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Francis Jammes, introduced and translated by Janine Canan PDF E-mail

One hundred years ago in the French Pyrenees, a poet wrote lyrics of extraordinarily pure feeling. His name was Francis Jammes. His joyful, however sorrowful, poems express an innocence and simplicity as natural as the song of a bird or the love of a child.

Francis Jammes: Poet of the Pyrenees

One hundred years ago in the French Pyrenees, a poet wrote lyrics of extraordinarily pure feeling. His name was Francis Jammes. His joyful, however sorrowful, poems express an innocence and simplicity as natural as the song of a bird or the love of a child. “The essence of Jammism is tenderness, purity, mysticism and—saturating all this sweetness of feeling with the smell of the earth—love of nature,” Robert Mallet wrote in his biography of the author. “With you,” the poet Paul Claudel wrote to Jammes, “everything is original and virginal.”
“In order to be true,” Jammes  said, “my heart spoke like a child.”
Against the current of sophisticated, rarefied Symbolism then prevalent, this simple incantatory poetry of the heart, with its childlike expression of desire, lament, delight and praise, struck the novelist André Gide as pure audacity. Yet even the greatest of the symbolists, Stéphane Mallarmé, admired young Jammes for his “delicate, tactful, naïve and unerring verse with its exquisite network of voices.”
“I have loved Francis Jammes because he has not separated life from art,” wrote the young novelist Alain-Fournier, who would sacrifice his life in World War I after publishing his first novel, The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes). And the novelist Jacques Borel, at mid-century, would describe Jammes as the poet of existence: “an existence at once ordinary and enchanted…woven with dreams that contrast with its fresh and searing sensuality.”
“You don’t read Francis Jammes,” Gide explained. “You breathe him, inhale him. He enters through your senses like Spanish balsams whose stems and leaves are as fragrant as their flowers…. In Jammes’ work there is nothing but poetry and perfume…. Once you abandon yourself to him, you will think he’s the only poet there is.”

Francis Jammes was born on December 2, 1868, in the village of Tournay, nestled in the tallest mountains of Europe, the hundred-fifty-million-year-old Pyrenees that separate France from Spain with peaks eleven thousand feet high, named after the Goddess Pyrene (fire) who is said to have fled there after being raped by Heracles. Not far from Tournay is the grotto of Lourdes, where fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous saw visions of a Lady in White, only ten years before Jammes’ birth.
When Francis was eight years old, his parents Anna Bellot and Victor Jammes moved to Saint-Pierre in the Basque country, where his father became town registrar. At ten he entered the lycée in Pau and lived with his maternal grandparents. When Francis was twelve and his sister fifteen, the Jammes moved to the port city of Bordeaux, where Francis passed his adolescence immersed in botany, Jules Verne and Baudelaire. There Francis fell in love, failed his baccalaureate, and wrote eighty-nine poems under the title Me (Moi). The day after his twentieth birthday in 1888, his father died suddenly. Anna Jammes took her children back to Orthez in the Pyrenees, the birthplace of their paternal grandfather (a physician transplanted to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean and deceased before her son’s birth). Francis’s sister married, and Francis worked as an assistant to a notary while living with his mother, as he would for the rest of his life.
 In 1891, young Jammes had fifty copies of Six Sonnets printed locally. Three years later, with the support of Mallarmé, Loti and Gide, Verses (Vers) was published in Paris, soon followed by  One Day (Un Jour), a verse play about a day in the life of a poet. By the age of twenty-one, Francis had already composed some of his loveliest and most unforgettable lyrics, with their “delicious and poignant” (as Claudel put it), lush feminine imagery. The haunting, delicately transparent “Mill in the Cold Woods”—that ends “and I will come again to those woods where/ that white girl has her dress up above the water”—describes what will eventually emerge as a typical jammesian moment of luminosity fusing woman, nature and the past. His vividly sensuous portrait, “She Attends the School of the Sacred Heart”—“that beautiful girl so white./ She comes in a small carriage under the branches,/ during vacation when the flowers bloom”—is even more characteristic. From this early period also comes the exquisite, well-known lyric “I Love in Times Past”:
Come, come, my dear Clara d’Ellébeuse.
Let us love again, if you exist.  
The old garden has old tulips.
Come naked, oh Clara d’Ellébeuse.

