Gérard de Nerval

The Chimeras, translated by Mark Lamoureux


I am of darkness—widower, —unconsoled
Prince of Aquitaine & the stricken tower:
My one star is dead,—& my lute of the firmament
Bears despair’s black sun.

In night’s tomb, you consoler
Return to me Posilipo & the Italian sea,
That bloom so pleasured by my blighted heart,
& that trellis where the vine & the rose align.

Am I love or Phoebus?...Lusignan or Biron?
My face still red from the queen’s kiss;
I’ve dreamed in the cavern where the siren swims...

& two times crossed & won the Acheron:
Sang by & by of the lyre of Orpheus,
The saint’s sighs & the faerie’s shriek.



I think of you, Myrtho, divine enchantress
Of proud Posilipo, your million flames,
Your face flooded in the glimmer of the Orient,
& the black grapes that stained the gold of your braids.

In your sharp cup also I drank debauch
& in the quick flash of your grinning eyes,
When at Iacchus’ feet I was seen suppliant
Because the muse has made me Greece’s only son.

I know why there the volcano reerupts…
Because yesterday you stroked it with your expert foot,
& of a sudden the horizon buried in ash.

Since a Norman duke broke your terracotta gods,
Forever under Virgil’s bay laurels,
The pale Hydrangea & the green Myrtle entwine.



The god Kneph’s shudders rattled the firmament,
Isis the mother then rose from her sofa,
& flailed in fury at her feral mate
& the old green flame spurt forth from her eyes,

“Look at him,” she said, “The old fuck is dying,
& all the hoarfrost on earth’s been run though his maw.
Bind his twisted foot & pluck his rheumy eye,
He’s the god of eruption & the king of the winter!

The eagle’s flown & the new ghost calls my name,
For him I wore & wear Cybele’s dress...
Osiris & Hermes’ number one son!”

The goddess fled to her golden conch,
The seawater mimicked her beloved image
& the sky shimmered under Isis’ veil.



You ask me why so much rage in my heart
& on a wan neck an unkempt head;
It’s that I’m from the race of Antaeus,
I deflect the darts of the conquering god.

Yes, I am of those the Avenger ignites,
He’s branded my brow with his tortured lips;
Under Abel’s pallor, alas! bloodstained
I blush sometimes Cain’s inexorable red!

Jaweh! The last to be drowned by your seed,
Who from the depths of hell cried “O Tyranny!”
It’s my father’s father Belus or my father Dagon...

They plunged me thrice in the waters of Cocytus,
& protecting my mother the Amelkite all alone
I resow at her feet the old Serpent’s teeth.



Do you know, DAPHNE, this old romance
At the sycamore’s feet or under white laurel,
Under the olives, the myrtle, the shivering willow
This love song...which always rebegins?

Do you remember the TEMPLE & its huge columned court,
the bitter lemons that wore the mark of your teeth?
& that hollow lethal to its feckless guests
Where sleeps the drowned Serpent’s old sperm.

They will return, these gods you bemoan forever!
Time will restore the order of ages &
The earth will quiver from prophetic breath...

Meanwhile the latinfaced sibyl
Again sleeps under Constantine’s arch:
—& nothing’s deranged the sinister gate.



Again the 13th. She's again the first
& always the only—or the only moment:
You are my queen. The first or the last?
Are you my king, are you the lone or last lover?

Love who loved you from the cradle in her tomb;
She who was my lone love loves me gingerly still:
She is death—or dead. . . O ecstasy! O agony!
The rose she holds is the hollyhock rose.

Saint of Naples with your hands full of flame;
Purple-hearted rose; flower of Saint Gudula;
Did you find your cross in the barren sky?

Fall, white roses! You insult our gods:
Fall, white phantoms from your skies that burn:
The saint of the abyss is more holy to my eyes.



When the Lord, lifting his skinny arms to the sky
Under the sacred trees as poets do,
Longtime lost in mute dolor
Called himself traitored by ingracious friends,

He looked down on the ones waiting below
Who dreamed to be kings, prophets or seers
(But all lost to the numb sleep of beasts) &
Started to shriek “No God doesn’t exist,”

Still they slept, “Friends have you heard the news?
I touched the eternal vault with my face;
I bleed, I break, I suffer days upon days

Brothers, I conned you: Abyss! Abyss! Abyss!
The god is gone from this altar that murders me!
God is not! God is no more!” But forever & ever they sleep.



