Sometime in 1997-98, I spent a few weeks leisure translating from Victor Hugo’s epic poem La Legende des Siecles (The story of the ages). (The original French text can be found linked here.) I was learning French, actually, and working on French by translating (as crazy as that sounds, so I really can’t vouch for the accuracy). I crept through several hundred lines before it defeated me. But here are the results. I was much inspired by Hugo’s conception of an “epic of Man”. It is also full of incantatory, fragmentary symbolist imagery, very visionary. I had been working on my own versions of the same, and Hugo’s poem probably (though I can’t reconstruct the mental activity at the time) played into my early work on Enantiodromiae. The hymn to the Earth that follows the prologue I was particularly moved by, and spent a lot of time on translating as much as I could of the rhyme scheme. (I am cross-posting this poem on another page, here.)

La Legende des Siecles

by Victor Hugo


The Vision From Which

Sprung These Leaves

I had a dream: the wall of ages appeared to me.

.

It was of living flesh and of unhewn granite,

a fixity fashioned out of restlessness,

an edifice containing the din of a multitude

of blackhole stars out of wild eyes,

of the evolutions of monstrous clusters,

of massive bas-reliefs, of colossal frescos;

at times the wall would open, and let you see the halls,

the lairs where sit the fortunate and mighty,

the conquerors all craven with crime, drunk on incense,

the golden interiors, of porphyry and jasper.

And this wall quivered like a tree in the zephyr,

all the ages, brows girt round by towers or grain,

were there, a dismal sphinx squatting upon enigma,

each foundation made the air vaguely animate.

It rose out of shadows, one would say an army

petrified, along with the chief who drives it

to the moment when it dares to scale the night;

this cohort flowed just like a cloud that rolls.

There was a blockade wall, there was a crowd.                               20

The marble held a scepter and a blade in hand,

the dust was weeping and the clay shed blood,

the stones that tumbled down were in human form.

All mankind, with the unknown breath which drives them-

undulant Eve, Adam flowing, one and many-

palpitated on the wall, Being, the universe,

and destiny, black thread that the tomb unwinds.

At times the lightning flashed upon the livid wall,

and gleamed with millions of faces all of a sudden.

There I saw that Nothing that we call All: the kings,

the gods, the glory and the law, the passageways

of generations downstream through the ages.

And before my view stretched out without end

the plagues, the agony, ignorance and famine,

superstition, science, and all history,

until my loss of sight-a black facade.

.

And this wall, composed of all that shall collapse,

stood up, abrupt, sad and formless. Where is it?

I can’t say. It’s off someplace-in darkness.

.                                   *

There is no mist, nor algebraic point,                                               40

that can resist, the ground of numbers or of sky,

the calm, profound, immobility of eyes.

I observed the wall at first confused and vague,

where its form appeared to flow just like a wave,

where all seemed vapor, vertigo, illusion.

And, before my pensive eye, the strange vision

became less foggy and more clear, in proportion

as my pupil was less troubled and more sure.

.                                  *

Chaos of beings, they rise from pit to heavens!

Every monster, each in its separate sphere;

the awkward age, the age of fear, the age unclean;

Fog and reality! Cloud and map of the world!

This dream had flung history’s gates wide open.

All peoples with all times to use for stairs,

all temples with all dreams as steps to climb.

Here are the paladins, there the patriarchs,

Dodona whispers low along with Membre;

and Thebes, and Raphadim, and its sacred crags

where, below, Jews contend for the Promised Land,

Aaron and Hur support both of Moses’ hands;                                  60

Amos’ chariot of fire among the hurricanes-

all these men, half-princes and half-brigands,

transformed by fable (with either grace or rancor),

drowned by the rays of popular narrations,

archangels, demigods, hunters of men, heros

of the Eddas, the Vedas, and the Romanceros.

Those by whom the will raises its iron spear;

those in front who silence the earth and shade:

Saul, David, and Delphi, the cave of Endor,

by whom one trims the lamp with golden shears,

Nimrod among the dead, Boaz among the sheaves.

For the divine Tiberii, constellated, proud, great,

they spread out, in Capri, in the forum, on the plains,

the necklaces Tacitus arranged in carcanets.

The golden chain of the throne that borders the bath.

This enormous wall held the slopes of mountains.

O night! Nothing was missed by this apparition.

All was found there: matter, spirit, filth and sunrays,

all the towns-Thebes and Athens-all the layers

of Romes above the heaps of Carthages and Tyres,                           80

all the rivers, the Scheldt, the Rhine, the Nile, the Arle,

the Rubicon telling whomever may be Caesar:

“If you’re still a citizen, you are only one

as far as me.” The mounts rose up, dark skeletons,

and over these mountains roam the hideous clouds,

phantoms hauling the moon along with them.

The blockade wall seemed battered by the wind.

