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  • Translation

Palme


After Valéry


Barely softening the shock

Of his terrifying grace

An angel sets upon my table

The tender bread, the level milk;

With the twitch of an eyelid

He summons prayer to my sight:

- Calm now, calm, stay calm!

Consider the weight of the palm,

Bowed low in ponderous profusion!


While it sags beneath the gift

Of its abundance, its shape

Is a perfection and its burdensome fruits

Suffice to establish its connection.

Marvel how she quivers,

Like the unhurried filament

That subdivides the instants

And separates without mystery

The beckoning, come-hither earth

From the ponderous sky.


This lovely, swaying arbiter

Of shadow and sunlight

Emblems in the mind A Sybille’s wisdom,

A sibylline slumber;

Anchored to the spot,

The luxuriant waving palm will never weary

Of its greetings and farewells…

How noble she is, how tender!

How worthy, as she awaits the touch

Of nothing but the hand of gods.


She murmurs forth a shimmering gold

That rings upon the simple finger

Of the air, and with her silken armoury

Electrifies the desert’s soul.

She casts her undying voice

Upon the sand-filled breezes

That strip and scatter her seed,

Serving as an oracle unto herself,

And glorying in that miracle

That sorrows sing themselves.


Upright in her diffidence

Between sand and sky,

Her fragrant nectars concentrate

With every shining day

Through durations marked

By heaven’s clock alone, by a time

That does not count the days

But slowly coalesce

Within her hidden liquors

Every heady fragrance of desire.


Should you find yourself despairing,

Should the stern authority you revere

Spring forth despite your weeping

Just and only here, and nowhere else

But in this languorous shade,

Do not find this sagacious tree at fault

Who serves you up such hoarded gold

And such authority, that through

Her solemn sap a hope eternal

Rises into ripeness.


For these empty-seeming days,

Lost in the wide universe

All send thirsty root-hairs down

To labor through the desert floor.

Her heavy hypogean locks,

These proud patricians of the dark,

Never tire in their plumbing quest

Down through the bowels of the earth

To find those deepest aquifers

That feed such heights as hers.


Patience, patience, have patience,

Since rooted here Beneath the azure of these skies!

Each atom of silence bears

The possibility of ripened fruit!

The happy happenstance will soon arise:

Be it dove or breeze,

Or the gentlest rustling sound, the shape

Of a woman bending down; any of these

Might just as surely bring that rain

That brings us to our knees.


And should all at once

The proud world’s rectitude collapse

In climax, Palm! … irrisistably!

Just leave it rest upon the dust,

To writhe upon the fruits of sky!

And rest assured you haven’t squandered

All those hours should you rise weightless

In the wake of such sweet abandon,

Weightless as the thinker

In such accumulation,

In the nurture of the gifts he’s given.


Translation © D.B. Jonas

8 comments

8 Comments


Michael R. Burch
Michael R. Burch
Nov 30, 2023

This is a nice translation. The author is welcome to submit it (and other original poems and/or translations) to The HyperTexts via me, Michael R. Burch, at mikerburch@gmail.com

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martinmccarthy1956
martinmccarthy1956
Nov 03, 2023

This is a key poem by the French symbolist, critic and philosopher Paul Valery. It's concern is not so much the function and beauty of a palm tree ('its greetings and farewells'), but the function of poetry and the creative struggle from which a true poem emerges, ('the possibility of ripened fruit'). So it would be almost impossible for me or any serious poet not to relate to it - and the translation by D. B. Jonas is just superb. He had my full attention from the appearance of the angel in the opening stanza, and he held it right through to the end by capturing much of Valery's unique flair for symbolic language. This is an excellent piece of…

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winestone.poet
Nov 06, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for such an insightful comment, Martin. Because I’m dense, I didn’t get the underlying meaning of the piece the first time I read it. I later read your comment and decided to try reading the poem again. Well, I did, and it makes perfect sense to me now. I absolutely love it. It’s an extremely relatable, beautiful poem—a very special piece.


- Shannon

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jm6783685
jm6783685
Nov 01, 2023

A fine translation of an important poem by a key poet.

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jm6783685
jm6783685
Nov 06, 2023
Replying to

My one quarrel with this otherwise excellent translation is that it fails to convey the form of the original. This is because, like Valéry himself, I regard the formal properties of poetry as important. And rather deprecate the contemporary addiction to a somewhat barbarous formlessness. My own translation of this poem, for instance, preserves even that alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes which is so characteristic of formal French verse. I like my own translations to be as transparent to the original as possible. (And hence as self-effacing as possible.) To me the effect of a poem is a result of the collaboration between its form and its content.


As I say, this is especially poignant in the case of…

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