour

Of birds, of poetry.


Unless with the help of the wind

And of these crazy incendiaries,

Who are your intermediates,

We have pulled well beforehand

Our roots from the soil

And, on your murderous races

Your odes, your laws, your doctors,

And your untamable morgue,

Have thrown our formidable weight

And purifying fires.


Jacques Réda, Dernier chant des forêts

Translated by John Cobley


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