It was the intersection of flame and cloud,

of clarity’s mystic jokes, of the returns

of shades from age to age, from scepter to shield,

where the Indus ends by being Germany,

where Solomon is reflected in Charlemagne.

All human marvels, dark and vague and boundless

liberty shattering immutability.

The burnt hillsides of Horeb, Pindus’ green inclines,

Hecetaias preceding Newton, the discoveries

shaking their torches down to the depths of the sea-

Jason on the runner, Fulton on the steamer-

?

Campania(?) stands at the gates of Electra,                                        100

Bonaparte stands on the bridge of Lodi,

Christ expires not far from Nero applauded.

Behold the ghastly road from the throne, the pavement

of murder, of fury, of war, of human bondage.

The human-herd! This one howls, this one the culprit

of crimes committed on a dark and dismal summit.

He strikes, that man blasphemes, this one suffers-

alas! and I had meant-beneath my feet, in the pit-

to mourn the misery of groaning deafmen,

incurable, somber mouths, that complain all day long.

And in my gloomy vision, and in my self

as I peered so to the depths of a pale mirror,

Life’s immensity spread its misshapen boughs.

I contemplated iron, the pleasures, the sins,

Death, the avatars, the souls’ transmigrations,

and, in the dimlit grove of beings and of things,

I saw prowling-black, smiling, his eye on fire-

Satan, that poacher from the forest of God.

*

Which titan painted this strange, unheard-of thing?

On the bottomless border of the flowered shade-                           120

who, then, sculpted this dream where I suffocated?

What arm constructed it-all of the forfeits,

the sorrows of toil, the tears, the panics and fears-

this vast enchainment of vibrant darknesses?

This dream (I trembled at this) it was an action

terribly dark, between mankind and creation,

of clamors flashing out from underneath the pilasters,

of arms in high relief, raising fists at the stars.

Gomorrah was the flesh, and the soul was Zion.

Outrageous dream! It was the confrontation

of that which we once were with what we are.

The beasts mingling there, from Right Divine, to Man,

as though in hell, or else, in some paradise.

The crimes that crept there, out of their shadows grown,

and, likewise, ugliness that was not unseemly

to the tragic horror of those giant frescos.

And I reviewed the times of old forgotten there.

I probed them. Good and evil were tied together

just as vertebra is joined to vertebra.

.

This mural, block of funeral obscurity,                                            140

rose from infinity towards a foggy morning.

Blanching by degrees to the distant horizon,

this somber vision, the world’s dark abridgement,

was about to vanish into a deeper dawn,

and, begun by night, finished by firstlight’s gleam.

.

Dismal day. It appeared as a pale sweat.

And that amorphous silhouette was veiled

by a vague and twirling wheel of smoky stars.

*

While I slept, my eye fixed on that wall

sown with souls, covered by unclear movement,

by haggard gestures from a phantom populace,

a rumor grew beneath those dismal domes;

I heard two deep low dins, coming from heaven

in sense contrary to depths of eternal silence.

The fundament that no one can open nor close

made the air part ways.

*

.                                        Out of aurora’s coast,

the spirit of Orestes, with a fulvous clamor,

passed. At that same time, from the coast of night,

a dark and startled genie fleeing from an eclipse,

formidable, came the immense Apocalypse.                                       160

And their double thunder across the vapor

to my right, to my left, approached; and I was scared

as if trapped between two chariots of the dead.

.

They passed. It was a doleful perturbation.

And the first spirit cried: “Fatality!”

The second cried: “God!” Obscure eternity

shall repeat these two cries with their funeral echos.

.

This frightening passage shall move the darknesses.

At the din they will make, all shall stagger; the wall

filled with shades, will quake; all will mix there, the king

with hand on his helmet, and the idol on his miter.

The whole vision will tremble like a window pane,

and shatter, tumbling down to pieces in the night.

And when the two spirits, like two large birds,

had fled into the peculiar haze of ideas,

the pale vision repaired, all cracked and battered,

like gigantic columns of a ruined temple,

letting one see the abyss through scattered rubble.

*

Then, when I reviewed it, after the two angels                               180

had crushed it with the shock of their foreign wings,

that was all for that prodigious wall-complete-

where destiny had coupled with the infinite,

where all times gathered attached themselves to us,

where the ages could interrogate each other

without their being lack, nor want of appeal.

In place of a continent, a group of islands;

in place of a universe, there was a graveyard.

In places there stood some one gloomy stone,

some pillar on end, now supporting nothing.

All the ages lay about, truncated. No more bonds.

Each epoch hung dismantled, not one of them

was without tears and none were lacking gaps.

Everything wallowed there in the past destroyed

by shadowy stagnations and puddles of night.

There was no more, among the fogs where dives the eye,

than formless debris and staggering revery,

with the vague aspect of an intermittent bridge

that crumbles arch by arch and which the pit awaits,

and wholly like a fleet in distress that founders,                                200

resembling a somber, interrupted phrase

that the hurricane, wandering stammerer of the summits,

rebegins each day and never reaches the end.

