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First Elegy
by Francis Jammes, translated by Bruce Whiteman

For Albert Samain*

My dear Samain, it’s to you I write again.

For the first time it’s death’s way I’m sending

these lines that some old servant of an eternal small town

will deliver to you tomorrow, in heaven.

Smile at me lest I cry. Tell me:

“I am not as ill as you think.”

Open my door again, friend. Pass over the threshold

and, as you walk in, say “Why are you in mourning?”

Come again. You’re in Orthez. Happiness is here.

Put your hat down on the chair there.

Are you thirsty? Here’s some blue well-water and some wine.

My mother will come downstairs and say “Samain…”

and my dog will rest her snout on your hand.

I talk. You smile your serious smile.

Time doesn’t exist. And you let me go on.

Evening arrives. We stroll in the yellow light

which makes the end of the day feel like autumn.

We skirt the swollen stream. A raucous dove

moans sweetly in a blue-green poplar.

I babble on. You go on smiling. Happiness is silent.

Here is the obscure direction we take at summer’s end,

here we return on the simple pathway,

kneeling here near the mirabilis flowers in the

shadow that adorns the black doorways where smoke turns blue.

Your death changes nothing. The shadow that you loved,

where you lived and suffered and sang,

it’s we who come out of it and you who stay inside.

Your light was born from this grim darkness

which forces us to our knees on beautiful summer evenings

when, sniffing out God as he passes by and gives life to the corn,

the guard dogs bark under the black convolvulus.

I do not regret your death. Others will fit the laurel wreath

there where it suits your wrinkled forehead.

Knowing you as I do, I would be afraid of wounding you.

There is no need to keep the glory of those who die

with unadorned brow from the sixteen-year-olds

who will follow your casket and weep over your lyre.

I do not regret your death. Your life is here.

Like the wind’s voice that, rocking the lilies,

never dies, but returns years later in the

same lilies one had thought long faded,

your songs, my dear Samain, will return to cradle

the children whom our thoughts have already ripened.

For your grave, like some antique shepherd

whose flock is weeping on the hardscrabble hill,

I’d look in vain for anything to leave you.

The salt would be eaten by the gully sheep

and the wine drunk by those who stole from you.

I think about you. The day is fading like that day

I saw you in my old country parlor.

I think about you. I think about the mountains of our birthplace.

I think about that Versailles where you took me walking,

while we recited verses, sad and moving in step.

I think about your lover and I think about your mother.

I think about those rams which, on the edge of the blue lake,

waiting for death, bleated as their bells rang out.

I think about you. I think about the pure void of the heavens.

I think about endless water, the clarity of fire.

I think about the dew that glistens on the vines.

I think about you. I think about me. I think about God.

*French Symbolist poet (1858-1900). He died of tuberculosis.

 

Fourteenth Elegy
by Francis Jammes, translated by Bruce Whiteman

Darling, you said. And I replied, Darling.

It’s snowing, you said. It’s snowing, I said.

Again, you said. And I replied, again.

Like that, you said. And I said, like that.

Later you said: I love you. And I, I love you more.

Lovely summer is over, you said to me. It’s fall,

I said. And our words had got out of synch.

At last one day you said: Oh dearest, how I love you…

(It was a day when the long fall was fast losing its grip.)

And I said back to you: Say it again… and again…