Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Translation Tuesday again, folks, & today we have a poem by André Breton translated by yours truly sometime back in the smoky 1990s. There are a few of the lines in the original French that have really stayed with me over the years: Le désespoir roulait au ciel ses grands arums si beaux (third line) & also Une ferme prospérait en plein Paris/Et ses fenêtres donnaient sur la voie lactée (A farm prospered in the midst of Paris/And its windows looked out on the Milky Way).

“Sunflower” (“Tournesol” in the original French) is a poem about endings & beginnings; about memory & about the transformative axis between the sensory & the imagination. Hope you enjoy it!

On the mundane side of things, I’ll be gone all day today & won't be returning until tomorrow; however, I've scheduled the August installment of Eberle's Wesier River Pillow Book series. The final installment of Down on the Farm should be posted on Thursday.


The traveller who crossed the Halles at the end of summer
Was walking on her tiptoes
And across the sky despair furled its big calla lilies such beauties
And in the handbag was my dream that bottle of salt
Solely breathed by God’s godmother
Torpors spread out like steam
At the Smoking Dog Café
Where Pro and Con had just entered
The young woman could be seen only poorly and in profile
Was I dealing with the ambassadress of saltpeter
Or the white curve against the black background which we call thought
The ball of the innocents was in full swing
The lanterns caught fire slowly in the chestnut trees
The lady who cast no shadow knelt down on the Pont au Change
In Rue Gît-le-Cœur the pealing was no longer the same
Night’s promises were kept at last
The carrier pigeons the emergency kisses
Joined with the beautiful unknown one’s breast
Thrusting under the crepe of perfect meanings
A farm prospered in the midst of Paris
And its windows looked out on the Milky Way
But no one was living in it on account of the guests
The guests that one knows are more devoted than ghosts
The ones like that woman seemed to be swimming
And into love there enters a little of their substance
She takes them in
I am not the plaything of any sensory power
And yet the cricket that sang in the ashen hair
One evening near the statue of Etienne Marcel
Shot me a knowing glance
André Breton it said may pass through

André Breton
translation by John Hayes © 1990-2009


  1. There are some memorable lines in that translation John, As always, thanks.

  2. I really liked this piece - the spontaneous flow of the images.
    John, would you be able to compile a list of all the names of poets you have shared with us? I would love to have it so I can refer to it when I'm out hunting for books. I'd really appreciate that.



    P.S. Safe journey.

  3. I really love translation Tuesdays. Thanks again for a luminous poem. Wow.

  4. Nothing lost in your translation of Breton, another favorite o'mine. Would that talent so clarified gave constant visit to my own poetic musings...thank you.

  5. Hi folks!

    Alan: Glad you liked it!

    Kat: I'll get that list to you within the next few days!

    Willow: Yes, that's quite a line.

    Reya: Thanks--I'm very glad you like these!

    Cathy: Thanks--that's cool that you like Breton--at his best, a very good poet.


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