.

Only the future continued to blossom

on these dark remains that a pale east makes golden,

and raised itself up with an astral air, amidst

a cloud where, with unseen lightning, one senses God.

*

From the grave and deep impression that has left

this chaos of life upon my somber thoughts,

from this vision of movement of humankind,

this book-where by yesterday tomorrow is glimpsed-

was begun, from poem to poem reflecting

all this dizzying and livid clarity.

While my painful aching brain was brooding,

the legend came, at times, unto my bedboard,

mysterious sister of sinister history-

and both have placed their finger on this register.

.

And who is this maintaining that this book was passed down

from the past, from the tomb, from the pit and from night?

It is the tradition tossed down by the shaking                                               220

of revolutions that God unchains and shoves.

It is what abides after the earth has trembled.

Rubbish from which the future’s vague dawn is mixed.

It is the construction of men, the shanty

of ages that fills the shade and the azure idea,

the frightful charnel-palace in ruins, haunted

by the dead and built up by fatality,

where still, at times, they settle yet, when they dare-

in the way that the wing and the ray alights-

liberty, the light, and hopefulness, the bird.

It is the incommensurate and tragic pile

where slither, through the horrible breach, the vipers

and dragons, before reentry into their lairs,

and clouds before they reascend to heaven.

This book, it is the awful remains of Babel,

the dismal Tower of Things, an edifice

of good and evil, tears, toil and sacrifice,

proud past, commanding the distant horizons,

today no more than hideous stumps and pieces,

scattered, strewn, lost down a darkened valley;                                 240

it’s the Epic of Man, rasping, immense-collapsed.

I

THE EARTH

A HYMN

She is the earth, she is the plain, she is the field,

she is dear to all who seed while on the march.

.           She offers a bed of moss to fathers,

chilly, she is warmed by an eternal sun,

she laughs, and circles with heaven’s planets turning

.           like sisters around the hearth.

.

She loves the ray auspicious for moving wounds,

and the formidable cleansing of the winds,

.              and the breaths that blow through lyres,

and the clear and vibrant brow that, when it shines and flies,

it both reassures and terrifies the night

.               by force of its frightful smiles.

.

Glory to the earth! Glory to dawn where God appears!

To opened eyes flittering through the forest,

.                 to flowers and nests the day engoldens.

Glory to nocturnal whitening of summits!

Glory to heaven, blue and able, without exhaustion,

.                 to afford the expenses of aurora!

.

The earth loves the tranquil sky, equal for all,

whose serenity does not depend on us,

.                  who mixes in with our foul disasters,

with our toils, with bursts of mocking effrontery,

with our acts of malice, our rapidities,

.                  the honeysweet profundity of stars.

.

The earth is calm beside the ocean’s groaning.

The earth is comely with her godly shame

.                concealed below the foliage.

Springtime, her lover, comes in May to kiss her.

She sends him, to appease his haughty thunder,

.                the humble smoke of villages.

.

Don’t strike them, thunder! They’re so small, them there.

The earth is good. She is grave, as well, severe.

.                 The roses are pure as she is.

May hope and labor please whoever thinks,

and innocence, her milk, she offers all to drink,

.                 from her breast of justice.

.

The earth hides gold, and makes the harvests show;

she lays upon the flanks of fleeting seasons

.                 the seed of seasons coming,

through the blue, the eyes that whisper, “Let’s be lovers!”

and shadow’s deeper sources, and on the mountains

.                 the oak trees’ mighty trembling.

.

Under heaven her august deed is harmony.

She orders the reeds to bow to, joyously

.             and satisfied, the tree superb.

Balance the chariot, the low loving the high,

so that the mighty cedar may gain, by right,

.            the consent of a sprig of herb.

.

With the grave she equalizes all, and confounds

with dead cowherds the ash that was, compounded,

.              the Caesars and Alexanders.

She sends to heaven souls and guards the animal;

she ignores, in her vast effacement of evil,

.              the difference between two cinders.

.

She pays to each her debt: to day the night,

to night the day, the plant to rocks, to flowers fruit;

.              whatever she creates, she nurtures.

The tree is confident while man is uncertain.

O confrontation that puts our fate to shame,

.              o great and sacred nature!

.

She was the cradle of Adam and of Japhet,

and then she was their tomb; and it is her who makes-

.                in Tyre that, today, we do not see,

in Sparta and Rome in toil, in Memphis cast down,

in all the places man has spoken, then your town-

.               the sonorous cicada sing.

.

Why? To pacify the sleeping tombs.

Why? Because there’s need, upon collapse and doom,

.             of apotheoses to succeed

the voices of dissent, the voices of assent,

the vanishings of evanescent man,

.            the mysterious song of things.

.

The earth is friendly with the harvesters; at dusk,

she’ll chase from the horizon, vast and black,

.               the voracious swarm of rasping crows,

at the hour the bull tells them, “Let’s turn in now,”

when the brown laborers wind their ways back, drawing,

.               like armor, their scythes and plows.

