Edmond Rostand

Five Poems from Les Musardises, translated by Mark Lamoureux

SHADOWS & FOG

I love the shadows, the fog,
Their brevity & emptiness,
Their forms without form,
Their shudderings so tremulous.

I love you, Fog, O sister of Wind,
Who never second-guesses me,
& I love you, Shadows of things,
Better than the things themselves.

I love you because you’ll
Stand by me, though it be futile,
& because the unknown beguiles
Me, being to myself unknown.

Yes, I love all of the mists
Who drag along the field;
Who play among the green branches;
Who float so gracefully,

Whose broad round hips
Roll against the deep blue,
Whose pale curls come
More & more undone,

Tendrils pulled by winds, fine
Locks brazen & tumbling
For some sculptor of dreams
Who smoothes down the fog;

I love those whose motes seem
To weave together & so,
Rising, are together woven,
Bunches of great grey grapes;

Those whose down trembles
On the thatched roofs
Like straw hats stippled with the feathers
Of the black storks of Marabou;

Those who spread early,
In light little leaps among
The torches of the smokestacks
Like lather of soap;

The lines & the zigzags
Who write in the sky
The fancy bric-a-brac of
A haughty signature;

I love those spirals that rise
Like frankincense from censer;
I love the roses of morning,
I love the blues of evening.

& I love above all else the pallid,
The feeble, the ones not yet
Wholly vanished, but on the verge
In the distance, the violets.

Those graceful swirls
Who, in the glooming valley,
Barely reveal the hovels
& the ramshackle shacks;

Those who play among the curling breeze,
Curling & uncurling over & over
The dying peat fires
Abandoned by the shepherds,

& whose timid whorls
Fade before our raving eyes,
Who swoon away from the moor
& into the painted sky…

*

& I also love all the shadows
& their strange whims,
Big & small, light & dark,
By the hour & by the month,

The lovely regal shadows
Who crawl so solemnly;
The garish shadows
Of Hoffmanesque gait;

& especially, I’ll admit
Those who seem to be made
Of tiny brushes : against a cheek,
Those famous shadows of the lashes;

Those who, thoroughly,
At the base of the cinnabar
Or at the red foot of the holly oak,
Ink the grass, blade by blade;

Upon the stream, the shadow of a willow
Eclipses its own reflection;
At stream’s end, the gay shadow
Of a tadpole alive among the stones;

The shadow of a cobweb,
In which an insect dies,
Its bloody body swings
& casts its own little shadow still;

Your shadow on the hotel curtain,
The whiskers of a pouncing cat,
The shadow of a young girl’s hair,
The shadow of a cornsilk strand.

& in the lily, the gnomon of whom
Queen Mab asks the hour,
Yawning from the stem, the wagging
Shadow of the pistil of a flower.

But the shadow I like best,
Naturally, is that which is what
A forbidden desire becomes,
The fleeting shadow of a moment.

& it’s the shadow of a flying thing
That seduces me the most, being
The most vain & the most frivolous,
Tracing its sinister sigil.

I love the tiny shadows
Who dance under butterflies,
Who dance under dragonflies,
On the water, the grass, the furrows;

I love the shadow the lark
Leaves on the ground when it flies
& the quick silhouette
Of the nightjar along the roof.

The shadow of a cricket’s jump,
The shadow of a feather plucked
By a howling wind, a petal
Having lost its flower.

All the shadows quickly vanishing,
All the shadows we suddenly lose:
On the lips of a lover,
The shadow of a tender word.

In all the shadows of the branches,
All the shadows of the little birds,
A scattering of tiny white feathers
In the emptiness of flight.

& on the fluttering page,
Where I write this poem in the garden
The shadow that tells
Of a mosquito’s surprise attack.

Yes, when I am wont
To let wander my eyes,
It’s the shadows & the fog
Who please me the most.

& among the numberless shadows,
The riddle I consider most often,
The most profound, the most shadowy
Shadow, & thus the most

True to my loving attention,
It was, —O two nothings entwined—
It was the shadow of the fog
Staining a white wall to indigo.

    

SHIVAREE FOR THE MOON

O Moon, you grin. I really think the doubt
          You’re always lost in
Gives you that smirk. In vain you plush.
          That smile is saccharine.

