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Gérard de Nerval - Three Poems tr. Ian Brinton & Michael Grant

Gérard de Nerval


Daphne, do you know that ancient romance  
At the sycamore’s foot, or under the white laurel,
Beneath the olive tree, the myrtle or the restive willow,
That song of love which always starts again?

Can you see once more the temple circled by its pillars,
And the bitter lemons into which you sank your teeth,
And the grotto, lethal to unwary guests,
Where the conquered dragon’s ancient seed still sleeps?

Those gods you always mourn, they will return!
Time will bring back the law of ancient days;
The earth has shimmered with prophetic breath.

Meanwhile the sybil with a Latin face
Is sleeping on beneath the arch of Constantine
―And nothing has disturbed the portico’s austerity.


The god Kneph unhinged the cosmos with his shuddering:
The mother, Isis, rose from her bed,
To hurl a gesture of her hate towards her savage husband,
The passion of another time alight in her green eyes.

‘Look at him,’ she said, ‘he is dying, the old pervert,
All the frosts of the world have spewed out through his mouth,
Shackle his twisted foot, and put out his squinting eye,
This is the god of the volcano and the king of winter!

‘The eagle has already gone, another spirit calls me,
I wear the gown of Cybele once more for him . . .
He is the child much loved by Hermes and Osiris!’

And on her golden conch the goddess took her flight,
The sea reflected back her sacred image,
The skies radiant beneath the sash of Iris.


I think of you, Myrtho, divine enchantress,
At haughty Posillipo, radiant with a thousand fires,
Of your forehead bathed in Oriental light,
Black grapes entangled in your golden hair.

I have also drunk intoxication from your chalice,
And from the furtive lightning of your smiling eye,
Whilst being seen at prayer before the feet of Iacchus,
For the Muse had made me one of Greece’s sons.

I know why the distant volcano has reopened…
Yesterday you touched it with your agile foot,
And suddenly the skyline was blanketed in ash.

Ever since a Norman duke broke your gods of clay,
Pale hydrangea and green myrtle,
Under Virgil’s laurel branches, have been one!

Translated by Ian Brinton and Michael Grant

Translation copyright © Ian Brinton, Michael Grant 2021

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