.

She does not cease to birth flowers that don’t endure;

the flowers never found to reproach their Lord;

.                from virgin lilies, from vines mature,

from myrtles trembling in the wind, never a cry

rises to the venerable sky, who’s softened by

.                the innocence of murmurs.

.

Underneath dense boughs she writes her secret leaves.

She does whatever’s possible, and lavishes peace

.                on stones, on trees, on plants,

to enlighten us, we children of Shem and Hermes,

who are condemned to never read, except

.                by trembling luminescence.

.

Her aim is nativity, it is not death,

it is the mouth that speaks, not biting teeth.

.             When wars, defaming streets, hollow

out of man a vile furrow of bloodshed,

fierce, she turns her gaze away indignant

.             from this sinister plow.

.

Mutilated, she demands of man: “For what

this devastation? What fruit swells in a desert?

.              Why kill the plain so green?”

She finds no use in our malicious wills,

and mourns the virginal beauty of the fields

.               dishonored by pure ruin.

.

Of old the earth was Ceres, Alma Ceres,

blue-eyed mother of meadows, of corn and forests;

.                  and I would have her say still more:

“Children, I am Demeter, goddess of the gods,

and you will build for me a splendid temple

.                 on the hill called Callicore.”

.

II

FROM EVE TO JESUS

I

THE CONSECRATION OF WOMAN

I

Aurora has appeared. Which aurora? An abyss

of dizziness, immense, unsoundable, sublime,

an ardent gleam of goodness and of peace.

During the globe’s first times. And clarity, upon

the brow of heaven out of reach, shone serene.

All beings that God could make were on the scene.

All was light, the shadow and the hazy mist.

In golden avalanches it tumbled through the blue.

The day in flames, to the depths of raptured earth,

horizons full of shadows and touseled rocks,

and frightened trees that man no longer sees

shining like a dream, like reeling senses

through a profundity of light and wonder.

Eden, chaste and naked, softly woke from sleep.

The birds were warbling a hymn so charming,

so fresh, so soft, so gracious and so tender,

that distracted angels strained their ears to hear.

A tiger’s solo roaring grew more gentle.

The thickets where the lamb passed with the wolves,

the seas where hydra loved halcyon, and plains                                 20

where bears and deer both shared the airs they breathed,

all wavered, during that choir’s countless concords,

between the lair’s lone cry and the nests in chorus.

Their prayer seemed intermixed with clarity.

And on this nature still immaculate,

who’d kept the accent of eternal Word,

on this world divine, angelic, innocent,

morning, murmuring a saintly word,

smiled, and aurora wore an aureole.

All had the honest form of bliss and fortune.

There was no mouth from which came poisoned breath;

no being lacked it primal majesty.

All the infinite could fire out of light

was lit up all at once, though scattered in the airs.

The wind enjoyed itself, with the gleaming sheaves,

in the whirling-free and flying of the clouds.

The underworld mumbled some empty jeers

that vanished in the massive, joyous cry

of waters, mountains, woods, of earth and sky.

The winds and rays sowed such delirious seeds                                 40

that forests trembled like enormous lyres.

From shadow to the light, from base to summit,

a venerable fraternity took root,

stars weren’t arrogant and the worm lacked envy.

Life, from one end to the other, was adored.

An equal harmony in clarity that poured

a godly ecstacy on the newborn globe

that seemed to come from the world’s mystic core.

By this the herb was moved, the cloud, the wave

and, likewise, stones that mused and those still silent.

The tree, all interfused with light, sang out.

Each flower, exchanging its breath and thoughts

with calm sky, from which the dews cascade,

received a pearl and gave back a perfume.

Being was resplendent. One in All, All in One,

so shined paradise, below life’s shadowed

branches drunk with shade and full of murmurs,

and the light had been fashioned out of truth,

and all had grace, and purity as well,

all was flame, bliss, sweetness, clemence, hymen,                              60

so immense these days, with each so great a dawn.

.                                 II

Ineffable rise of the first golden ray

of day lighting all with nothing left to know!

Morning of mornings! Love, unbridled joy

for time commencing, hours, months, the year!

World’s overture! Miraculous instant!

Night dissolved into the massive heavens

where nothing fears, nor mourns, where nothing suffers.

As much as chaos had, the light engulfed.

God manifest Himself in His calm grandeur:

certitude for soul, and for the eyes, splendor.

From ridge to ridge, from land to sky, through every

layer of being unto the countless vaults,

one saw the awesome evidence burst forth;

the world was sketched; all seemed to meditate.

The archetypes offered from their mixture

the brute-and-rude-just-formed and almost-angel,

surging, stormy, clustered and gigantic.

