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Translated from the French by William Kulik
I've wished for your death and nothing can keep it
from coming prematurely
I've seen you covered with sweat and pus
At the very height of your agony
And everything in you was cruel and insane.
Listen. That day a thick cloud rose from the hills
And climbed up behind the Dome du Val-de-Grâce.
A new-born child cried out,
On rue St-Jacques, in a run-down house.
From now on nothing can save you from shame and misery
For my wish had the taste of things that come to pass.
Already hidden physical signs, in your mind
and in your heart,
Warn you it's time and kiss your suitcase goodbye.
It's no use weeping and repenting,
No use being noble,
For nothingness is your only becoming
And your name will not survive in popular proverbs.
The dark cloud passed Val-de-Grâce and Saint Sulpice.
For a long time it was reflected in the Seine before
dissolving into storm.
And I watched it from the top of a white building
And its thunder liberated huge birds from their cages.
Robert Desnos was born in Paris in 1900 and died of typhus in 1945 in the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. One of the founders of Surrealism in literature, he gradually broke from the movement to pursue a broader range of expression. He worked in radio and underground publishing and also served in the French Resistance.
William Kulik's most recent book of translations from French poetry is The Selected Poems of Robert Desnos.
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