I think the torments of an angry race
          Drive you to distraction.
It amuses you to see a poet stuck
          Between the dream & the action.

I think seeing our steps towards an
          Imminent revelation
Is what unscrolls your quiet élan
          Up in your high station.

You grin, because you see both stage & wings;
          & when your gentleness seems
Benevolent it’s only an ill-intent
          Sewn up with white moonbeams.

Yes, when we’re happy au clair de lune
          In a stolen moment of the summer night
You never pause to coax us in
          To your basket full of silver light.

Face of a sad clown or a happy lord,
           Why grin? Is it because
You know what the Earth ignores?
           Do you? Don’t you? Who knows?

Do you grin to hide Socratic sobriety
           Or pyrrhic dread?
Is your irony a special variety?
           Your thin profile, your fat head?

Are these the games of the Sorbonne doctor
           Who, knowing he knows nothing, grins?
Your good nonchalance, is it not sometimes
          A little bit Renanian?

When you give benediction, ghostly
          Or real above our boat,
Does your grin come from
          L‘Ecole Normale or a party by Watteau?

If you know it, why not reveal
          The word that causes you such pique?
But since tonight I caught you by my window,
          I swear I heard you speak!

You would even grin when the fine night
          Brought me to tears. How you smirked at me!
Oh yes! Smacking the gong of the word, I’m
          Going to give you a Shivaree!

I’ll make such a clamor with my metaphors,
          I’ll deafen you so fast
With my questions so quick & loud
          That deep in the firmament at last,

To get some peace, to hear me quieted,
          You’ll answer me & say,
“Why do you walk around with all the pomp
          Of a mask for Fat Tuesday?”

& you defend yourself
          With such haughty bile
I must question you with the relentlessness
          That befits a judge or child;

& without being caught by the ready cold
          Of your aloofness,
I’ll endlessly lift the hammer of my ode
          & striking a staccato peal,

Striking like the eyehooks sunk
          In the heart of the question,
As long as you don’t answer me,
          I’ll go on with my inquisition.

*

To sail on your sea ,
What fantastic king
Carved you in porphyry
Up on high, Basin?

The nighttime blows
The end of what pipe
To inflate you with rainbows
In the glaucous air, Bubble?

Demanding of a mortal man
An impossible dexterity
What William Tell can
Unshadow you, Target?

Above hills & glade
All bearded in stubble
What blue blade
Do you sharpen, Whetstone?

When going elsewhere
We put ourselves at risk
What is the switch
That turns you on, Disk?

In the white fissures
Of the ice floe’s expanse,
What invisible fisherman
Can reach you, Island?

When arching in dream,
Your golden form slips
From before to after,
What fills your sail, Ship?

When the distance is thinned
By your swelling veil,
Full, bright & Latin,
Who is your ship, Sail?

On the trellis of evening
What gardener keeps
You pale by halting
Your ripening, Peach?

On the lines of the air,
Staff where shadows float
Who is it, what Wagner
Put you there, Note?

Are you Drachma or Denarius,
& your round face
Is it an Augustus
Or Pallas, Silver Piece?

When you see the clouds
All gathered up
What makes you roll
From one to next, Cup?

For such a garden
All misty & damp,
What sublime Aladdin
Rubs your copper, Lamp?

Winter’s like Summer
When your dial shows its face
Who is the Gulliver
That sets you back, Watch?

Who’s the officiant,
Pale as a ghost,
Who lifts you from the awful
Ciborium, Host?

What wave, what trough
With scintillate crest
Finally rose high enough
To beach you, Shell?

What cranky old man,
Senile & shriven
Pinned you on the sky’s
Cloth, White Ribbon?

What projectionist, hidden
Behind the curtain of night
Casts you, white Circle
Of the magic lantern’s light?

Glass of crystal power,
What gigantic seer
Uses you to magnify
So we’re almost made clear?

Horseshoe of steel,
What marshal fires
You up to heel
A Bucéphal or Pegasus?

Since we’ve never had
The taste on our lips, please
Who put out to dry this
Button of goat cheese?