One sensed the thrilling start, below the groups confused,

of earth, supreme and inexhaustible womb.                                       80

Saint Creation, on her creative lathe,

moulded vagaries with features marvelous,

drew out the swarms of beings fabulous, at

times for woods, sometimes for seas, at times for sky,

and proposed to God some forms unknown before,

that time, the pensive plowman, would change later.

One sensed them rise, be live, and grow before

all the future trees-pines, firs, maples, yews-

with those whose leaves are greened more monstrously.

Life, in its exuberant way, inflated

the world’s breast with mysterious milk.

All seemed to blossom, almost beyond the measure,

as if nature, to whom they were still so near,

had snatched, for her tests on land and waters,

a splendid difformity from dark chaos.

.

The gods in paradise, full of sap so strange,

seeming to shine out of dream to end of time,

obscure to our eyes, with no ideal, no faith,

today their ecstacy would be near terror.

It means less to Abyss, to universal Soul-                                     100

that wastes a sun on places one speck large,

and can, for it, post there an azured angel-

to increase, to the skies, Eden endlessly.

.

Days unique: the good, the fair, the true, the just

poured through the torrent, shivered in the bush.

The North wind lauded God all clothed in wisdom.

The tree was good; the flower was a virtue.

Not merely white-but candid-was the lily.

All was without spot and without wrinkle.

Pure days: nothing bled beneath the claw or tooth.

The happy beast was innocence on the prowl.

Evil had still sent none of its mystery

into the serpent, proud eagle, and panther.

The scarped ravine, with its sacred animal,

had no shadow, for light shined to its depths.

The mountain was young, the wave was virgin;

from the sea’s submerging flood the globe emerged,

fair, majestic, lovely, fierce, triumphant,

and nothing was small, although all was infant.

The earth, among its hymns of innocence, was                                  120

dizzy with cresivity’s sap and vigor.

Fertile instinct caused the vital urge to muse

and, on all sides replied, through the air, upon

the waters, like an exhaled perfume, Love,

disseminating, flowed. Nature laughed, naive,

colossal; space, just like a newborn, wandered.

By the sun daybreak’s gaze was overcome.

.

.                                     III

Now this day was the fairest that ever has poured

on the universe the luminous aurora.

The self-same holy, seraphic fluttering

joined seaweed to wave, element to being;

the ether shone purer in sublimest heavens.

The breezes deeply overflowed the summits,

the foliage was sweeter in its motions.

And the rays fell down, pleasant and caressing,

on a fresh green valley, where, bursting with rapture,

adoring the great sky that the light embraced,

blissful for being, joyous to love, drunk on sight,

in the shade, beside the dizzy mirror of a lake,

they sat, their feet lightly skimming the surface,                                140

the first man along side of the first woman.

.

The husband prayed, and by his side, the bride.

.

.                                 IV

Eve offered the blue sky her saintly nudity.

Blond Eve adored the dawn, her crimson sister.

Flesh of woman! Ideal clay! What wonder!

O lofty penetration of the spirit

into the lemon that ineffable Being moulds!

Matter where soul shines across its shroud!

Mud where one sees the godly sculptor’s fingers!

Noble filth appealing the kiss and the heart,

so holy, one does not know-such a conqueror

is love, so strongly is the soul pulled toward

that enigmatic bed-whether this pleasure

is a thought or not, and one is incapable,

in the hour when the senses are on fire,

of holding beauty without thinking it is God!

.

Eve allowed her eyes to wander over nature.

.

And underneath the long and verdant palms,

around Eve, above her head, the carnation

seemed to dream, the blue lotus meditated,                                       160

the fresh forget-me-not was recollecting,

the roses sought her feet with half-closed lips,

the bright-red lily breathed a breath fraternal,

as if this gentle being were their equal,

as if out of the flowers, all with one soul,

the bloom with the most beauty was the woman.

.

.                                V

Until this day, however, it was Adam,

chosen to read in heaven the beginning,

it was the strong and tranquil Bridegroom whom

the light and shadow, dawn, the countless stars,

the forest beasts, and the flowers in ravines,

followed, worshipping like a godly elder,

since his brow was gleaming and most grand.

And when the two, side by side and hand in hand,

wandered through the daylight of bright Eden,

endless nature-under its millions of eyes,

across the rocks, the boughs, the waves and herbs-

brooded, with love for this couple so superb,

with great respect for Man, a being complete,

observant Eve and contemplative Adam.                                           180

But, on this day, those countless eyes that glimpse

the infinite under the folds veiling it,

fixed upon the bride and not upon the groom,

as if upon this sweet, religious day,

blessèd among days and among auroras,

to wingèd nests lost among sonorous branches,

to cloud, to creeks, to the trembling swarms,

to beasts, to pebbles, to all the holy beings

that with dark words the earth today can name,

the woman had more majesty than man.

.                                       VI

Why this choice? Why such immense tenderness

from the profound and divine firmament?

Why the universe perched upon one head?

Why did dawn give woman a festival?

Why these songs? Why these palpitations

of surging waves of joy and waves of rays?

