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)


Paul Éluard – Poems for Peace (1918)

Paul_ÉluardThe French poet Paul Éluard (1895-1952) was mobilised during the First World War. In June 1917, he was dispatched to a military evacuation hospital at Hargnicourt, 10 kilometres from the front line.

There he was tasked with writing to the families of the dead and wounded. He wrote more than 150 letters a day. At night he dug graves to bury the dead.

from Poems for Peace (1918)

A world dazed
a world stunned


All the happy women
Have their menfolk home – such warmth
as though back from the sun.
He laughs and says softly hi
Before kissing his darling.


Gorgeous, your breast slightly arced,
My blessed wife, you’re more mine than back in the day
Where with him and him and him and him,
I once clutched a rifle, a billy-can— our life!


All the comrades of the world,
O! my friends!
Not worth my wife and my kids
Sat around the table,
O! my friends!


When combat was over amid the throng,
You fell asleep amid the throng.
Now you’ll feel but a single breath on your face,
And your wife sharing your bed
Will bother you more than a thousand mouths.


My child’s capricious –
All these tantrums are an act.
I’ve a beautiful spoilt child
Makes me die laughing.


My ten fingers work and my brain works,
God’s work, beast of burden work,
My daily life and our hope,
Food is our love.


Darling, we need to see the white rose
of your milk bloom.
Darling, you must soon be a mother,
Make a child that looks like me…


For a long time I’d a good-for-nothing face,
But now
I’ve a face to be loved,
I’ve a face to be happy.


I need a lover,
A virgin lover,
A virgin in a light dress.


I dream of all the beautiful women
Who go out walking at night,
Very calm,
Under a roaming moon.


Fruit blossom brightens my garden,
Trees of beauty and fruit-bearing trees.
And I work and I’m alone in my garden.
And the Sun singes my hands with dark fire.

Translation by John Lyons