Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"The Dead And Their Children"

Assuming you’ve all had your morning fix at Just a Song, it’s time for another of my translation efforts from the 1990s. This one involves a poem by one of the “card-carrying,” capital “S” Surrealists, Benjamin Péret.

I felt myself very drawn to Péret's work, in fact & translated more poems of his than of any other poet. I translated the entire text, in fact, of a few of Péret’s books: Le grand jeu, De derrière les faggots (a truly untranslatable title), Je ne mange pas de ce pain-la, & Je Sublime. I particularly love the poems in Le grand jeu (from which this poem comes) & De derrière les faggots.

It’s odd in some ways, my attraction to Péret’s poetry, because in many ways it’s very dissimilar to anything I’ve written. I do think that working with Péret so much had an influence, however—it probably contributed to “loosening me up,” & also served as a great model for humor in modern poetry—tho overall, his sense of humor is probably more playful than mine, at least in the respective poetic incarnations.

There will certainly be more Péret poems to come here on Robert Frost’s Banjo. Hope you enjoy this one.

The Dead And Their Children

For Denise Kahn

If I was some thing
instead of some one
I'd say to Edward's children
give it up
and if they wouldn't give it up
I'd go off into the jungle of magi kings
without boots without my drawers
like a hermit
and there'd certainly be a big animal there
without teeth
with feathers
skinned like a calf
and it would come one night to eat my ears
Hey lord it would say to me
you are a saint among saints
go on take this car
The car was spectacular
eight wheels two engines
and a banana tree in the middle
that covered up Adam and Eve

but that's the subject of another poem

Benjamin Péret
translation © John Hayes 1990-2009


  1. This poem reminds me of "Where the Wild Things Are". Really delightful.

  2. Hi Willow: I can see that! Thanks.

  3. These must be so difficult to translate John. In an odd way it is like when I was deaf, trying to make sense of odd words stripped of context. It is left to the reader to provide the context, to fill in the blanks. Very interesting.

  4. Hi Alan:

    There are always challenges in translation, of course. Since (looked at in the broad spectrum of languages) English & French are fairly similar that cuts down on the problems one might encounter in a some languages where certain ontological concepts like time, etc are coded differently. Of course idiomatic expressions are always a challenge, & the French reflexive verb forms & also the ubiquitous pronoun "on" are specific problems one has to solve constantly.

  5. Yes, I can see what Willow is getting at. It has an after-burn effect for me, though. I read it through, liked it a lot, then after I'd clicked to comment thought I was missing ot on something. I think I am going to go back to this maybe more than once more.


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