Our night better than our days

Our night better than our days

The day returns the day is now everywhere
The earth opens and slides and dies and disappears
But already the living have accepted their fate
In the dimensions of man a star goes out
And the woman lifts her leaden child

The sea’s palace rears up in the azure
Today like yesterday the moor with its pale bells
The hand with no future the bird with no omen
The houses’ robes totally resistant to love
The road monotone under the feet of the poor

The sun’s not far away and you who are still sleeping
Slowly arise shepherding your last dream
Towards the appeasement of space and your breast
Is like the earth to the seed that will germinate
A very precise source of need

We’ll see your evening again again see your night
And all will be tinged with nudity again
The light will shed its leaves on your forehead
Everything will be swathed in your delicate secrets
And sleep will live forever until break of day.

Paul Éluard

(translation by John Lyons)

Notre nuit meilleure que nos jours

Le jour revient le jour est maintenant partout
La terre s’ouvre et glisse et meurt et disparaît
Mais déjà les vivants ont accepté leur sort
Dans l’épaisseur de l’homme une étoile s’éteint
Et la femme soulève son enfant de plomb

Le palais de la mer se dresse dans l’azur
Aujourd’hui comme hier la lande aux cloches pâles
La main sans avenir l’oiseau de nul présage
Les robes les maisons bien fermées à l’amour
La route monotone sous les pieds des pauvres

Le soleil n’est pas loin et toi qui dors encore
Tu montes lentement menant ton dernier rêve
Vers l’assouvissement de l’espace et ton sein
Et semblable à la terre au grain qui germera
Très précise fontaine de nécessité

Nous reverrons ton soir nous reverrons ta nuit
Tout sera de nouveau teinté de nudité
La lumière perdra ses feuilles sur ton front
Tout sera recouvert de tes légers secrets
Et le sommeil vivra sans fin jusqu’au matin.

Fragments of time

Fragments of time

Through our veins
           the blood of stars
from which all warmth
           from which all passion
from which all life
           from which all love

her hand within mine
           is universe touching
           flesh upon flesh
feeding upon
           eternal energies

these words
           are star script
temporal equations
           of eternal expression
the earth populated
           with fragments of time
that burn to coalesce
           to embody a single soul

Orpheus descends
           through her open eyes
into the heart
           of her love

John Lyons

That mirror moment

That mirror moment

Hard cold cruelty
           of the mirror
true friend of time
           harshest critic
inflexible judgment
           how thin
how destructive
           your silver lining
as you throw back
           in our faces
every wrinkle
           every line
every error
           of excess

and how you prowl the world
in every unexpected corner
           ready to pounce
in halls and bathrooms
           hotels and restaurants
to confront and unnerve us
           when masks have dropped
and we are left alone
           with little more
than our intimate
           loveless reality

John Lyons

Eternal return

Eternal return

In the still world
           on a blue morning
I think of you
           I think of your name
I say it under my breath
           It brings you back to me
for a moment your presence
           your love
all synonyms for the joy
           you brought me
how much I loved
           to mouth your name

I read the poetry of love
           Paul Éluard out loud
outbursts of love and light
           and the memory of other births
and a future
           covered in kisses
the impossibility of injustice
           when love chooses love
without flinching
           a straight face
along the narrow path
           that draws you back to me

John Lyons

So to the life learnt

Easter canvas

So to the life learnt

So to the life learnt
           word by word :
who walks beside me in the shadow 
           of Shad Thames ?

the hollow space
           in your image and likeness
the simple mathematics
           as dawn breaks
above my head
           on this Easter Sunday

I have a mind full of you
           and of words
from other scriptures
           and I salute the day with love

The ghosts of Wilfred Owen
           and of Paul Éluard
move through these lines
           one mortally wounded
the other a survivor
           in the Great War

There was a time
           when your almond eyes
drifted into mine
           mine into yours
a time when parting
           on Tooley Street
was such sweet sorrow
           before Hamlet appeared

Now there are red tulips
           and daffodils
with their yellow petals
           spread in honour
of the stars from where
           they come
and there are words
           so many words
that I deploy
           in my struggle against
the ravages of time
           and the loss of love

John Lyons


The curve of your eyes – Paul Éluard

The curve of your eyes

The curve of your eyes winds around my heart,
A round of gentleness and dance,
Halo of time, night cradle and safe,
And if I no longer know all that I’ve lived
It’s that your eyes haven’t always seen me.

