White Rose University Press is pleased to publish an excerpt from Oysters, nightingales and cooking pots due out in early 2018. This volume of poetry by 19th century Brittany poet Tristan Corbière is translated by Christopher Pilling and edited by Richard Hibbitt and Katherine Lunn-Rockliffe. It brings together several less well-known pieces, some early versions of published poems, and others which were handwritten into Corbière's own copy of his only published collection, Les Amours Jaunes.
The published volume will contain the original French text by Corbière alongside Pilling's translations, some appearing in English for the very first time. Selected poems read in the French original and English translation will be embedded as videos and you can listen to the reading of Paris by Night / Paris Nocturne here.
In this dysphoric vision of Paris, Corbière presents poets as scavenging in an urban wasteland. The translation ingeniously captures the word play of the French: the image of poets casting their lines plays on the double meaning of 'vers' as both worms and lines of verse.
It’s not a city, it’s a world
— It’s the sea: — dead calm — The Spring tide has felt bound,
With a distant rumbling, to withdraw its sway.
Its waves will return, rolling themselves in their sound —
— Can you hear the crabs of night scratching away…
— It’s the dried-up Styx: Rag ’n bone Diogenes,
Lantern in hand, wanders down it; he never squirms
But it’s the black gutter where depraved poets please
To cast their lines, their hollow skulls the cans for worms.
— It’s the wheat-field: Hideous harpies swirl and swoop
On what’s impure, gleaning shreds of lint caked in pus.
The alley cat, on the watch for rats, flees the troop
Of Shit-creek’s sons, harvesters of night’s detritus.
— It’s death: Here lieth the police — And love, upstairs,
Taking a siesta, sucks a heavy arm’s meat
Where an old love-bite’s left its blotch — Love is for pairs —
The hour is solitary — Listen: … dreams drag their feet…
— It’s life: Listen: the spring water is up for air,
Singing its everlasting song, that seems to slide
Over a sea-god’s slimy head, and his stretched bare
Green limbs on the bed of the Morgue… Eyes open wide!
Published 2017 by White Rose University Press under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY 4.0). © Christopher Pilling, 2017.