Why drunkeness and haste to blossom everywhere,

and the happy caves that open with aurora,

and more incense on earth and to the sky more flame?

.

The fair couple, innocent, dreamt in silence.                                      200

.

.                                     VII

Meantime, the gentle, inexpressible affection

of the star, the valley, lake, the piece of moss,

trembled more deeply in each instant around

Eve, who greeted the day from high in the sky.

The view that came from things and from beings,

from blessèd surges, sacred woods, priestly trees,

stood fixed, more pensive from moment to moment,

on this woman with charming, venerable brow.

A long ray of love came to her from the abyss,

from shade, from the blue, from depths, from summits,

the flower, the singing bird, the rock that’s mute.

.

And Eve, pale, feels that her flank is moved.

II

CONSCIENCE

When, with his children clothed in skins of beasts,

dishevelled, livid in the midst of tempests,

Cain was a fugitive before Jehovah,

as evening fell, the somber man arrives

at a mountain’s base upon a great plain.

His wife, fatigued, and her sons, out of breath,

tell him: “Let’s lie down on the earth and sleep.”

Sleepless Cain mused at the foot of the mount.                              220

Raising his head to dismal heaven’s heights,

he sees an eye, full opened on the darkness,

and stares at it steadfastly through the shadow.

“I am too near,” he says with a shudder.

He wakes his sleeping sons, his weary wife,

and sets to wicked flight again through space.

He marches thirty days, he marches thirty nights.

Mute he went and pale, shuddering at sounds,

furtive, not looking back, without relief,

without repose or sleep; he reaches the beach

of seas in the land that was since called Assur.

“Let’s stop,” he says. “This shelter is secure.

Let’s rest here. We’ve reached the world’s limits.”

And as he sits he sees in the gloomy sky

the eye in the same place on the horizon.

Then he shivered, a prey to the black chill.

“Hide me!” he cries, and with finger on his mouth,

all his offspring watch their savage elder quake.

Cain says to Jabel, father of those who go

below tents of wool deep in the desert:                                              240

“Stretch out this side of the canvas of the tent,”

and thus was made a fluttering partition.

And when it had been fixed with a weight of lead,

“Do you see it anymore?” said Tsilla, blond

child, a daughter of his sons, sweet as dawn,

and Cain replies, “I can still see that eye!”

Jubal, father of those who pass through towns

blowing bugles and tapping tambourines,

cries: “I know well how to build a barrier.”

He makes a wall of bronze, puts Cain behind it,

and Cain says: “All day that eye stares at me!”

Enoch says: “Then make a fence of towers

so terrible that nothing can approach it.

Let’s build a city with a citadel,

let’s build a city, and we’ll keep it closed.”

Then Tubalcain, father of all blacksmiths,

built a massive, superhuman city.

While he labored, his brothers chased the sons

of Enos and Seth’s children from the plain.

They stared down any eyes that would pass by.                                260

At nightfall, they shot arrows at the stars.

Granite had replaced their tents of canvas,

they bound each block with fetters made of iron,

and the town appeared to be a town of hell.

Its towers’ shades made night fall on the fields,

they gave the walls the gravity of mountains.

On the gate was scribed: “GOD FORBID TO ENTER.”

When they had enclosed it all within the walls,

they centered the elder in a rocky tower,

and there he, sad and hagard, stayed. “My father!

Has the eye disappeared?” says shaking Tsilla.

And Cain replies: “No, it’s there all day long.”

Then he said: “I want to dwell beneath the earth

like a solitary man within his tomb.

Nothing will see me and I will see nothing.”

So they dug a pit, and Cain said: “That’s good!”

Then he went down alone, below its somber vault.

When he’d sat down on his chair in the shadows,

and they had shut the sepulcher on his brow,

the eye was in the tomb and looked at Cain.                                                  280

.

III

STRENGTH EQUALS GOODNESS

In the beginning, God lives one day in space

Iblis come to him; God says: “Do you want your grace?

-No, says Evil.

.                         -Then what do you ask of me?

-God, says Iblis clothed in darkness, let’s compete

to see who will create the thing most beautiful.”

Being says: “I consent.

.                                     -Behold, says the Rebel:

Me, I will take your work and then transform it.

You, you’ll fertilize what I present to you.

And each of us will breath our own genius

on the thing the other has supplied and furnished.

-Let it be. What do you need? Take it, says Being

with scorn.

.                   -The head of the horse and a deer’s horns.

-Take them.”

.                       Faltering as the fog envelops,

the monster went on: “I’m fondest of the antelope’s.

-Go, take them.”

.                            Iblis enters his cave and forges.

Then he raises his head. “Is it done already?

-No.

.          -Do you still need something else? says Being.

-An elephant’ eyes, the neck of a bull, master.

-Take them.

-I beg you further, adds the Creeper,

for the guts of a crab, a serpent’s coils,                                              300

the thighs of the camel, paws of the ostrich.

