[St.-John Perse, Exile and Other Poems, tr. Denis Devlin, Pantheon, 1949]
To Katherine and Francis Biddle
The Banyan of the rain takes hold of the City,
A hasty polyp rises to its coral wedding in all this milk of living water,
And Idea, naked like a net-fighter, combs her girl's mane in the people's gardens.
Sing, poem, at the opening cry of the waters the imminence of the theme,
Sing, poem, at the trampling of the waters the evasion of the theme,
High license in the flanks of the prophetic Virgins,
Hatching of golden ovules in the tawny night of the slime
And my bed made, O fraud! on the edge of such a dream,
Where the poem, obscene rose, livens and grows and curls.
Terrible Lord of my laughter, behold the earth smoking with a venison taste,
Widow clay under virgin water, earth washed clean of the steps of sleepless men,
And, smelled close-to like wine, does it not truly bring on loss of memory?
Lord, terrible Lord of my laughter! behold on earth the reverse side of the dream,
Like the reply of the high dunes to the rising tiered seas, behold, behold
Earth used-up, the new hour in its swaddling clothes, and my heart host to a strange vowel.
Most suspect Nurses, Waiting-women with veiled elder eyes, O Rains through whom
The unusual man keeps his caste, what shall we say tonight to him that sounds the depths of our vigil?
On what new bed, from what restive head shall we ravish the valid spark?
Silent the Ande over my roof, I am loud with applause, and it is for you, O Rains!
I shall plead my cause before you: at your lance-points, my share of the world!
Foam on the lips of the poem like milk of coral rocks!
And she dancing like a snake-charmer at the entry of my phrases,
Idea, naked as a sword-blade at the faction fight,
Will teach me ceremony and measure against the poem's impatience.
Terrible Lord of my laughter, save me from the avowal, the welcome and the song.
Terrible Lord of my laughter, what offense rides on the lips of the rainstorm?
How much fraud consumed beneath our loftiest migrations!
In the clear night of noon, we proffer more than one new
Proposition on the essence of being . . . O smoke-curves there on the hearth-stone!
And the warm rain on our roofs did just as well to quench the lamps in our hands.
Sisters of the warriors of Assur were the tall Rains striding over the earth:
Feather-helmeted, high-girded, spurred with silver and crystal,
Like Dido treading on ivory at the gates of Carthage,
Like Cortez' wife, heady with clay and painted, among her tall apocryphal plants . . .
They revived with night-dark the blue on the butts of our weapons,
They will people April in the mirrors' depths of our rooms!
Nor would I forget their stamping on the thresholds of the chambers of ablution:
Warrior-women, O warrior-women towards us sharpened by lance and dart-point!
Dancing-women, O dancing-women on the ground multiplied by the dance and the earth's attraction!
It is weapons by armfuls, helmeted girls by cartloads, a presentation of eagles to the legions,
a rising with pikes in the slums for the youngest peoples of the earth -- broken sheaves of dissolute virgins,
O great unbound sheaves! the ample and living harvest poured back into the arms of men!
. . . And the City is of glass on its ebony base, knowledge in the mouths of fountains,
And the foreigner reads the great harvest announcements on our walls,
And freshness is in our walls where the Indian girl will stay tonight with the inmate.