Leaves of day and foam of dew,
Reeds of the wind, scented smiles,
Wings shading the world of light,
Boats brimming with sky and sea,
Hunters of noise and sources of colour,

Scents bloomed from a brood of dawns
That still rests on a bed of stars,
As the day depends on innocence
The whole world depends on your pure eyes
And all my blood flows into their gaze.

Paul Éluard (from Capitale de la douleur, 1929)

Translation by John Lyons

La courbe de tes yeux

La courbe de tes yeux fait le tour de mon cœur, 
Un rond de danse et de douceur, 
Auréole du temps, berceau nocturne et sûr, 
Et si je ne sais plus tout ce que j’ai vécu 
C’est que tes yeux ne m’ont pas toujours vu.

Feuilles de jour et mousse de rosée, 
Roseaux du vent, sourires parfumés,
Ailes couvrant le monde de lumière, 
Bateaux chargés du ciel et de la mer, 
Chasseurs des bruits et sources des couleurs,

Parfums éclos d’une couvée d’aurores 
Qui gît toujours sur la paille des astres, 
Comme le jour dépend de l’innocence 
Le monde entier dépend de tes yeux purs 
Et tout mon sang coule dans leurs regards.

Paul Éluard (from Capitale de la douleur, 1929)

The art of translation

The art of translation

In 1936 Samuel Beckett was a contributing translator to Thorns of Thunder, a brief selection of the poems of Paul Eluard. 

Later that year Beckett wrote to his friend and fellow translator, Tom McGreevy:

“My copy of Eluard came, duly signed by author & all available translators. He does come through after a fashion, the frailty & nervousness. But no attempt seems to have been made to translate the pauses. Like Beethoven played strictly to time.”


Night invention

Thorns 2

Night invention

The darkness is ours
in which I hand to you
you hand me back
all the love

water spreads
through the earth
reaches into
the root of being

in the darkness
as mirrors rest
your secret voice
is revealed

through the blinds
a moon laced with cloud
on white linen
the thorns are removed

one by one
there is no blood
to stain

no tears to dry
your mouth

is an abyss
into which
I willingly fall
and sleep comes

John Lyons

When you’re old – Paul Eluard


Paul Eluard, by Picasso

           I can’t do a thing, I can’t see a thing.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t go out
You should stay indoors by the fire,
With warm clothes and the day tempered
Each evening by the night and the lamplight.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t read anymore.
Words are bad and meant for other lives.
You should stay in, your eyes glazed, resigned
Motionless, in a corner.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t talk anymore
You mustn’t sleep anymore. . . You must remember
That others are constantly thinking:
“When you’ve seen it all, you’re miserable
And when you’re old, you’ve seen it all!”

Paul Eluard (1895-1952)

Translation by John Lyons

French text :

         Je ne peux rien faire, je ne peux rien voir.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus sortir
Il faut rester dans la chambre avec le feu,
Avec de chauds vêtements et le jour adouci
Chaque soir par la nuit et la clarté des lampes.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus lire.
Les mots sont mauvais et pour d’autres vies.
Il faut rester, les yeux perdus, l’air résigné
Dans un coin, sans bouger.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus parler
Il ne faut plus dormir. . . Il faut se souvenir
Que les autres pensent sans cesse:
« Quand on a tout vu, on est misérable
Et quand on est vieux c’est qu’on a tout vu! »

Paul Eluard (from Le devoir et l’inquiétude, 1916-1917)