-Take them.”

.                     Just as bees buzz entering the hive,

you could hear him going in and out of hell,

the demon restless over his iron anvils.

No view could see across the smoke and spume

that he produced at the back of that strange cavern.

All at once, turning to Being, Iblis howls:

“Give me the color of gold.”

.                                               God says: “Take it.”

And, groaning and fuming like an ox on the block,

the demon returns to thrashing at his forge.

He struck with his chisel, his pestle, his mallet,

and the whole horrible cavern rumbled.

His hammer’s flashes raised a sudden tempest.

His ardent eyes were twin embers in his head.

He roared, and fire shot out of his nostrils

with a clamor like the noise of mighty waters

in the livid season when storks migrate.

God says: “What more do you need?

.                                                            -The tiger’s leap.

-Take it.

.                -That’s good, says Iblis over his volcano.

Come help me stoke it,” he tells the hurricane.                                   320

The hearth blazed up. Iblis, sweating hefty drops,

stooped down, convulsed and, below those somber vaults,

nothing was distinct except a somber glow

reddening the monstrous profile of the forger.

The hurricane abetted, himself a demon.

Being, speaking from the firmament’s highest heights,

says: “What more do you want?” And the grand pariah,

raising his sad, enormous head, cries out:

“The lion’s breast and the wings of the eagle.”

And God cast down, from the elements he rules,

at the artisan of arrogance and rebellion,

the wings of the eagle with the lion’s breast;

and the demon resumes his work beneath the veils.

“What hydra is he making now?” asked the stars.

And the world watched, gaping, restless, grave,

the colossus giving birth to this giant.

Suddenly, one hears through the funeral night

a groan like the last gasp of a final struggle.

Etna, savage workshop of cursèd forgers,

flares up; the ceiling of hell is rent asunder,                                       340

and, in a wan and supernatural light,

one sees the locust spring from Iblis’ hands.

.

And the frightful invalid, winged being, though lame,

looked on his creation and was not ashamed,

abortion being the shade’s accustomed outcome.

He came out of the waist-deep eternal rubble,

and crossing his arms, sneering and defiant,

cries to the infinite: “Master, it’s your turn!”

He adds: “You gave me the elephant and ostrich

and gold to gild them all. And things more fair:

the camel, the horse, the lion and the bull,

the tiger and antelope, eagle and serpent.

It’s my turn to provide matter for your work.

Behold all I have. I give it to you. Take it.”

God, since wickedness itself is transparent,

stretched His mighty hand out of His bath of light

toward the shade, and the demon gave Him a spider.

.

And God took the spider and placed it in the midst

of the void that was not yet blue heaven,

and the Spirit guards the beast. Its pupil,                                           360

formidable, poured out its eternal gleam.

the monster, so small it seemed a black point,

grows large, and suddenly appears enormous.

And God saw it from his tranquil vantage.

A strange dawn wandered on this vile form.

Its dreadful belly became a luminous globe.

Its legs, as the joints changed to spheres of gold,

lengthened through the shade into great rays of flame.

Iblis raised his eyes, and soon the infamous

slumped down, dazzled, into the purple abyss.

For out the spider, God had made the sun.

IV

THE LIONS

The lions in the pit were without nourishment.

Captives, they roared out against great nature

who takes care of brutes deep in muffled lairs.

The lions had not eaten for three full days.

They wept for the man and, full of somber sighs,

across its ceiling of bars and chains, they

frowned at the bloody reddening of sunset.

Their grave voices scared the distant voyager

walking the hills of blue toward the horizon.                                     380

.

Sad, they beat their bellies with their tails.

And the cave’s walls quaked, increasing the fury

from their famished jaws in their russet eyes.

.

The pit was deep. And, to hide their flight, Og

and his giant sons had built it long ago.

These children of earth had dug for themselves

this colossal palace in the gloomy rock.

Since their heads had cracked the largest vault,

the light fell there and scattered everywhere;

by night this dungeon had a dome of azure.

Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned in Assur,

had covered up its center with a pavement.

This savage king had well found that this lair-

that saw, of old, the Shems and Deucalions,

and battered by giants-was fit for lions.

.

There were four and all were fearsome. A litter

of bones adorned their vast bestiary.

The rocks arranged the shades in tiers above them.

They paced, crushing on the gruesome pavement

carcasses of beasts and skeletons of men.                                          400

.

The first was brought from the desert of Sodom.

When, of old, he had his savage liberty,

he lived near Sinai’s last extremity

of terrible silences and solitude.

Pity him who fell beneath his rough-haired paws!

He was a lion of the sands.

.                                               The second

came from the forest of fertile Euphrates.

Not long ago, in sight of the stream’s descent,

all quaked in fear. He was tough to capture,

for he had taken the houndpacks of two kings.

He growled. He was a beast of the woodlands.

.

The third one was a lion of the mountains.

Shade and horror were his former companions.

