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.

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