He repeated: “All is dead! I have traversed the worlds;
I have lost my wings in their milky ways,
& life! life from its fecund veins
Spills gilded sand & silver floods:

Everywhere abandoned land is touched by waves,
Dumb whirlpools in angry seas...
A vague breath incites the vagrant spheres,
But no ghost exists in said immensities.

Looking for the eye of God, I saw only a socket,
Black & bottomless; the night that sleeps there
Shines down to a world growing thicker still;

A strange rainbow enfolds a somber hole,
Stoop of the old chaos whose shadow is the void,
Spiral that swallows the Worlds & Days!”



Motionless Destiny, mute sentinel!
Frigid Necessity! Chance who moves,
Through these dead worlds under endless snow,
Freezing the pale cosmos by degrees.

Do you know what you’re doing, Transcendent god,
With your extinguished suns, bashing together?
Can you expel an immortal breath
Between a world that’s dying & another undead?

Oh my father! Do I feel you inside me?
Can you live & overpower death?
Or did you succumb to the final twitch

Of that blighted angel of night, anathema...
I know I’m alone in my tears & my pain,
Alas! & should I die, everything dies with me.



No-one heard his immortal groans
As in vain he gave his exhumed heart to the world;
But about to expire in a powerless heap,
He cried out to the lone one awake in Jerusalem:

“Judas,” he screamed, “You know what I’m worth,
Sell me quick, close the deal,
I’m in agony, friend, prostrate!
You at least have the stomach for crime!”

But Judas withdrew, pensive & anxious,
Feeling duped & wracked with such remorse
he could read his dark deeds scrawled on each wall.

Finally, Pilate alone, Caesar’s watchdog,
Prickled by pity & in an offhand remark
to his goon said, “Go & fetch me the freak!”



It was he, the freak, insane & sublime...
Forgotten Icarus returned to the sky,
This Phaeton lost to the lightning of gods,
This pretty, bruised Atys who Cybele revives:

The oracle scryed the victim’s side,
The earth got drunk on sacred blood...
The firmament spun feckless on its axle
& for a moment Olympus tottered abysswards.

“Answer me!” screamed Caesar to Jupiter Ammon,
“Who’s this infant god loosed on the world?
If not a god then a demon at least...”

The oracle invoked was silent forever;
Only one could end the enigma:
—He who gave his ghost to the children of dirt.



And so! Everything is sentient!

Man, free thinker! You think you alone think
In this world where life splatters everywhere?
You’re free to dispose of your charge,
But the firmament’s gone from your schemes.

Respect the spirit that moves in beasts:
Every flower a ghost that opens to Nature,
Every alloy harbors the secrets of love;
“Everything is sentient,” & everything can change you,

Fear the eyes in blind walls,
Even dead matter is infused with a verb,
Don’t use it perversely.

Even in the shunned ones lives a secret god,
Like a nascent eye obscured by its lids,
A pure spirit blooms behind the veil of stones.

GÉRARD DE NERVAL was the pen name of French Romantic poet Gérard Labrunie. Famous for his phantasmagoric poems & for walking his pet lobster Thibault through urban Paris, Nerval was beloved by André Breton and other Surrealists. This translation of “Les Chimères” originally appeared in the now-defunct web magazine, Fascicle.

MARK LAMOUREAUX lives in New Haven, CT. He is the author of three full-length collections of poetry: Spectre (Black Radish Books 2010), Astrometry Orgonon (BlazeVOX Books 2008), and 29 Cheeseburgers / 39 Years (Pressed Wafer, 2013). His work has been published in print and online in Cannibal, Denver Quarterly, Jacket, Fourteen Hills and many others. In 2014 he received the 2nd annual Ping Pong Poetry award, selected by David Shapiro, for his poem “Summerhenge/Winterhenge.” He teaches at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, CT.