Jammes’ first work appeared in the eighteen-nineties at the height of the Belle Époque. In 1894, the same year that Verses was published, a small feminine face, finely sculpted from a twenty-five-thousand-year-old ivory mammoth tusk, had been unearthed near a cave at Brassempouy in the Pyrenean foothills: It was, and still is, the oldest representation of a human face in the world. On the south side of the Pyrenees in Spanish Catalonia, Picasso was painting his portraits in pink and blue; on the north side in French Catalonia, Maillol was starting to sculpt strong bronze women; while near the Mediterranean, arthritic old Renoir was absorbed in his voluptuous female bathers; and to the north, Monet was designing the sumptuous Giverny gardens he would be painting for decades.
Impressionism was in full radiance. Proust was ruminating his Remembrance of Things Past, Bergson was concocting Creative Evolution and Mallarmé was composing his final great poem, “A Roll of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance.” In Ireland, the last of the Romantics, W. B. Yeats, born just three years before Jammes, was singing his sublime dreams to Maude Gonne. And from across the Atlantic, the lanky, free, open, optimistic verse of Walt Whitman was striking a deep chord on the continent. As the nineteenth century rolled into the twentieth, a brief golden era produced phenomenal creativity and innovation: the invention of the automobile, the telephone, the phonograph, the motion picture, the airplane and the subway; the birth of modern Einsteinian physics, Kochian medical microbiology, Freudian psychology and Picassoian art—even the Norwegian Nobel Prize! The French Empire had reached, alas, its greatest expansion.
In 1895, twenty-six year old Francis Jammes journeyed for the first time to Paris, where he met a variety of artists including the painter Eugène Carrière. In 1896, he traveled to Algeria to join the novelist André Gide. He fell in love with a young Jewish woman whom he addressed as Mamore in his “Seventh Elegy”: “Tell me, tell me,” he asks, “will I be cured of what is in my heart?” and she replies,  “Beloved, the snow cannot be cured of its whiteness.” In “It Was at the End,” she becomes the Amaryllia who walks at his side, bitterly observing “the rich children.” After two years, purportedly for his mother’s sake, he ended their relationship.
In 1897, Jammes published his Manifesto de Jammisme, in which he claimed that the hedgerows were his school, and the fields and the flowers his academy. “Truth,” he proclaimed, “is praise of the Divine.” Jammes’ first major collection, From the Morning to the Evening Angelus (De l'angélus de l'aube à l'angélus du soir), was published by Mercure de France in 1898, bringing the poet both controversy and wide acclaim. A generous gathering of freely rhymed lyrics on love and nature, full of compassion for the poor and reverence for natural beauty, Angélus embodies the force of youthful desire, and the power of imagination to overcome separation, loss and loneliness. The book opens with the epigraph:
Among men, You called me, my God, and here I am, who suffer and love. I have spoken with the voice you gave me and written with the words You taught my parents, who taught me. I pass down the road like a donkey, head lowered, loaded with bundles, who makes the children laugh, ready to go whenever and wherever You wish.

The poet has heard the call of his vocation, his “métier sacré.”
In the next years Jammes traveled to Provence, the Alps, Holland, and Belgium where he joined “Poets against Literature.” In Paris, he met the religious poet Paul Claudel—younger brother of the sculptor Camille Claudel—who would become instrumental in Jammes’ return to Catholicism. In 1901, he published Mourning Primroses (Le Deuil des primevères), a collection of elegies and prayers balanced on the transparent line that divides poetry and prose, composed in the throes of a depression over his failure to secure a lasting love relationship. His darkly ironic “Prayer to Love Sorrow” conveys the depth of his suffering:
Oh my Sorrow, you are better than a beloved:
For I know, as I lie on my deathbed, that you
will be there, wrapped in my sheets, oh Sorrow,
still trying to invade my heart.

