Paul Valéry - Words of Narcissus

Paul Valéry

Words of Narcissus

O my brothers! Mournful lilies, I am overwhelmed by the beauty
Of my self-love ensnared within your nakedness,
And Nymph, nymph, nymph of the fountains
I approach you in deep silence to shed my useless tears.

A quietness attends to me as I attend to hope.
The spring’s voice alters as it speaks to me of dusk;
I listen to the silvered grass growing louder in the sacred shadows
As the beguiling moon raises up her mirror
To reveal the secrets of an empty cistern.

And I! my heart cast down among the reeds,
Languish, sapphire, within my own sad beauty!
My only love is for the spellbound water
In which I lost both laughter and the ancient rose.

How I regret your pure and deadly brilliance,
So softly does the fountain close around me,
And my reflection crowned with wet flowers
Rose upward to my eyes from the lethal blue!

Alas! The reflection is fleeting and the tears endless!
Crossing the woods of blue and the arms of brotherhood
A tenderness exists in the uncertain light
And a remnant of the day forms for me a lover,
Naked, on the surface of the sad waters that beckon to me…
Enticing demon, welcoming and cold!

Bedewed with moonlight my flesh appears in water
In passive form looking upwards at my eyes!
My silvered arms chaste in their movements!...
My arms are slowly bathing in bright gold
And beckon to this prisoner trapped in leaves
As my cries echo the names of the dark gods!...

Farewell to the lost reflection on the calm still water,
Narcissus…the fleeting scent of whose name touches
The tender heart. Scatter the rose of mourning
Over the empty tomb of these ancestral shades.

Let my lip be that rose scattering kisses
Which permits a cherished spectre be laid to rest,
For the night speaks in undertones both near and far
To the chalice filled with shadows and light dreams.
Whilst the moon dances among tall myrtle bushes.

I worship you O quivering flesh beneath these myrtles,
Unfolding sadly into solitude and self-reflected
In the glass of a dormant wood.
I draw away in vain from your sweet presence,
Deceiving time is gentle to the limbs laid out on moss
And swells the heavy breeze with dark enticement.

Adieu Narcissus…die! Twilight is creeping in.
My reflection ripples at the sighing of my dreams,
Through a deepening of the blue a flute
Sounds the mourning of the flocks which travel home.
But on the surface of the deathly cold and glinting star,
Before the tomb is slowly made of mist,
Receive this kiss to trouble the calm surface of fatal water!
Only Hope can break this crystal veil.
Seduced by the ripple of breath which is my exile
Let this breath bring a slender flute to life
Whose player delicately improvises my indulgence!...

Vanish now, unsleeping deity!
And may the solitary humble flute
Scatter all our silver tears about the moon.

(Translated by Ian Brinton and Michael Grant )

translation copyright © Ian Brinton and Michael Grant, 2020