Tuesday, February 9, 2010

mirlitonnades

Translator's Note

Beckett's mirlitonnades, in their original French, often employ a rhyme scheme. Beckett alternately described them as "irregular, small poems," "gloomy French doggerel," "rimailles," "rhymeries," or "versicules" (The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett). At the risk of sounding too artificial, or of sacrificing the best word in the place of a lesser word simply because it fits Beckett’s criteria, I have decided that in translating these poems to English it is best to mostly dispense with rhyme. Any kind of phonetic translation, while an admirable undertaking, is finally beyond the scope of my efforts as translator.

These are not so much strict translations as open interpretations.

There are fifty-nine known mirlitonnades, written on various scraps of paper primarily in the years 1977 and 1978, though as late as 1981 Beckett continued to add poems--some in English--to a notebook (the Sottisier Notebook [1976-1982]) in which these poems were copied. The poems, we are told by Ackerley and Gontarski, "were usually composed at a sitting, often a specific locale. Others were inspired by reading or revisit past concerns" (the Grove Companion again). Of these fifty-nine, forty-four are in French and are translated into English below.

The title Beckett chose for these poems is a neologism, implying a coarse verse or doggerel (the French expression "Vers de militon" refers to poetry where aesthetic integrity is sacrificed for the sake of rhyme); a mirliton is a crude paper flute or kazoo, often sold at carnivals and fairs, a mirlitonnade would therefore be the sound expelled by such a device, something similar to a discreetly disharmonious burst of air.



facing
the horror
returns to
laughter

*

coming home
at night
the house
lights

extinguished to see
the night to see
a face pressed
against the windowglass

*

in conclusion
you found
a quarter million
quarters of an hour
not counting
that extra hour

*

eyes might have glimpsed
the thin foundations of nothing
weakly stirring the calm distances
of your mind only
it was imagined

*

such silence that once was
will never again be torn by whispers
murmurs of unspoken words
without past vowing silence

*

listen to them
accumulate
word
after word
without a word
step
by step
one by
one

*

the shuttle's
gleaming edges
heedlessly extinguished
heading home, its gleam returns

without stopping
one or the other
returning home unheeded
transformed

*

imagine if this
one day this
one fine day
imagine
if one day
this one fine day
ceased
imagine

*

at first
flat on the hard
right
or left
either

and then
flat on the right
or left
left
or right

at last
flat on the left
or right
at any
on all
their heads

*

flux causes
anything
to be something
to be anything
so that, let
us say,
one both is
and is not

*

Saturday's reprieve
no laughter
after midnight
before midnight
and after you
do not weep

*

every day you desire
to live you begin
regretting only
the day you were born

*

prolific night
the gleam of morning begs you
gracefully
decay

*

there is nothing
that shall have been
in vain
just as
there is nothing

*

from good conduct to punishment
the final step
rests until
custom commands
and the other follows suit
as custom commands
and carries the weight
of the first
as custom commands
until the here and now

*

what perfection
is known by the eyes
hands allow
to slip painfully away
eyes shut tight
fingers clenched
until something better
arrives

*

what terror
the heart knows
what curse
terrible to say
resuscitates the worst
returns
as worse

*


do not miss in Tangier
the cemetery Saint-André
where the dead wither
under dead flowers
in memory of Arthur Keyser
who gave his heart the rest
divided among them

*

nearby lies
Caroline Hay Taylor
faithful to a philosophy
that long life requires hope
she fled to heaven
from Ireland August 1932

*

in Stuttgart you must see
Neckar Street, a long street where
the old attractions
have not faded to nothing
because one suspects
nothing is already there

*

the old go
the old stop

to go
away
away
stop

*

fools who say
never again
soon say
never again

*

step by step
in this nowhere
no one person
alone knows how
small, stubborn
steps to nowhere

*

dream
without cease
truce
without peace

*

dead among
dead flies
spider-cradled
by tangled breeze

*

from where
does the voice say
live

another life

*

words survive
this life
brief
companions

*

rivers and oceans
have brought life
to the streets of Courtablon
near the Mare-Chaudron

*

his feet are firm
though only waiting
they pass him by
moving aimlessly

*

leaving the hermitage
the calm before the storm

*

at that moment he is told
he has more time for life
finally a smile
arrives on his face

*

the night his mind went
it made its final demand
it was not immediate
but an hour before

*

nothing else
but the memories of those times
a day in April
a day

*

an evening's shadow
re-appears
stretches its bleached arms
then disappears

*

dark sister
from hell
surrounding you
for what are you waiting?

*

the ninety year old dwarf
in a whisper
says Grace, his coffin
normal-sized

*

a dream after a good book
compels one to bed, to bid farewell
to risk a cliche
forget the candlestick

*

now is the time
for the heart
to begin
hardening

*

as in
the cradle
the words are nonsense
as in
the cradle
madness again pours forth

*

he
at his age
he was this
sacred duct
weeping

*

a fault in existence
infiltrates miasmatas of oxygen
in the silence of pseudo-silence
of unhappy twilight

*

midnight a thousand years from now
by five hundred and twelve o'clock
so as midnight
tonight
here

*

naked empty silence
will never have
been the same

empty silence

*

raising her head
that is the beauty
just raising
her head