Saturday, July 17, 2010

“No Artichokes Without Tomatoes”

Happy Saturday, everybody!  I’m here today with one of my translations from French surrealist Benjamin Péret for your enjoyment.  Somehow, it seemed just the thing for a summery weekend when Eberle & I will be playing a wedding on an island in Payette Lake.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, we’ll be transported to this island wedding by pontoon boat—Eberle, her flute & melodica; me, my resonator guitar (the Gold Tone Dobro) & my Beltona resonator tenor uke.  I haven’t actually performed on the uke in ages, & don’t play it too much anymore—a part of me feels lost with only four strings!  But we have a pretty nice set list worked up—lots of improvisation all the way thru the wedding march, which is a pretty piece Eberle & I came up with extemporaneously with flute & resonator guitar; & then we’ll be playing some upbeat old blues during the champagne & cupcake reception.

By request, I’ve included the text of the French original, which comes from Péret’s 1928 collection Le Grand Jeu, sometimes translated as The Great Game, tho I prefer The Big Game myself.  I translated Le Grand Jeu in its entirety, as well as & several others works by Péret, during the 1990s while living in San Francisco. 

Speaking of translating: I mean to get back to the Apollinaire blog, I really do.  I’m kind of stuck on a poem that I hadn’t translated in the past, le Voyageur, but I hope to get back to it soon.  I’m also beginning to feel my lack of poetic input over the past month or so as an uncomfortable thing, & am hoping to get back into that mindset very soon.  

In the meantime, hope you enjoy the poem, & your Saturday, too!

No Artichokes Without Tomatoes

My tomatoes are riper than your shoes
and your artichokes look like my daughter

In the marketplace
were a tomato and an artichoke
and they both danced around a navel
that turned on its root

Dance tomato and you too artichoke
Your wedding-day will be clear as a carp’s gaze
The shoes that contemplate us
shed tears about it that are over-ripe pears
and if they sing they’ll raise a ruckus like coffins
bursting and stirring up corpses
The corpse slaps his hands like a pebble against a window
and says
No way you’ll get my tomato for that price

Benjamin Péret
translation © Jack Hayes 1990-2010

Sans Tomates Pas D’Artichauts

Mes tomates sont plus mûres que tes sabots
et tes artichauts ressemblent à ma fille

Sur la place du marché
il y avait une tomate et un artichaut
et tous deux dansaient autour d’un navet
qui tournait sur sa racine

Dansez tomate danses artichaut
le jour de vos noces sera clair comme le regard des carpes
Les sabots qui nous contemplent
en pleurent des larmes de poires blettes
et s’ils chantent ils font un bruit de cercueil
qui éclate et fait surgir un cadavre
Le cadavre bat des mains comme un caillou dans une vitre
et dit
Non tu n’auras pas ma tomate à ce prix-là

Benjamin Péret

Note on the Pic: I don't tend to "illustrate" poems too much, but I couldn't resist re-posting this photo Eberle took of some of her homegrown tomatoes back in the summer of 08!


  1. The opening two lines will long sit in my mind.

  2. I love those tears like overripe pears!

  3. I love this! It has a real Faulkneresque feel for me. I didn't enjoy Faulkner in university, but the line "My mother is a fish." (from "Light in August") is one I will never forget!
    Nor will I soon forget the "ruckus of coffins bursting" and the pebble-slap against that window.
    Right up my alley!


  4. Hi Alan, Jessica & Kat

    Alan: Péret is always good for at least a couple of "sticky" lines per poem. Thanks!

    Jessica: Glad you liked it--that is a good image; I think the sound in French is a bit better than my rendition: "en pleurent des larmes de poires blettes." Thanks for stopping by & commetning!

    Kat: Péret & Faulkner seem like "strange bedfellows" (to put it mildly), but when Douglas Day taught at the University of Virginia he talked about how Faulkner was really part of the "magical realism" movement one usually associates with South America--so there you have it! Glad you liked this! & glad to see you're selling some books!


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