Who is the jealous night,
Sultan to the bone,
Who’s placed you, trapped Wolf
In his starry seraglio?

When naked your shine
In illicit aubade
What unknown crime
Haunts you, curved Blade?

Hammock, ‘twixt two stars
You hang so aloof,
There in your silver arc
Do you cradle our doom?

To let in a little light,
What brave stagehand
Opens your Trapdoor
On our sad little land?

At the crux of the bright sky,
For the sun’s light a Whore,
Who’s the Grand Duke
Who let you in the back door?

You who put on azure
Your Byzantine pearl
Are you a Being obscure
Or just a counterfeit Coin?

From a swan’s quill,
In ink so white, what
God makes you, Spill,
In the sky, when he writes.

Grow heavy, terror
Who rises or falls.
Globe, fist of an emperor
Or an anarchist’s Bomb?

What Cellini shapes
Your pink metal, Phial?
Dot on an i, by what
Musset are you styled?

Up there, who handles you
Again, better than all the rest
Who is it, Scythe of gold
The Hugo who harvests?

Stamping his foot, what clown
Will jump through your Hoop
& stomp on the town
Just like Banville would?

On what cart of sleep
Do you doze, broken Wheel?
Vermillion Cymbal
Who makes you squeal?

What a surprise —who knew it,
O Head of Holofernes,
Who was your Judith?
Diogenes, who’s your Lantern?

For what vow on ex-voto
Do you hang in the black night?
There on Mont Bleu, what Orlando
Blows you, ivory Horn?

Buckler, who’s the Emir who
Hangs you from his hip?
What twine, Kite, will bind you,
From what spool do you slip?

On the Plate of your scale,
What gets weighed?
What child will run
To eat you, Cupcake?

What Cameo’s cut into
This box of snuff? What
Black cat spins through
Your white kitty Door?

What guard pins you
To their shirt, Badge, or
What fine old teacup
Shows you in lacquer?

Great crystal Button,
What mandarin wears you?
Knob of bright metal,
What room do you open to?

Shimmering Clasp,
What tome do you seal?
Porthole, you glisten above
What phantom keel?

Not kernel of corn, but a Pearl
What hungry cock pecks at you?
Palette-hole, what Reubens
Puts his thumb right on through?

A faraway Opal ,what turban
Do you compliment?
Who nibbled your corner,
You after-dinner Mint?

Who’ll pour you into
The moat, you Cauldron of oil?
What Nausicaä lost you
In the sky, Beachball?

In what round mold
Are you made, you
Tart? You Orange, what sun
Are you suited to?

In what glass, you Sherbet?
In what bowl, you Ice Cream?
O, what’s your alphabet?
Zero, what’s your problem?

Where’s your meadow, Mushroom?
The crown of what Mask?
Bridge to what Avignon?
Tambourine for what Basque?

Whosoever sleeps, Nightlight?
What is your winter, Snowflake?
Circus, where’s your bullfight?
Who rides you, Carousel?

What Hercules will throw
You, big ball of Twine? Blossom,
What summer sun makes you grow?
Where’s your kiln, you Porcelain?

Where were you made, fine china Dish?
Apple of what cyclopean eye?
Medal, what lapel do you grace?
Stamp, on what envelope do you lie?

Your portrait, locket?
Diamond, your king?
Wrinkled Sultana, your grape?
Bright Bell, your ring?

Rose Window, your Versailles?
Your cup, you Ball? Your nest,
Egg? Your jungle, tiger’s Eye?,
Bow, your arrow? Fingernail

Your digit? Lotus, your lake?
Bucket, your well? Gold, your pouch?
Your branch, Fruit? Bowl, your lathe?
Bread, your wheat? Your hive, Honeycomb?

*

Breathless, I paused. But I sensed she
Was going to speak! Her voice was about to chime, treasure
Of my dreams. That voice of gold was going to answer to me!
The moon felt her indifference melt & she
Was going to respond! I listened without speech
That her mysterious words might ring, chiming
Like a bell! Indeed, naked & singing, the cold moon
She simply said:

                                                      “Don’t stop!”

    

THE PHOTOGRAPH ALBUM

This album over which you pore,
I shudder to look upon,
Its thick white leaves are
Just like bare walls.

