On an impulse I began translating Le bateau ivre, and of course once started I couldn’t leave it unfinished. Over the next few days, in a kind of Stockholm situation, I began thinking very well of a poet I had always disliked.
Below is my complete translation. Again, it’s done quite quickly and I see many errors, but there are things I like about it.
There I was, come down the impassible Rivers.
Didn’t feel the punters guiding me anymore
– hollering redskins took them for their bulls-eyes,
Nailed them naked to colorful painted poles.
I was unworried now by any crew or crewmate
– exporter of cereals (Flemish) or cottons (UK) –
When noise and the drama died down with my punters,
The Rivers let me come down wherever I pleased.
In the tides’ furious sprayings and eruptions,
Last winter, I – duller, dumber than babies’ brains –
I ran! And unmoored and drifting Pangea
Never felt a helter-skelter more kingly than this.
The tempest blessed my maritime arousals.
And lighter than a cork I danced on the flood.
Ten nights on the waves – those eternal rollers-of-
victims – without missing any bow light’s retarded eyes.
Sweeter than crabapple meat is to babies,
Green water penetrated my spruce hull
And washed me of the blue wine marks, the vomit.
It cast away my rudder and my drogue.
And since then, I’ve been swimming in the Poem,
In the Sea infused with stars and full of milk,
Devouring azure greens. Down, now and then, comes white
And ravished, a corpse. A pensive corpse, and buoyant.
Dyeing bluenesses at a blow, delirium,
And slow rhythms, apparent in the day’s bolts.
Stronger than alcohol, vaster than lyres
The bitter rosaceas of love ferment!
I know the skies snapped by lighting, the waterspouts,
And eddies and currents: and I know the evening,
And white Dawn exalting like a townfull of doves,
And sometimes I’ve seen what men think they have seen!
I’ve seen the low sun, stained with mystical horrors,
Illuminating, with its great purple gum
– like actors in some old-old tragedy –
The waves, shaking like shutters and passing shakes down.
In the green night, I’ve dreamt of dazzling snows,
Of kissing deliberately up to the sea’s eyes,
And of the tree sap’s miraculous circuit,
And the blue, yellow rousings of singing phosphors!
Whole months I’ve gone through – the swells leaping on reefs
Like hysterical cows – without imagining
That Marys’ bright feet could struggle the muzzle
Onto the heaving and wind-knocked sea.
Man, I’ve run up on incredible Floridas
Mixing up flowers with panthers’ eyes, panthers
In man-skins! And rainbows, extended like bridles
To the gray sea-herds beneath the horizon.
I’ve seen great swamplands fermenting, these creels
Of bulrushes where a Leviathan rots!
Out of fair air, waves collapsing like buildings
And distance, cataracting, lining the maw.
Glaciers, silver suns, embered skies and
Pearled seas! Hideous wrecks at brown gulfs’ floors
Where the great serpents slip, bitten by bedbugs,
In black perfumes from twisted trees!
I should like to show children these dorados
These blue waves, fish of gold, these singing fish.
Seafoams of flowers have rocked my digressions
And I’m suddenly winged by ineffable winds.
Sometimes – martyr, weary of poles and of zones –
The sea sobbed, in sobs rolled me sweetly, and lifted
Her flowers, yellow cups full of shadow, up to me
And I stayed on, like a woman kneeling …
Nearly an island now, my limits spattered
By quarrels and droppings of pale-eyed birds,
I wavered, and passing through my frail moor lines,
Drowned men sank backward and down into sleep! …
I, on the other hand, boat lost amidst bay hair,
Storm-tossed into aether without any bird
I who no Monitor, nor cog of the Baltic
Could ever fish out, corpse binge-drunk full of sea.
Free, smoking, surmounted by violet mists
I drilled the sky, which grew red as a wall
And on the wall grew good poets’ preserves,
Lichens of sun, and snot-streaks of azure;
I ran, I marked by electric lunules,
I, mad raft, escorted by black sea horses,
While July with some blows of his big bat reduced
Ultramarine skies to passionate funnels.
I who shook, feeling from fifty leagues off,
The lows of the rutting Behemoths, dense Maelstroms –
Eternal wheel spinning still blue forever,
I long for Europe-gone-by, parapetted.
I’ve seen sidereal archipelagos! and islands
Whose delirious skies open up to the voyager:
“In these depthless nights do you sleep, are you exiled,
O millions of gold birds, forthcoming Force?”
Oh, yes, I have cried too much! Dawns are heartbreaking.
All moon is brutal and all sun is bitter:
Sour love blows me full up with drunk torpors.
God! Keel, burst! I would come to the sea!
If I loved any body of water in Europe,
It’s the cold black slick in the balmed twilight
Where the sad child crouches and looses
A boat, as frail as a May butterfly.
Tides, bathed in your langours, I can no longer rise
Over the wakes of the cotton exporter
Nor move through the pride of those standards and flags
Nor swim underneath the hulks’ horrible eyes.