Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tomb of the Kings

I think I've posted a version of this before, but I went through and made some fairly major changes. You can read the French original here.

I love this dream poem, with its almost cinematic imagery, by one of Quebec's truly great writers. It's so dark, so filled with sadness and bewilderment, yet, by the end, bears witness to the heart's miraculous optimism.

Tomb of the Kings
-Anne Hébert (Translation, Peter Garner)

My heart is at my fist.
Like a blind falcon.

The taciturn bird grips my fingers,
Lamp swollen with wine and blood,
I descend
Toward the tomb of the kings,
Only just born.

What thread of Ariadne leads me
Through soundless labyrinths,
Each step’s echo consumed as it sounds?

(In what dream
Was this child tied by the ankle
Like a spellbound slave?)

The dream maker
Grasps the thread,
And bare footsteps come

One by one
Like the first raindrops
At a well bottom.

Already, the odour moves in swollen storms
Oozes under doorsteps
To secret, round chambers
Where box beds lie.

Drawn by the reclining figures’ static desire,
I look with astonishment
Set into the black bones
Gleam encrusted blue stones.

A few tragedies patiently worked
Upon the breasts of recumbent kings
In the form of jewels
Are offered to me
With neither tears nor regrets.

Arranged in a line:
Smoke of incense, rice cake
And my trembling flesh:
Ritual, submissive offering.

The gold mask on my absent face
violets for pupils
Love’s shadow disguises me with meticulous strokes

And this bird I hold
And laments strangely

A long shiver,
Like a wind that catches from tree to tree,
Stirs seven great ebony pharaohs,
In their solemn, ornate sheaths.

But it is only the depths of death lingering,
Playing out the last torment
Seeking appeasement
And eternity
In a light rattling of bracelets
Vain circlets playthings of another place
Around the sacrificed flesh.

Eager for the brotherly source of evil within me
They lay me down and drink of me;
Seven times I know the vise of bones
The dry hand that seeks to rend the heart.

Pale and filled with the awful dream
Limbs untangled
And the dead gone from me, murdered,
What glimmer of dawn could stray here?
Yet how, then, does this bird tremble
And turn its sightless eyes
Toward morning?


Paula said...

Love your translation and enjoyed reading the original. You did an excellent job, Peter.

I tagged you. check Wingtips.

Dick said...

Cinematic indeed. What a glorious piece and what a fine translation too. I'm currently translating a number of French poems so this was a particularly interesting read.