As each page of glossy board
opens, I see two or three
forgotten floors, six windows
looking out on the past.

Look here, a happy face!
& perhaps it will remain so
in these cardboard windows
longer than the windows of life.

How long they smile
At these windows cut into
A paper doll’s house,
Our old good side, our old sidelong?

Under their corners & in their memory,
The old albums’ old portraits
Will begin to fade & blur
More slowly than recollections will.

We will have been dead far longer
Than visitors will be obliged
To politely attend these portraits
For mere moments.

We’ll be the uncles, the aunts,
The fat folks or the thin,
With the funny old top-hat
& the frumpy old gown!

The children in their finery, now laid bare;
The teenagers—now grandparents!
The magistrates, the soldiers,
All of them dead, all of them forgotten!

Cease, tiny windows,
To offer us your mocking eyes,
When we don’t have the heart
To brook your ridicule!

Ah! Into that inevitable album,
Our own portraits will go,
Left on the corners of tables
Where we’ll gently yellow.

Dead, should we be reborn first
In their hearts & then again
On those gold-rimmed squares,
Where we’ll be ominously interred?

Discard these kings & these jacks
Who prolong the agony!
Since the game is over,
Lay down your hand! Lay them to rest!

    

SILENCE

Silence is a most exquisite thing. To be in silence
In the shadows is sweet without measure
To quietly shut your eyes in shadows,
The most breathless, the greatest pleasure.
The most perfect song, the highest of prayers
when one sees the gilt circles under her eyelids.
Oh! Listen, night, hear, nightly,
“The sound of the wings of silence.” (Saint-Amant)

O serene silence of evening! Open window!
Shadow mute & blue! O reason that flees!
Illusions that find themselves complete!
Motley of your beloved chimera!
Or, even better, the sweet taste of sorrow! Oasis
Of anguish, which is no laughing matter!
Memories are therefore more cherished as secrets
We think of interest to nobody!
Damnation itself! O prospector of the soul,
Silence! For whom alone the motherlode burns!
…Voice most resonant, temperate (word hated
by an é, but not always by a & i!)
…Silence, dear friend, we listen to your hush,
when, night having fallen, we’re also aground
& we’re lit by firelight alone!
Confident, that, when it receives our confession,
The voice of conscience will respond!
Mysterious icicle, we feel you melting on the soul,
As though at the threshold of a burning fever.
Silence, like the hospital bed where we began,
Oh! Glide, in a great quiet, to the heart of the room;
Our thoughts, like thrashing limbs in a huge bed,
May stretch eternally, far from words,
& look for the frigid corners of silence!...
                                                                Rest.
Stop the gibbering. Enough witticisms.
Escape between the words. Get lost.
Delicious lassitude. Mind cured
Of all the blows that pained it,
Of all the noises of the people we meet
Who never cease with their pros & their cons,
Meaningless things & pointless people.
Supreme comfort. Bath of sweet water. The bath
Where tired dreams soak their wings!
(But, when those wings flutter again,
will they never have the incomparable & divine beat
of the silent feathers heard by Saint-Amant?)

O silence!

           & certainly, you never listen to the ones who say,
trying to nip you in the bud,
“Let us explain!”
                       Dear god, let’s not! It won’t do any good!
We won’t hear, by the grace of the misunderstood!

          

THE MAGIC HOUR

The meal would end with music by candlelight.
The old garden no longer the garden
Of elegy, lit up instead by Japanese lanterns,
Under the wire bowed by their weight,
In the slight stirring breeze, all would begin
to dance & twist their bodies in a ring of crepe.

On the water of the shimmering lake, reflections
Would play, entwining their tendrils of gold.
It was a night like no other. Stars shone though each gap
In our ceiling of leaves; nature’s finery
Mixed with man’s approximations; love was
Frivolous, profound, touching & free.

The truth had you in its importune rumor.
The umbrella of the pines mellowed the moon.
A happy chaos reigned in the room.
On candelabras high above the antique silver,
On each arm a flower of flame could be seen
Within a tiny lampshade, mauve or green.

