Week 460: Hommage à la Vie, by Jules Supervielle

This week one of my favourite French poems, in which the ageing poet looks back over his life, in language that is simple yet idiosyncratic, lucid yet profound.

The translation that follows is my own. I offer it merely as a crib – I decided that any attempt to force a match with Supervielle’s rhyme scheme would sacrifice too much of the original’s simplicity, or at least must wait for a better talent than mine.

Hommage à la vie

C’est beau d’avoir élu
Domicile vivant
Et de loger le temps
Dans un cœur continu,
Et d’avoir vu ses mains
Se poser sur le monde
Comme sur une pomme
Dans un petit jardin,
 
D’avoir aimé la terre,
La lune et le soleil
Comme des familiers
Qui n’ont pas leurs pareils,
Et d’avoir confié
Le monde à sa mémoire
Comme un clair cavalier
À sa monture noire,
 
D’avoir donné visage
À ces mots: femme, enfants,
Et servi de rivage
À d’errants continents,
Et d’avoir atteint l’âme
À petits coups de rame
Pour ne l’effaroucher
D’une brusque approchée.
 
C’est beau d’avoir connu
L’ombre sous le feuillage
Et d’avoir senti l’âge
Ramper sur le corps nu,
Accompagné la peine
Du sang noir dans les veines
Et doré son silence
De l’étoile Patience,
 
Et d’avoir tous ces mots
Qui bougent dans la tête
De choisir les moins beaux
Pour leur faire un peu fête,
D’avoir senti la vie
Hâtive et mal aimée
De l’avoir enfermée
Dans cette poésie.

Jules Supervielle

Homage to Life

A fine thing, to have lived
In a house of flesh,
And given time a home
In a steadfast heart,
To have looked on as one’s hands
Take hold of the world
Cupping it like an apple
In a little garden,

A fine thing, to have loved
The earth, the moon and sun
As familiar friends
Whose like you have not known,
And to have entrusted
The world to memory
Like a bright cavalier
Riding his black steed,

To have given a human face
To these words: children, wife,
And to have served as shore
To wandering continents,
To have come upon the soul
With small strokes of the oars
Lest it be scared away
By an approach too brusque.

A fine thing, to have known
The shade beneath the boughs
And to have felt old age
Creep on the naked body,
Kept company with pain
Like black blood in the veins
And to have gilded silence
With the star, Patience.

And to have all these words
Bustling in one’s head,
To choose the least beautiful
To let them live a little,
To have felt this life
So hurried, so ill loved,
And to have secured it
In this poetry.

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