Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ce qu’on rêve, ce qu’on adore et ce qui ment

"L’Astre rouge," by Leconte de Lisle

Along with George Sterling, the most interesting poet I've read in some time has been Leconte de Lisle; and like Sterling, de Lisle often "casts a cold eye" on human existence with a cosmic perspective that both frightens and fascinates me.

One concept that seems to have haunted de Lisle is the idea of a dead universe, frozen and still for eternity, locked in what he calls, in another poem, la Nuit aveugle -- but here, in this poem, he adds a wounded, staring eye at the centre of non-existence: mindless, pitiless, eternal.

I suppose this work appeals to me, because it brings to mind those nightmares that plagued me when I was four years old: vast looming or spinning things in the sky, my screaming attempts to warn people who would not look up, the universe dissolving into dust and nothingness within a silent instant.

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Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle
From Poèmes tragiques, 1884 (édition de 1886).

L’Astre rouge

Il y aura, dans l’abîme du ciel, un grand Astre rouge nommé Sahil.
(Le Rabbi Aben-Ezra.)

Sur les Continents morts, les houles léthargiques
Où le dernier frisson d’un monde a palpité
S’enflent dans le silence et dans l’immensité;
Et le rouge Sahil, du fond des nuits tragiques,
Seul flambe, et darde aux flots son œil ensanglanté.

Par l’espace sans fin des solitudes nues,
Ce gouffre inerte, sourd, vide, au néant pareil,
Sahil, témoin suprême, et lugubre soleil
Qui fait la mer plus morne et plus noires les nues,
Couve d’un œil sanglant l’universel sommeil.

Génie, amour, douleur, désespoir, haine, envie,
Ce qu’on rêve, ce qu’on adore et ce qui ment,
Terre et ciel, rien n’est plus de l’antique Moment.
Sur le songe oublié de l’Homme et de la Vie
L’Œil rouge de Sahil saigne éternellement.

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Although I'm certainly no translator, and I could never do justice to de Lisle, I'll offer an extremely quick, ugly and inadequate approximation of this poem:

"There will be, in the abyss of the sky, a great red star named Sahil. -- Rabbi Aben-Ezra

"On the dead continents, lethargic waves swell in the silence and immensity, where the final shiver of a world has trembled; and from the depth of tragic nights, only red Sahil burns and stings the waves with its blood-covered eye.

"Through the endless space of naked solitudes -- this inert abyss, deaf, empty, identical to the void -- Sahil, the supreme witness, the lugubrious sun that makes the sea duller and the sky blacker, broods with blood-red eye over the universal sleep.

"Genius, love, sorrow, despair, hatred, envy, everything we dream, everything we adore, everything that tells a lie, Earth and sky -- nothing remains of that ancient moment. On the forgotten dream of Man and Life, the red eye of Sahil bleeds eternally."

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