It was an enchanted night like no other
& we will hold it always in our memory :
Our spirits were rich, our hearts bright :
The silences spoke of the halls of dreams;
Then the words, ennobled, went on
Vacation & souls chimed like the crystal.

The wine was Barolo, the taste absolute;
On every inch of the table violets were strewn;
Some were dying : the ones from the woods;
Others kept going : the ones from Parma;
One’s very glass seemed blown in a tear,
The roses deflowered by a single pluck, sometimes.

The smallest plait, the smallest knot, the smallest braid.
The age of elegance embodied here alone;
The smallest word of magic civility,
The finest times; &, in the most paltry
Embellishments, the ages of victory
Over the sum of grave matters at hand.

We would debate poetry & music;
A gentle gregariousness was made metaphysical;
The strawberries, however, in red pyramids
Would tumble & roll under the fingers of gourmands;
The gigglers would offer half of their almonds;
We would listen to anyone who spoke of Stendhal.

& the melting ice cream, tiny tundras,
would proffer hidden flowers.
We would sometimes know ecstasy, & then
We would forget where it came from,
Was it the pretty enigma of a phrase
Or the novelty of a paring knife?

It was a time when, among the Venetian bowls,
In peaceful satiation, the plucked trance
of the Muscat grapes stretched to infinity.
& so through these beautiful distractions, a flattering
Enigma above its cravat smiled a smile a little haughty
& remained appropriately gentle & aloof.

Love was frivolous, profound, touching & free.
This one, false idiot, would titter with the pigeon-flock,
That one would recite verses. & when the first fires
Would flicker, the cigarettes would light,
In veins lighter than the white plumes in the air,
The smoke tangled with the raven hair.

The paradox was on the lips of the sages;
The topcoats bloomed with carnations in all the corsages;
&, as though we were listening to far-off violins,
The women were only faint echoes,
&, mechanically, changed the fingers of their rings
with brief laughs & lingering glances.

The orchestra kept careful time, its waltz
would have waltzed the fairy Urgèle with Morgan
le Fay. Then it would pause & begin again.
It was an enchanted night like no other.
The perfume of the nocturnal garden would war
With all the smells of the smoking lounge,

Oh the nervous laughter! Oh the rustle of skirts!
The whispered rumors, the ironic deceits.
Sharp words from the petty aestheticians,
Vague words from the petty philosophers, drolleries
from the petty comedians…& a shrug so craven
from the bandleader, that dejected maven.

Then, nervous shivers in open dresses,
& the night would cool, but the scarves & the shawls
Dropped quick to the bare neck for the nimble gallants,
Fancies faded, redoubled, under the great trees,
The blue & white beckoning of the marble;
The boats on the lake began their slow revolution;

The boats would carry the songs & the lights…
Happy enervations & dear febricities! Burlesque,
One would stir the croaking violins,
Another would propose a walk on the green
Hills, tempted by the song of a sardonic mandolin
& all the young brows bore a noble sheen.

It was an enchanted night like no other.
The pesky wind blew out the last candle
Before it melted our final sorbet.
Sometimes from a white dress a cry would rise,
& we’d see a brazen blaze beneath the boughs,
a Japanese lantern catching aflame.

& we would augment the exquisite fête
with feelings frivolous, imprudent, unquiet;
& a brutal future would soon become gentle,
Certain to die —& such artists—
We savored it all, the magic, the fine sadness
Like those who must & those who must end.

& those songs, those desires, those lights & those women,
& that brilliant congress of souls,
& those fine & gentle pleasures of honest men
—Honest but a little perverse—that nonchalance,
those whispers, that music, that silence,
that perfect surrender to indulgence.

Under fingers, the coolness of those pearls, that grace
That confused spirit of the human race,
Those minutes, that park where we were so well,
Having rejoined the magic, so many rare charms
Everything that menaced dull brains,
Everything of which nothing now remains.

    

    

Most famous for his play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the French Neo-Romantic dramatist & poet EDMOND ROSTAND (1868-1918) published Les Musardises, the book of poetry from which these poems are taken, when he was 22 years old. Differing significantly from the Symbolist style popular at the time, Rostand’s vivacious & melancholy poems have been largely forgotten. All of these poems appear here in English for the first time.

MARK LAMOUREUX 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.