Saturday, 21 November 2009

English versions of two French poems by T. S. Eliot

These two poems, "Lune de Miel" and "Dans le Restaurant", are anything but rare in themselves: they form part of the same collection as "Gerontion", and can be found in the Collected T. S. Eliot. However, they are not often seen translated into English. The version of "Lune de Miel" here is my own, mostly literal, translation; for "Dans le Restaurant" I have used the unpublished version by Ezra Pound, a free, playful interpretation of the original.

Lune de Miel

They have seen the Low Countries, they are going back to
.................................................................Terre Haute;
But one summer night finding them in Ravenna, at ease
Between two sheets in the home of two hundred bugs,
The sweat of summer, and the smell of a bitch in heat,
They lie on their backs and spread apart the knees
Of four sticky legs all swollen with bites.
They raise the sheet so that they can scratch better.
Less than a mile from here is Saint Apollinare in Classe,
The basilica known to enthusiasts
For its acanthus columns which the wind batters.

At eight o’clock they will catch the train
To prolong their miseries from Padua to Milan
Where they will find The Last Supper, and an inexpensive
Restaurant. He will calculate the tip with a pencil.
They will have seen Switzerland and crossed France.
And Saint Apollinare, straight and ascetic,
Old, disaffected mill of God, still keeps
In its worn stones the precise form of Byzantium.

Dans le Restaurant

The waiter idle and dilapidated
With nothing to do but scratch and lean over my shoulder
"In my country the rain is colder
And the sun hotter and the ground more desiccated
and desecrated".
Voluminous and spuminous with a leguminous
and cannimaculated vest-front and pantfront
and a graveyperpulchafied yesterdays napkin in a loop
over his elbow
(I hope he will not sputter into the soup)
"Down in a ditch under the willow trees
Where you go to get out of the rain
I tried in vain,
I mean I was interrupted
She was all wet with the deluge and her calico skirt
stuck to her buttocks and belly,
I put my hand up and she giggled",
You old cut-up,
"At the age of eight what can one do, sir,
she was younger
Besides I'd no sooner got started than a big poodle
Came sniffing about and scared me pealess",
Your head is not flealess
now at any rate, go scrape the cheese off your pate
and dig the slush out of your crowsfeet,
take sixpence and get washed, God damn
what a fate
You crapulous vapulous relic, you ambulating offence
To have had an experience
so nearly parallel, with, . . . .
Go away,
I was about to say mine,
I shall dine
elsewhere in future,
to cleanse this suture.
Phlebas the Phenicien, fairest of men,
Straight and tall, having been born in a caul
Lost luck at forty, and lay drowned
Two long weeks in sea water, tossed of the
streams under sea, carried of currents
Forgetful of the gains
forgetful of the long days of sea fare
Forgetful of mew's crying and the foam swept coast
of Cornwall,
Born back at last, after days
to the ports and stays of his young life,
A fair man, ports of his former seafare thither at last

The final part of Dans le Restaurant is particularly interesting for Eliot fans, because it is recognisably an early version of "Death by Water", the fourth part of The Waste Land. The French goes thus:

Phlébas, le Phénicien, pendant quinze jours noyé,
Oubliait les cris des mouettes et la houle de Cornouaille,
Et les profits et les pertes, et la cargaison d’étain:
Un courant de sous-mer l’emporta très loin,
Le repassant aux étapes de sa vie antérieure.
Figurez-vous donc, c’était un sort pénible;
Cependant, ce fut jadis un bel homme, de haute taille.

In more literal English than that of Pound, the connection with The Waste Land becomes even more apparent:

Phlebas the Phoenician, drowned a fortnight since,
Forgot the cries of gulls and the Cornish sea-swell,
And the profits and the losses, and the cargo of tin;
A current under sea took him very far away,
Took him back through the stages of his former life.
You can imagine, it was a painful fate;
Even so, he was once a handsome man, and tall.


  1. Voluminous and spuminous with a leguminous
    and cannimaculated vest-front and pantfront
    and a graveyperpulchafied yesterdays napkin in a loop
    over his elbow.

    where do you find those lines in the french??

  2. The lines don't have to be in the French because it states in the headnote that it is a "playful" translation.

    But how do we know it's by Ezra Pound? I've haven't found this fact in any of the Pound biographies. What is the source of the translation?

  3. It's by Pound. It can be found at the Beineke Library at Yale University. It's not really a 'translation' as much as it's Pound's 'interpretation.' Also, since you, Tim, have access go the TSE list archives in Missouri, you can search for a copy of the Pound version that I posted back around 1998.