Do you know, Daphne, the lyrics of that old song,
Heard at the foot of the sycamore tree or under the white laurels,
Beneath the olive tree, the myrtle, or the trembling willows,
That song of love that always begins anew? …
Do you recognize the Temple with the immense peristyle,
And the bitter lemons that bear the imprint of your teeth,
And that cave, fatal to imprudent visitors,
Where the ancient seed of the vanquished dragon sleeps?
They will return, these gods that you still mourn!
Time will bring back the religion of the old days;
The earth has trembled with a prophetic breath …
Meanwhile the sibyl with the Latin visage
Still sleeps under the arch of Constantine
– And nothing has disturbed the severe portico.
Translation of Gérard de Nerval
I think of you, Myrtho, divine enchantress,
Of lofty Posilipo with a thousand fires aglow,
Of your brow flooded with the radiance of the Orient,
And the black grapes mixed with your flowing golden tresses.
It is from your cup that I once tasted drunkenness,
And from the stealthy lightning of your smiling eyes
Back when I could be seen praying at the feet of Iacchus,
For the Muse had made me one of the sons of Greece.
I know why the volcano erupted again in that place….
It is because yesterday you grazed it with an agile foot,
And suddenly the sky was blackened with smoke.
Though the Norman Duke has destroyed your gods of clay
Forever, under the laurel boughs of Virgil,
The pale hydrangea unites with the green myrtle!
Peter Valente is a writer, translator and filmmaker. He is the author of 11 full-length books, including a translation of Nanni Balestrini’s Blackout (Commune Editions), which received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. His most recent book is a co-translation of Succubations and Incubations: The Selected Letters of Antonin Artaud (1945-1947) (Infinity Land Press). Forthcoming from Semiotext(e) is his translation of Nicolas Pages by Guillaume Dustan.