• Meg Gaertner

Found in Translation

Here are five poems in their original language, followed by my translation.

L’arbre de la Rue Descartes

(Yves Bonnefoy, French)


Regarde ce grand arbre et à travers lui,

Il peut suffire.

Car même déchiré, souillé, l’arbre des rues,

C’est toute la nature, tout le ciel,

L’oiseau s’y pose, le vent y bouge, le soleil

Y dit le même espoir, malgré la mort.


As-tu chance d’avoir l’arbre dans ta rue,

Tes pensées seront moins ardues, tes yeux plus libres,

Tes mains plus désireuses de moins de nuit.

The Tree on Descartes Street (translated by me)


Look at that great tree and through

To its power to suffice.

For even dirty, tattered, that tree on the street,

That is nature. That is heaven.

The bird lands on it, the wind moves around it,

The sun on it says the same: hope, in spite of death.


Have you the good fortune to have a tree on your street,

Your thoughts will be less arduous, your eyes more free,

Your hands more desiring of less night.



(Tomas Transtromer, Swedish)

På natten klockan två: månsken. Tåget har stannat mitt ute på slätten. Långt borta ljuspunkter i en stad, flimrande kallt vid synranden.

Som när en människa gått in i en dröm så djupt att hon aldrig ska minnas att hon var där när hon återvänder till sitt rum.

Och som när någon gått in i en sjukdom så djupt att allt som var hans dagar blir några flimrande punkter, en svärm, kall och ringa vid synranden.

Tåget står fullkomligt stilla, Klockan två: starkt månsken, få stjärnor.

Traces (translated by me)

At 2 a.m.: moonlight. A train has come to a stop

In the middle of a field. Far away sparks of light in a town

Flicker coldly at the edge of sight.

As when someone moves inside a dream so deep

She will not remember she was there

When she returns to her bedroom.

Or when someone walks into a sickness so grave

That everything which was his in days becomes a few flickering sparks

that swarm

Cold and small at the edge of sight.

This train stands perfectly still,

At 2 a.m.: strong moonlight, few stars.



(Adelia Prado, Portuguese)

Era um quintal ensombrado, murado alto de pedras.

As macieiras tinham maçãs temporãs, a casca vermelha

de escuríssimo vinho, o gosto caprichado das coisas

fora do seu tempo desejadas.

Ao longo do muro eram talhas de barro.

Eu comia maçãs, bebia a melhor água, sabendo

que lá fora o mundo havia parado de calor.

Depois encontrei meu pai, que me fez festa

e não estava doente e nem tinha morrido, por isso ria,

os lábios de novo e a cara circulados de sangue,

caçava o que fazer pra gastar sua alegria:

onde está meu formão, minha vara de pescar,

cadê minha binga, meu vidro de café?

Eu sempre sonho que uma coisa gera,

nunca nada está morto.

O que não parece vivo, aduba.

O que parece estático, espera.

Lesson (translated by me)

It was a shadowy yard, walled high with stones.

The trees held early apples, dark

wine-colored skin, the perfected flavor of things

ripe before their time.

Along the wall were clay jars.

I ate apples, drank the best water, knew

That outside the world had stopped in the heat.

Later I came upon my father who embraced me,

Laughing, for he was not sick nor had he died,

His lips, his face, once again ruddy with aliveness,

Hunting for what to do with so much happiness.

Where is my chisel, my fishing rod?

Where is my snuffbox, my coffee cup?

I dream that things are always taking shape,

Nothing ever dies.

That which does not seem alive, fertilizes.

That which seems inert, waits.


(Ono no Komachi, Japanese)

(translated by me)


my body

aging in a world

of long rains.


how the flower’s color

is faded,



(Izumi Shikibu, Japanese)

(translated by me)

How I longed for

The unknowing caress

Of tangled, black hair

When she first lay down beside me.


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