After a religious illumination, Jammes returned to the Catholic Church in 1905, the same year that France, amidst considerable anti-clerical sentiment, passed the Law of Separation of Church and State. Clearings in the Sky (Clairières dans le ciel) appeared in 1906, revealing a marked shift toward a more religious vision as the poet attempts to integrate Catholicism with his love of Nature. The collection culminates in the 38-part “Church Cloaked in Leaves,” which in turn culminates in the moving and powerful, deeply beautiful “Rosary.” Jammes’ unique quasi-pagan, quasi-Catholic rosary was a marvel to Gide, Claudel and other contemporaries. Half a century later, the popular French singer Georges Brassens created “Prayer” from several of its stanzas.
For Under the Azure, I have chosen to translate the rosary’s fifteen Hail Marys, calling them simply “Hail Mary.” The poem’s recurring incantation, Je vous salue, Marie, is translated literally as “I greet you, Mary” (avoiding salute which, unfortunately, has come to have primarily military connotations). Interestingly, the traditional French devotion does not, like its English counterpart Hail Mary, follow the short Latin greeting, Ave Maria, but rather the ancient incantational form of its root-language Sanskrit: a full sentence in the first person. As the Hindus say Om Parashaktyai namah, “I bow to the Supreme Shakti,” Jammes and the French say Je vous salue, Marie, “I greet/salute/bow to you, Mary.”
In 1907, Jammes published Memories of Childhood (Souvenirs d’enfance), a group of charming, sometimes ironic, prosey sketches of his rustic childhood as seen from the perspective of faith. Memories, like Clearings, gently reflects the iconography of French Christianity that had evolved in the nearly two millennia following its importation by Roman invaders after the death of Jesus. In Jammes, however, the archetypal images of a powerful Father, a compassionate Mother, an innocent child and a suffering Christ, are steeped in the much, much older Nature and Goddess lore of neo- and paleolithic Old Europe. To this ancient, indigenous, matriarchal apprehension of life, Jammes’ poetry, however Christian, remained faithful.
At the belated age of thirty-eight, Francis Jammes married a twenty-four-year-old literary admirer by the name of Geneviève Goedorp. The couple was engaged at Lourdes, married in Geneviève’s hometown, Bucy-le-Long, and settled in Orthez. Madame Jammes soon gave birth to a daughter who was baptized Bernadette. Six more children followed: Emmanuele, Marie, Paul, Michel (who became a Benedictine monk), Anne and Francoise (who became a nun). In 1912, Jammes published his prize-winning Christian Pastorals (Géorgiques Chrétiennes), and his play The Lost Lamb (La Brebis égaré) was set to music by the composer Darius Milhaud. In Paris the poet was introduced to Anna de Noailles, whose literary salon was attended by such luminaries as Paul Claudel, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Alphonse Daudet, André Gide, Max Jacob, Pierre Loti, Gabriel Mistral and Paul Valéry. When Proust’s Swann’s Way appeared in 1913, Jammes sent his praises, proclaiming Proust “the equal of Shakespeare and Balzac.” The admiration was mutual: Proust was enchanted by Jammes’ impressionistic imagery, “the sincerity and clarity of vision capable of  disentangling and evaluating the exact sensation that affected him, the precise nuance”; he considered Jammes to be a great poet.
 In 1914, Germany declared war against France, and Jammes, by then in his mid-forties, was appointed ambulance administrator for Orthez. The poet continued to write, publishing Five Prayers in Time of War and Rosary in the Sun. In 1917, he received the French Academy’s Grand Prix de littérature. In 1918, he finally met Marcel Proust at a reception in Jammes’ honor at Madame Alphonse Daudet’s, where songs by Milhaud based on poems by Jammes and Claudel were performed. A few years later Proust, from his death bed, would ask Jammes to pray for him—for “a death sweeter than my life has been.”
In spite of the Grand Prix de littérature, Jammes never became a member of the French Academy: his candidature was refused in 1920 and again in 1924. In 1921, Jammes moved to a house he had inherited in Hasparren in the lower Basque Pyrenees. There he wrote his three-volume Memoirs—which was followed by a fourth volume years later. That same year, Gide wrote in his Journal:
There are certain poets, of whom Jammes is perhaps the only one among us today, who, it seems, would have written their work just the same in whatever period they had been born.... I hope for the honor of France that he could only have been born a Frenchman—but all the same I can see him writing his Elégies at Tibur under Augustus, his Jean de Noarrieu anywhere wherever; he has a very definite local flavor, it is true, but in China he would have had a Chinese flavor.... His spirit is the spirit of Jammes, not of Orthez....

