Just above silence (Juste au-dessus du silence)

I talk low, just above silence
So that even my other ear can’t hear.
The earth sleeps in the open and lingers in my head
With the rigor of asphodels.
I’ve re-peopled a few deserts and walked a lot
And now I lie down in my fatigue and my joy— 
Those wracks thrown ashore by Summer waves.
In unknown countries, bits of me are seeding.
Boughs of my tenderness, they give
Oases where days are merry-making orchards,
Where man drinks amniotic vigor.
Happiness is falling in the public domain. 

by Anna Greki

Translated by Lynda Chouiten

Anna Greki was born in Batna in 1931 to a family of French origin. Jailed and tortured on account of her involvement in the struggle for Algerian independence, she eventually completed her studies and worked as a schoolteacher, before dying in childbirth at the age of 35.

I came across this poem in French and was thinking of translating it myself, but then I found this translation by Lynda Chouiten. I like how she has rendered the poem into plainly-spoken English, lending the poem’s voice a touching simplicity and authenticity. I wouldn’t have done that to the same extent: I probably would have translated the first line as “I speak softly, just above the silence” in order to capture the whispering quality of the original’s alliterative title. But the more I considered Chouiten’s translation, the more I liked the simplicity of the monosyllabic opening clause “I talk low”. I also loved the line:

In unknown countries, bits of me are seeding.

I would have automatically translated the word “morceaux” as “pieces”, but I loved the ever-so-slightly bitter and even pathetic overtones of “bits”: a bit is worth less than a piece, emphasizing the violence of the process of fragmentation.

Below is the original. How do you think Chouiten’s translation fares?

Juste au-dessus du silence

Je parle bas tout juste au-dessus du silence
Pour que même l’autre oreille n’entende pas

La terre dort à ciel ouvert et dans ma tête
se prolonge avec des rigueurs d’asphodèles

J’ai repeuplé quelques déserts beaucoup marché
Alors je gis dans ma fatigue et dans ma joie
Ces varechs jetés par les lames des étés

Dans des pays des morceaux de moi font semence
et donnent-surgeons de ma tendresse-de tels
Oasis que les jours sont des vergers en fête
Ou l’homme boit une vigueur amniotique

Le bonheur tombe dans le domaine public


In ‘Around the World in 230 poems’, I will share a poem from every country in the world.

About A Book and a Half

I'm a teacher based in Melbourne, Australia. I blog about reading, writing, teaching, learning, and exploring.
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