Monday, April 18, 2011

a cage of bone

Cage d'oiseau

Je suis une cage d'oiseau
Une cage d’os
Avec un oiseau

L'oiseau dans sa cage d’os
C'est la mort qui fait son nid

Lorsque rien n’arrive
On entend froisser ses ailes

Et quand on a ri beaucoup
Si l'on cesse tout à coup
On l'entend qui roucoule
Au fond
Comme un grelot

C'est un oiseau tenu captif
La mort dans ma cage d’os

Voudrait-il pas s'envoler
Est-ce vous qui le retiendrez
Est-ce moi
Qu'est-ce que c'est

Il ne pourra s'en aller
Qu'après avoir tout mangé
Mon cœur
La source de sang
Avec la vie dedans

Il aura mon âme au bec.

--Saint-Denys Garneau

Bird cage

I am a bird cage
A cage of bone
With a bird

The bird in its cage of bone
Is death making a nest

In a lull
I hear its wings rustle

And when I laugh heartily
And suddenly stop
I hear it coo
In the deep
Like a little bell

It is a captive bird
Death in my cage of bone

Doesn’t it want to take flight
Is it you who will hold it back
Is it me
What then

It can’t go until
It has devoured all
My heart
The font of blood
With life inside

It will carry my soul in its beak

--my translation


  1. aaaah

    before i say something else, just a quick question: why is the first picture not clear? i think there is something wrong with the html, when i click on it it is perfectly clear but here in the post i see a lot of artifacts on it. or is it only my problem?

  2. Roxana: Hmmm ... I don't know :-( The birds are in fog (real fog), so they are a little blurred, but that should be all. I will try posting the photo again. Does it look strange to anyone else who might be reading???

  3. oh but i see the photo perfectly when i click on it, it becomes clear, without jagged artifacts. i think this is a compression problem in blogger.

    (and it is another overwhelming picture)

  4. Yes, that first picture is a little blurry. I didn't notice how much until I clicked on it and saw the comparison. Breath-taking, the clarity, which emphasises all the more the fragility of the bare branches and the delicate shapes of the birds against that gorgeous background colour. Also that bottom picture, wow what perfect symmetry!
    I really love this poem / your translation. "The bird in its cage of bone / Is death making a nest". The images, sounds and associations are so exactly right, to me!

  5. Roxana: I hope you are right, it is just a compression problem with this one photo and it won't happen again... I have replaced it with another copy, and that makes no difference. But the others look ok, as far as I can see. How annoying this is!

  6. Marion: When I first read this poem, I didn't care for it. The French has a kind of faux naif sing-song sound, almost Dr. Seuss. I suppose it is an irony, a nursery-rhyme-ish poem about death. I didn't like it, but the poem haunted me, because of the same images you mention, maybe, and I kept coming back. The translation, I think, does what it does well enough, and I'm very happy that you like it. It misses the sound of the original, but some words just don't rhyme in English, no matter how you threaten them!

  7. I often wonder if I would even like Akhmatova if I could read Russian! I think I like so much translated poetry because of the obvious focus on imagery. This poem has a strongly imagistic feel to it and whilst not sing-song-ay(thankgoodness!) the internal/slant rhymes plus all those wonderful harsh b's and d's really add to the pleasure of those images.

  8. i totally agree, James, at first the poem irritated me because of this nursery-rhyme-ish thing - but then i kept coming back to some images, especially the one Marion already mentioned - and of course, your translation is a gem - yet again, it manages to make the poem better than in original, at least to my eyes (and ears) :-)

  9. Marion: I think I know just what you mean about Akhmatova. Some of the poets who are most important to me I know only through translation -- and when I can figure out a bit of the original, I sometimes like the translated version better....

  10. Roxana: Poems like this one, initially irritating, but haunting somehow ... they often turn out to be essential in the end (of course, people can be the same way!!). I blush when you say this about the translations.....