In 1926, Jammes published My Poetic France (Ma France Poétique), after having turned down the nomination for Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. It included “The Poet’s Prayer,” which asks God to fill him, “like a large glass painted with flowers and insects…with the water of candor/ that flows to the foot of the mountain.” Over the decades many pilgrims—Francois Mauriac, Darius Milhaud, Alain-Fournier, Saint-Jean Perse and many lesser known admirers—had voyaged to the Pyrenees to taste that pure mountain water. In 1928, the master poet-philosopher Paul Valéry came to pay his homage as well.
Jammes’ mother passed away in 1934: Jammes was sixty-six. In the following year the poet wrote From Always to Forever (De Tout Temps à Jamais), and Springs (Sources), ten decasyllabic ten-line poems in honor of ten sacred springs. These were the last poems to be published during his lifetime. Springs ends with:
One beautiful noon, when my soul flies off      
toward God and the church bells unloose
their petals, clear and blue as a lilac:
may a vapor rise from you, oh my spring
of Ursuya, like delicate incense;
may it follow the breeze that blows
to the house of my birth, letting
its fresh voice rain down on my roof.   
For a moment, may it accompany
heavenward my song celebrating you.

Springs was followed by Five Idylls (Cinq Idylles) and Fires (Feux), final paeans to Life grounded in the elements of the earth, poems that would not be published until after his death.  
By now a figure of fond reverence for the younger generation, Jammes was awarded the Academy’s Prix d’Aumale in 1936, and spoke at the Théâtre Champs-Elysées the following year. He had followed the path of “eternal poetry,” he said; he had sought to affirm “simple Being”; he had not sacrificed feeling to form, which should be transparent enough to dissolve in the light.
On November 1, 1938, death pounced, as he had predicted, “like a young hawk on a hare blanched by many winters.” Sixty-nine-year old Francis Jammes , sick with colon cancer, passed away in a chapel in the Pyrenees, leaving over a hundred books containing nearly eight hundred poems, twelve novellas, four volumes of memoirs and several verse plays; a correspondence with many notable French authors of his day, including Colette, Claudel, de Gourmont, de Noailles, Gide, Mallarmé, Mauriac and Perse; as well as a significant influence on contemporary writers abroad, including Jiménez and Unamuno in Spain, Rilke in Austro-Hungary, and Amy Lowell and Rexroth in the United States of America.

Twenty-five years after Jammes’ death, at California’s Stanford University, Professor Raymond Giraud introduced his Twentieth Century French Poetry class to the unique poetry of Francis Jammes. A nineteen-year-old French major, I was present. A few years later, in 1967, Unicorn Press in Santa Barbara, California, released a slim booklet, entitled simply Jammes, containing a translation of twelve poems in rhyme by Teo Savory. In the nineteen-seventies—by then I was a psychiatric resident who had published a book of poems—I rediscovered the poet in a touching translation of Selected Poems of Francis Jammes by Bettina Dickie and Barry Gifford, published at Utah State University Press.
After the passage of two more decades and the publication of several more books of my own, I was moved to translate two of Jammes’ laments from Mourning Primroses for my 2000 poetry collection, Changing Woman. At that time I experienced the French poet’s gentle influence showering my writing and recalled the great lyricist, Kenneth Rexroth’s remark that Jammes may indeed be one of the most important unrecognized influences on twentieth century American poetry. And late one night in the beginning of the twenty-first century, I found myself in Paris, prowling the bookstores of the Place Saint Germain, gathering volumes of Francis Jammes for a new translation.
Over the years, along with my own writing I had been episodically engaged in translating the work of another, equally unique, poet by the name of Else Lasker-Schüler—uncannily born in the same year as Jammes. The Jewish Rhinelander and the Catholic Pyrenean naturally generated different imagery—hers more of the imagination, his more of the earth. But both loved the color blue, symbolic of pure Being. And their work shared a simplicity and purity, romanticism, mysticism and spiritual devotion—bhakti the Indians call it—that is rare. To convey such pure feeling has been the challenge and the joy of translating both poets, the work of translation giving me the opportunity to immerse myself more deeply and thoroughly than I would have otherwise: to savor each poem word by word, to descend into it, swim in it, love and even hate and finally transcend it. For in order to translate a poem, the translator must enter the poem and inhabit it as if it had grown from her own experience: only this makes possible the alchemical transformation of literal words into poetry. The translator is an instrument. But then, isn’t all poetry, in truth, translation.
Under the Azure gathers together some of Jammes’ most beautiful and moving poems, the majority never before translated, in a selection designed to reveal both the poet’s range and evolution. “When the Flowers Bloom” includes the fresh and romantic songs of innocence of his youth; “Prayer to Love Sorrow” the psychologically more complex, often longer poems of his Dark Night; and “The Purifying Spring” the deceptively simple, highly condensed, masterful poems of his maturity. With this collection, the translator hopes to bring to the global English-reading public the purity, intimacy, sincerity and compassion that Jammes miraculously conveyed, a hundred years ago, in his native French tongue, in a voice both heartfelt and contemplative.
I have not attempted to reproduce the poet’s customary end-rhymes, which he called “vers faux” because they were not classically rhymed, unless such a rhyme sounded natural. Instead, I have tried to echo his music in a freer and less formal way—as well as I could given that English has such a different, frequently less musical and gracious, sound effect from the French. Where poems are part of a numbered series and without title, I have created titles analogous to the ones Jammes gave his shorter poems. The final translations, it should be mentioned, were influenced in important ways by the knowledgeable, perceptive and inspiring observations of Littlefox editor, author and anthropologist Christine Mathieu, whose mother tongue is French.
Jammes’ whole work is a sort of rosary of devotion—to Woman, to Nature, to God, and above all to Love. Whatever his subject, Jammes attends with a purity, simplicity and integrity of spirit that allows him to commune directly with the very essence and power of Life. This is something precious and well worth preserving, I believe. Amid the sometime pleasures and gains of the technological revolution, our lives today have become increasingly frenetic, materialistic and mechanical. Amidst patriarchy’s incessant wars, continuing abuse of women,  relentless devastation of human cultures and, indeed, the very Earth on which we live—humanity is undergoing the horrifying destruction of innocence itself. We dwell in a realm of increasingly dissociated sensation, unfeeling intellect, and isolated egos.
But Francis Jammes dwelled deep in the Land of Feeling. He sang for something higher and sweeter, and morally deeper. His poetry—earthy as slugs, lofty as the highest mountain peaks—never fails to show us “the beauty God gives to ordinary life” (“First Song,” Christian Georgics). Devotee of earth, sky, water and fire; friend to shepherd and beggar, old people and young girls; lover of plants, animals, insects, and  so-called inanimate things—Jammes worshipped God in Life. He conversed with radiant furniture and felt the waterfalls in his own soul. “Oh, the country of my birth,” he exclaims in an elegy, “how transparent it was!” And in “The Church Cloaked in Leaves”: “Now I know…everything carries within its own mystery.”
The poet of an ever fresh innocence; a seer who saw the numinous everywhere he looked; a magician who dematerialized himself in the inner life of the world—Jammes has left us these gifts of a bygone era haunted by the eternal. May this soulful poet of the Pyrenees—who still breathes, sighs, weeps and wonders in his poems—open our hearts to a more expansive, sensitive and truer vision of Life.
               —Janine Canan

