Poetry at Sangam



GO, KEEP GOING by Yves Bonnefoy

(Translated from the French by Beverley Bie Brahic)


And now we are at sea, my friends, in a small boat the waves lift then let drop again, but which persists, almost on end at times, courageous!

And to the left and right and also ahead, where the sea ought to be free, we must steer clear of ships, their high sides sometimes so close to each other it’s a miracle we aren’t crushed and are making headway!

Almost a closed room this body of water that zigzags between and slaps against their unlit sides! And we are anxious, one of us at the helm, the others bent to the oars, but also we glimpse the figureheads that tower over us. Goddesses with long supple shoulders, bare breasts, arms and hands whose deep blues, ochres, crimsons are flaking off. Mothers smiling, though with eyes closed, though sad.

One last effort, my friends! One of us rises from his bench, hands cupped round his mouth, he’s going to direct the manoeuvre. Soon we’ll be out of here, free!


For yes, my friends, we have to get through this brush, over here, this way! Come on, let’s plunge in, up to our necks in these branches, among brambles, it’s not so dense as it looks, nor so deep, we’ve only a few dozen yards to push through, heads down, arms across our eyes, our cheeks scratched but not too much, and see: already there’s light on the ground, under our feet.

Underfoot? Yes, phosphorescent, stones under our almost bare feet, smooth stones, elongated and round, in different colours under this tangled mess of vegetation. And which each instant become more numerous, overlap, slip and slide and we slide with them, falling: but right away we pull ourselves up, don’t we, and we go on, we go on! Oh, these stones, with night falling, true heaps of them now, they form pyramids, countless, shadowless rays escaping from them.


And words, all that, words, for in truth, best of friends, what else do we have? Words that shrivel under our pens, like insects we kill en masse, big splintery words, that scrape us, words that flame up, suddenly, and we have to extinguish this fire with our bare hands, it’s not easy.

Words whose tangles dissimulate holes, into which we slip and slide, shouting, but it doesn’t matter, our life, so little thought goes into it, don’t you think! Quick, we get a grip on ourselves, we begin to speak again.

And I did tell you, didn’t I, my handful of companions, I did tell you that day is breaking? Come on, let’s keeping going, gather all our wishes, all our memories, you those shouts, those calls, those howls, those sobs, and I, too, this laughter, these great howls of laughter everywhere so far away under this sky so low we can touch it with our outstretched hands! It is clear that day is dawning, my friends, clear it breaks over us, colours everything once more, takes away and disperses everything.

Published with the kind permission of Seagull Books. ‘Go, Keep Going’: The Present Hour (Beverley Bie Brahic trans.) © Seagull Books, 2013; Original from L’heure présente by Yves Bonnefoy © Mercure de France, 2011; English Translation © Beverley Bie Brahic, 2011