In those days, sometimes, into muddy ravines

he charged the leaping sheep and bounding bulls.

The shepherd, the soldier and priest, all fled

whenever they saw his awful face appear.

.

The fourth was a fierce, appalling monster;

he was a mighty lion of the seashores.

He prowled along the swells he held in bondage.                              420

Hur, strong city, was then along the strand.

Its rooftops fumed. Its gateway sheltered a heap

of ships confusedly mingling their masts.

The peasant porting his homer full of manna

went there. The prophet on his ass passed through.

Its people were as happy as a freed bird.

Hur had an impressive marketplace, where

Abyssinians came and went with ivories,

Amorites with amber and sable shirts;

butter came from Ascalon, wheat from Aser.

The deep was harassed by piracy and theft.

Now, this lion was bothered by this city.

He found, when musing immobile at sundown,

that its people were too many and too loud.

Hur was very wild and grand. At night,

three heavy bars shut the invincible entrance.

Between each formidable pinnacle stood

a buffalo or rhinoceros horn.

The wall was straight and solid like a hero.

And Ocean rolled its overflowing billows                                          440

into the moat, seventy cubits deep.

Instead of black dogs yapping in a kennel,

two dragons, caught in the Nile’s rushes

and raised by a chief of the servile guard,

kept watch at the two sides of the city gate.

Now, the lion, once when night was advanced,

had leapt the bounds of the colossal moat,

and fiercely crushed between his barbarous jaws

the gate of the city with its triple bars,

and, unseen by them, gave the two dragons

the same harsh bruising as the bolts and hinges.

And when he had returned down to the beach,

restless, he dreamt of the city and people,

and instead of tigers’ dens and vultures’ nests,

some phantom walls under specters of towers.

.

This lion sat, crouching on his haunches.

He did not roar, he yawned. Down in this lair

where the miserable man had his feet on him,

he scorned his hunger, feeling only boredom.

.

The other three came and went. Their pupils,               460

if some bird struck their bars with its wing, would

follow it. And their hunger leapt, and their teeth

chewed shadows between their raucous cries and groans.

.

Then, in the dark corner of their dismal stall,

the grill cracked open; on the forceful threshold

appeared a man, shoved by horrid, shaking arms;

he was clothed in pale-white winding-sheets.

The grill reclosed its gloomy double doors.

The monsters, bristling their manes and seething,

rushed upon him, raising their frightening

roar so that hatred raged and ravagement

and all of nature disturbed and savage

with its fearfulness and its rebellions.

And the man said: “Peace be with you, lions!”

The man raised up his hand. The lions stopped.

.

The wolves who war with the dead and disinterred,

the flat-skulled bears, the jackals that convulse,

who, while shipwreckage wanders on the reefs,

are ferocious; the infamous hyena

is implacable; the tiger awaits its prey                            480

that with one single bound is overcome.

But the mighty lion, with its longer stride,

sometimes will lift its claws, and does not strike,

being the lonely dreamer of the shadows.

.

And the lions, grouped in the massive ruins,

looked at each other to speak, and consulted.

It’s said that old men can settle a dispute

with pensive wriggling of their white mustaches.

A dead tree over them hung its mangled branches.

.

The lion of the sands said gravely: “Lions,

when this man came in, I think I saw the rays

straight from the plain where the bright ?  passes,

and felt the lofty breezes of its spaces.

This man has come to us from desert places.”

.

The lion of the woods said: “In bygone days,

the mix of fig trees, palms, of cedars and yews,

filled my joyous cavern both day and night.

At the hour when you sense the world’s hush,

the grand green boughs around me would sing out.

When this man spoke, his voice seemed sweet to me       500

like the sounds that rise from shaded nests of moss.

This man has come to us from lands of forests.”

.

And the one who had come nearest to the man,

the black mountain lion, said: “This man resembles

the Caucasus where the rocks never tremble.

As majestic as Atlas-I think I saw,

when he raised his arm, Lebanon stand up

and move, casting its shadows on the fields.

This man has come from lands where mountains rule.”

.

The lion, who used to prowl the swelling shores

and roar as loud as the Ocean’s groaning,

spoke fourth, and said: “I have a habit, when

I see grandeur, of forgetting bitterness,

and this because I was neighbor to the sea.

I have seen-when leaving the seething waves-

the rising of the moon, the brilliant sun,

the somber endless smile of aurora;

and I have taken on, o lions, through

this intimacy, the customs of the deep

and of eternity. Now, I do not know                               520

the name this man received, but I have seen

heaven gleaming from his eyes. This man,

with brow serene, comes from the land of God.”

.

When night had darkened the great blue firmament,

the watchman wished to see the pit, and this slave;

sticking his pale face through the gate of the cave,

through the nebulous depths he glimpses Daniel

standing up straight and staring at the sky,

pondering, attentive to the countless stars,

while in the shadows, the lions licked his feet.

….

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