The Poetry Porch

In a Crude Mountain Shelter
by René Char
Translated by Susanne Dubroff

         If you have to leave again, lean against the wall in a crude shepherd’s shelter. And don’t worry about that tree waving at you from over there. Its own fruit will slake its thirst.
         Having gotten up before it could make sense out of itself, a word wakes us; it lavishes upon us the brilliance of the day, this dreamless word.

         Apple-colored space. Space, flaming dessert dish.
         Today is a wild animal. Tomorrow it will leap.

         Put yourself in the gods’ place and take a look at yourself. This time, exchanged at birth, having barely survived being weeded out, you are more invisible than they are. And you repeat yourself less.
         Earth has hands. The moon has none. Earth ravages the moon.

         Liberty, then, is the void, a void to be desperately surveyed. After that, dear, most eminent walled-in ones, there will be the strong odor of your undoing. Why should that surprise you?
        One ought to love that thirsty nakedness, lustrous truth of a heart parched by its convulsive blood!

         Future that has already disappeared! Plaintive world!
         When the mask of man is applied to Earths face, she gets her eyes put out.

         Are we off our hinges forever? Touched up with palliating beauty?
         I would have taken Nature as my partner, danced only with her. But couples dont marry at wine harvestings.

         My love preferred the fruit to its phantom. So, bent and unsubmissive, I reconciled one with the other.
         Three hundred and sixty-five nights without daytimes, huge, massive, this is what I wish upon the haters of the night.

         They are going to make us suffer but we’ll make them suffer. One should say to one’s luck: “Get your revenge!” To time which separates us: “Shall I go to her? Ah, but more than just a glimpse, if you please.”
        The spoilers have arrived, the empty ones. Guys prepared to terrorize.

         Don’t trim the candle, don't shorten the springtime of the ember. Those migrations on cold nights won’t cease at the sight of you.
         We’re trying out the insomnias of Niagara, looking for stirred-up country, lands fit for newly enraged natures.
         Whoever painted Lascaux, Giotto, Van Eyck, Uccello, Fouquet, Mantegna, Cranach, Carpacciio, Giorgione, Tintoretto, Georges de la Tour, Poussin, Rembrandt, these are the woolens lining my rocky nest.

         Our storms are essential to us. As to our suffering, society is not inevitably at fault, for all its walls, its alternating collapse and restoration.
         We cant measure ourselves by the image another has of us; the analogy soon loses itself.

         We will pass from imagined death to death’s actual reeds. Life brushes against us, distracts itself with us in the process.
         Death is neither over here nor over there. She is close by, industrious, humble.

         I was born and grew up among contradictions that were tangible at every moment, in spite of their huge exactions and the beatings they gave each other. I hung out at railway stations.
         After lighting up its own night, the radiant heart enlivens the limp wheat ear. 

         There are those who leave behind poisons while others leave remedies. Difficult to tell which is which. You have to taste.
         The immediate yes or no is healthy in spite of the corrections that will follow.

        In the higher places there is no guest, no sharing: only the elemental urn. A flash of lighting sketches out the present as it scars the garden, innocently pursues its own span, never ceasing to appear to have existed.
        The darlings of the moment havent lived as we have dared to live, without fear that our imagination would be warped by our affection for it.

         It is life alone that kills us. Death is only the host who rescues the house from its fence and shoves it to the edge of the forest.
        Early sun, I see you, but only where you no longer are.

         Whoever believes the enigma renewable, becomes the enigma.To clamber freely over that gaping erosion, at times luminous, at times obscure, to know without establishing will be his law, a law he will obey but which will get the better of him; he will not establish but he will help to create.
        One comes back again and again to erosion. Suffering as opposed to fulfillment.*

         All that we shall accomplish from today on we shall accomplish for want of something better. Neither with contentment nor despair. Our only light: Rembrandt’s flayed ox. But how can we resign ourselves to the smell of the antiquated date marked on the portal, we who in a crisis are intelligent, even foresightful?
         Something very simple is roughing itself out: fire rising, Earth depleted, snow flying, a brawl breaking out. The gods-that-be are offering a bit of their leisure to us; later well be resented for having accepted it. I see a tiger with his eyes wide open. Greetings. Who is it who has managed to be born over there among the herbs to whom tomorrow all things will lay claim?

*At this point we can no longer see the shelter, and when we summon it in our imagination, it no longer sends back its clairvoyant messages. 


See poems by René Char. Translations by Susanne Dubroff, which first appeared as part of the internal chapbook, “Nothing Shipwrecks Itself” in MAR Mid-American Review, Spring 1999, Volume XIX, Number 2. Copyright © 1999 by Susanne Dubroff. Published by White Pine Press, Spring 2004, in the volume titled This Smoke That Carried Us, Selected Poems by René Char, translated by Susanne Dubroff.