A Selection of Poems from Under the Azure

by Francis Jammes, translated by Janine Canan
(Littlefox, Melbourne, 2009)

The House Would Be Full of Roses

The house would be full of roses and wasps.
In the afternoon, we would hear the bell ringing for vespers;
and grapes the color of translucent stones would appear
to be sleeping in the sun, below the crawling shade.
How I would love you there! I offer you all my heart
that is twenty-four years old, my mocking spirit,
my pride and my poetry of white roses;
and yet I do not know you—you do not exist.
I only know that if you were alive
and with me at the bottom of the meadow,
we would be kissing and laughing under the yellow bees,
by the cool stream, under the thick leaves.
We would hear nothing but the heat of the sun.
The hazel trees would shade your ear,
and then we would mingle our mouths, no longer laughing,
to tell of our love what can never be told;
and I would find, on the red of your lips,
the taste of the white grapes, the red roses and the wasps.

She Attends the School

She attends the school of the Sacred Heart—
that beautiful girl so white.
She comes in a small carriage under the branches,
during vacation when the flowers bloom.

She descends the hill gently. The carriage
is old and small. She is not very rich
and reminds me of the old families
sixty years ago, cheerful, good and honest.

She reminds me of the schoolgirls then,
with their rococo names, names of books
given as prizes—green, red, olive,
with an oval ornament and a title in gold:

Clara d’Ellébeuse, Éléonore Derval,
Victoire d’Etremont, Laure de la Vallée,
Lia Fauchereuse, Blanche de Percival,
Rose de Liméreuil and Sylvie Laboulaye.

I think of those schoolgirls on vacation,
on farms still productive, eating green apples
and rancid hazelnuts in front of a peacock
in the cool shady park with gilded iron gates.

It was one of those houses with an open table.
Many dishes were served and  everyone laughed.
The green lawn was seen through the window
and the glass sparkled when the sun went down.

Then a handsome young man married the schoolgirl—
an utterly beautiful girl, pink and white—
who laughed when he kissed her hip in the bed.                 
And, knowing how to make them, they had many children.

