Week 44: Ce Pur Enfant, by Jules Supervielle

I confess that I find much of twentieth-century French poetry rather impenetrable – it could of course just be that my French isn’t up to it, though I suspect that the same could be said for many native Frenchmen. But I do find many of the poems of Jules Supervielle (1884-1960) both appealing and accessible. Here’s one of my favourites. I have attempted my own translation, which I append, but of course it’s no substitute for the French.

Ce Pur Enfant

Ce pur enfant, rose de chasteté,
Qu’a-t-il à voir avec la volupté?
Et fallait-il qu’en luxe d’innocence
Allât finir la fureur de nos sens?

Dorénavant en cette neuve chair
Se débattra notre amoureux mystère?
Après nous avoir pris le coeur d’assaut
L’amour se change en l’hôte d’un berceau,

En petits poings fermés, en courtes cuisses,
En ventre rond sans aucune malice
Et nous restons tous deux à regarder
Notre secret si mal, si bien gardé.

Jules Supervielle

This spotless child, this rose of chastity,
What’s he to do with our carnality?
And was our senses’ fury always meant
To find its end in such an innocent?

Henceforth in this new flesh, all turned about,
Shall our love’s mystery be acted out?
The passion that once took our hearts by storm
Finds in this cradled guest another form,

In tiny limbs, in little hands, so curled,
In belly, round and innocent of world,
While side by side we watch, for him to tell
Our secret, kept so badly, kept so well.

Week 43: Shall I come, sweet Love, to thee

I find a lot of Elizabethan love poetry too formulaic for my taste, but this poem by Thomas Campion (1567-1620) does seem to carry a note of plaintive sincerity as the poor chap desperately tries to get his foot in the beloved’s door, if only so he can stop shivering…

Shall I come, sweet love, to thee?

Shall I come, sweet love, to thee,
When the ev’ning beams are set?
Shall I not excluded be?
Will you find no feignèd let?
Let me not, for pity, more
Tell the long hours at your door.

Who can tell what thief or foe
In the covert of the night,
For his prey, will work my woe,
Or through wicked foul despite?
So may I die unredress’d,
Ere my long love be possess’d.

But, to let such dangers pass,
Which a lover’s thoughts disdain,
’Tis enough in such a place
To attend love’s joys in vain:
Do not mock me in thy bed,
While these cold nights freeze me dead.

Thomas Campion

Week 42: From ‘All The Pretty Horses’, by Cormac McCarthy

A ‘prose poem’ as such is almost invariably a heartsink of a thing, a miserable affectation neither fish, flesh nor fowl, but that’s not to say one can’t find poetry in prose, words that by their rhythm and resonance enter and possess the mind in the way that a poem can do. I love these lines from Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All The Pretty Horses’, as the young men set out on their journey of love and loss.

‘They rode out along the fenceline and across the open pastureland. The leather creaked in the morning cold. They pushed the horses into a lope. The light fell away behind them. They rode out on the high prairie where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness. They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them up into the swarming stars so that they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing.’

Week 41: From ‘The Fight On The Wall’ by John Masefield

It is a truth not always universally acknowledged that unfashionable poets can be rather good just as fashionable ones can be rather bad. When I was young John Masefield was about as unfashionable a poet as one could get, but what the hell, I liked him anyway; indeed, his long narrative poem ‘Reynard The Fox’ still seems to me a very readable piece. The following stanzas are excerpted from a lesser known work, ‘The Fight On The Wall’, a spirited retelling of how the doomed love affair between Lancelot and Arthur’s queen Guinevere is brought to an end when a gang of knights attempt to take the couple in flagrante.

‘O Queen,’ he said, ‘the times are over
That you and I have known.
Beloved Queen, I am your lover,
Body and bone,

Spirit and all of me, past knowing,
Most beautiful, though sin.
Now the old lovely days are going
And bad begin.


Here is the prelude to the story
That leads us to the grave.
So be it: we have had a glory
Not many have.

Though what tomorrow may discover
Be harsh to what has been,
No matter, I am still your lover
And you my queen.’

Week 40: I Write For…, by John Hewitt

I Write For…

I write for my own kind
I do not pitch my voice
that every phrase be heard
by those who have no choice:
their quality of mind
must be withdrawn and still,
as moth that answers moth
across a roaring hill.

John Hewitt

A wonderfully terse and defiant manifesto; the image in the last line is based, I take it, on the use by moths of chemical messengers called pheromones, which apparently other moths can indeed detect at remarkable distances.