Poem, by Paul Verlaine

Paul Verlaine

Above the roof, the sky’s
So blue, so calm!
Above the roof, a tree
Waves its leaves.  

The bell, in the sky we see,
Is softly ringing.
On the tree we see a bird
Singing its sad song.  

My God, my God, life is there,
Simple and tranquil.
This peaceful sound
Comes from the town.  

And you there, what have you done,
With your endless tears,
Tell me, you, what have you done,
With your younger years?

Paul-Marie Verlaine (1844 – 1896) 

Translation by John Lyons


Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit,
Si bleu, si calme!
Un arbre, par-dessus le toit,
Berce sa palme.

La cloche, dans le ciel qu’on voit,
Doucement tinte.
Un oiseau sur l’arbre qu’on voit,
Chante sa plainte.

Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, la vie est là
Simple et tranquille.
Cette paisible rumeur-là
Vient de la ville.

– Qu’as-tu fait, ô toi que voilà
Pleurant sans cesse,
Dis, qu’as-tu fait, toi que voilà,
De ta jeunesse ?


I dream you from afar – Jules Supervielle

supervielleJules Supervielle (1884-1960) was born into a French-Basque family living in Uruguay. Aged ten, he was sent to Paris, where he completed his education at the Sorbonne. For the rest of his life, he divided his time between Uruguay and France. He was friends with André Gide, Paul Valéry and Jacques Rivière, and in 1923, he met the Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, a crucial influence on his later work. The poem below is from Oublieuse mémoire, published in 1949.

I dream you from afar

I dream you from afar, and, close by, it’s all the same,
But always you remain precise, without response,
Under my calm eyes you become music,
As with the glance, I catch you by ear.

You know how to be in me as though before my eyes,
So much your heart is tendered, melodious,
And I hear you pounding at my secret temples
As you flow into me and so disappear.

Translation by John Lyons

Je vous rêve de loin

Je vous rêve de loin, et, de près, c’est pareil,
Mais toujours vous restez précise, sans réplique,
Sous mes tranquilles yeux vous devenez musique,
Comme par le regard, je vous vois par l’oreille.

Vous savez être en moi comme devant mes yeux,
Tant vous avez le cœur offert, mélodieux,
Et je vous entend battre à mes tempes secrètes
Lorsque vous vous coulez en moi pour disparaître.

Philippe Soupault, two poems

Philippe Soupault, two poems



I can’t sleep Georgia
I shoot arrows in the night Georgia
I’m waiting for Georgia
I think Georgia
Fire is like snow Georgia
The night is my neighbour Georgia
I hear every sound without exception Georgia
I see the smoke rising and seeping away Georgia
I creep along in the shadows Georgia
I run here’s the street the suburbs Georgia
Here’s a city that’s the same
and that’s new to me Georgia
I rush along here comes the wind Georgia
and the cold silence and fear Georgia
I’m leaving Georgia
I’m running away Georgia
the clouds are low they’ll tumble down Georgia
I’m opening my arms Georgia
I can’t close my eyes Georgia
I call Georgia
I shout Georgia
I call Georgia
I call out to you Georgia
Will you come Georgia
soon Georgia
Georgia Georgia Georgia
I can’t sleep Georgia
I’m waiting for you


Epitaph for Francis Picabia

did you want us to bury you with your four dogs
a newspaper
and your hat
You asked us to write on your grave
Have a nice trip
They’re going to take you for a fool up there too

Translations by John Lyons

Philippe Soupault (1897-1990) was a French writer and poet, novelist, critic, and political activist. Active in Dadaism, he later founded the Surrealist movement with André Breton. He was also the translator of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience into French.

Black stone upon a white stone

Black stone upon a white stone

I’ll die in Paris when it’s pouring with rain
On a day whose memory I cherish.
I’ll die in Paris (it makes no odds to me),
On maybe a Thursday like today, in autumn.

Yes, a Thursday because today, Thursday
O what dull verse. . . my upper arms won’t respond,
And never like today have I about-faced
To see myself all alone, the years I’ve known.

César Vallejo has died, beaten by
One and all, though he did them no harm.
They beat him hard with a stick
Hard too with a rope: his upper arms;
The Thursdays; the rain and loneliness;
The journeys, all bear witness. . .

César Vallejo (1892-1938)

Translation by John Lyons

The courtyard

Jorge Luis Borges

The courtyard

As night fell
the two or three colours of the courtyard grew tired.
This evening, the moon, the bright circle,
does not dominate its space.
Courtyard, funnelled sky.
The courtyard is the slope
down which the sky pours into the house.
eternity awaits at the stars’ crossroad.
How pleasant to live in the obscure companionship
of a hallway, a water tank and a vine.

Jorge Luis Borges

Translated by John Lyons

Jorge Luis Borges (24 August 1899 – 14 June 1986) was an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, and a key figure in Hispanic Literature.  


Sous la nuit

Sous la nuit

The absent ones blow greyly and the night is dense. The night’s the colour of the dead man’s eyelids.
        All night I’m on the run, I channel the pursuit and flight, I sing a song for my misfortunes, black birds upon black shrouds.
        I scream mentally, the demented wind rebuts me, I confine myself, I pull away from the twitching hand, I don’t want to know anything other than this clamor, this howl in the night, this wandering, this not being found.
        All night I make the night.
        All night you abandon me slowly as water falls slowly. All night I write to find who is looking for me.
        Word by word I write the night.

Alejandra Pizarnik

Translation by John Lyons

pizarnikAlejandra Pizarnik (April 29, 1936 – September 25, 1972), an Argentinian poet, greatly respected and supported by such writers as Octavio Paz and Julio Cortázar, had a long and ultimately unsuccessful struggle against depression. The intensity and intimacy of her poetry places her firmly in the tradition of Emily Dickinson, whose verse she greatly admired. In her “Notes for an article”, written in 1964, she states : “Intense need for poetic truth. It demands the freeing of visionary energies while maintaining, simultaneously an extraordinary aplomb in the handling of this energy. I’m not sure if I’m talking about poetic perfection, freedom, love or death.”

Day by the Danube


Day by the Danube

Cycled out to the Danube
             : on the far side
of the blue wide water
             white swans swam in lines
sticking close to the bank
             as they made their way north
The river was silent
             except where it sucked
at the stones on the shoreline
             where tiny wavelets broke

And time passed
             and nothing was done
and my mind floated off
             into the distance
and everywhere
             became nowhere
and now became then
             and it was good

John Lyons

Versión en español

Un día en el Danubio

Nos dirigimos al Danubio
             en bicicleta : y al otro lado
de las anchas aguas azules
             los cisnes nadaban en fila
pegados a la orilla
             en camino hacia el norte
Silencioso el río
             excepto donde chupaba
las piedras de la ribera
             y se rompía en pequeñas olas.

Y el tiempo pasó
             y nada se hizo 
y mi mente flotó en la distancia
             y todas partes llegaron a ser
ninguna parte
             y el ahora 
se convirtió en ya se fue
             y fue bueno