The Dining Room

There is an armoire, faintly shining,
that once heard the voice of my great-aunts,
heard the voice of my grandfather,
heard the voice of my father.
The armoire is faithful to these memories.
It would be wrong to imagine her always silent,
since I talk with her.

There is also a wooden cuckoo.
I do not know why he has no voice now,
and do not want to ask him.
Perhaps it simply broke—the voice
once in his spring—
like that of the dead.      

There is, as well, an ancient buffet
that smells of beeswax and preserves
and meat and bread and ripe pears.
He’s a faithful servant who knows
he must not take anything.

I have been visited by many men and women
who did not believe in these little souls.
I smile to think they envision me alone
whenever someone enters saying:
How are you, Monsieur Jammes?

Prayer to Love Sorrow

I have only my sorrow and want nothing more.
She has been, and she still is, faithful.     
What more could I want, since in those hours
when my soul was pulverizing my heart
she was there, seated at my side.
Oh Sorrow, look, I have finally come to respect you,
for I know that you will never leave me.
Yes, I admit, you were forced to become beautiful.
You are one of those who never abandoned
the sad hearth of my poor black heart.
Oh my Sorrow, you are better than a beloved:
For I know, as I lie on my deathbed, that you
will be there, wrapped in my sheets, oh Sorrow,
still trying to invade my heart.

Fourteenth Elegy

My Love, you said. —My Love, I answered.
It's snowing, you said. I answered, it’s snowing.
Once more, you said. —Once more, I answered.
Like this, you said. —Like this, I said.    

Later on you said, I love you. And I, even more.
The lovely summer is ending, you said. —It's autumn,

I replied. And our words were no longer the same.
One day, finally, you said: Dearest, how I love you …

(just as vast Autumn ceremoniously descended).
And I responded: Say it again…

I Want No Other Joy

I want no other joy when summer
returns, than that of the year gone by.
Under dozing muscats, I will sit.
Deep in woods where fresh water sings,
I will hear, will feel and see                                
what the forest hears, feels and sees.

I want no other joy when autumn
returns, than that of the yellow leaves
raking the hills amid thunder,
than the muffled sound of new wine in barrels,
than heavy skies and cowbells clanging
and beggars asking for alms.

I want no other joy when winter
returns, than that of the iron skies,
than the smoke of the grinding cranes
and embers that sing like the sea,
than the lamp behind green tiles        
in the shop where the bread is bitter.

I want no other joy when spring
returns, than that of the biting winds,
the leafless peach trees blooming,
pathways muddy and green,
than the violet and the bird singing
like a stream that gorges on the storm.          

Child Reading the Almanach

The child reads the almanac by her basket of eggs.
Apart from Saints and weather forecasts,
she contemplates the beautiful signs of the heavens:
Goat, Bull, Ram, Fish, et cetera.

And so she believes, this little peasant girl,
that above her, among the constellations,
there are markets like these with donkeys,
bulls, rams, goats and fish.

She must be studying the market of Heaven
and when the page turns to the sign of the Scales
concluding that in Heaven, like the grocery store,
they weigh coffee, salt and consciences.

Oh My Guardian Angel

Oh my guardian Angel, whom I left
for that beautiful body, white as a carpet of lilacs:
I am alone today. Take my hand in yours.

O my guardian Angel, whom I left
when my energy exploded in the summer of my joy:   
I am sad today. Take my hand in yours.

Oh my guardian Angel, whom I left
when I discovered, with a prodigal foot, the forest’s gold:
I am poor today. Take my hand in yours.

Oh my guardian Angel, whom I left
when I dreamed before the snowy rooftops:
I no longer know how to dream. Take my hand in yours.

Spring Night

There are signs, in the heavens, but what sort of signs?
When will we understand the language of God
in that vast and tangled ants’ nest
of triangles traced through points of light?
Never did I feel more isolated than when I lifted
my eyes toward the blue, milk-stained night    
without anything on earth to provide
a landmark as my spirit departed.
What is this gold and vermillion atlas,
more frightening even than Columbus’,
with its ocean from which the Earth embarks?
We know the day of the great shipwreck is coming.
While we wait, let us do as the nightingale does,
at the top where everything ends, stretching his neck       
so Paradise may listen at leisure to his song—
naked, solitary, anxious, sad and tender.

Holy Mud

I know the mystery  
of your genius, oh heart!
A clod of earth
mixed with some tears.


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