Peter Valente translates the poems of Gérard de Nerva (Labrunie)

Peter Valente translates the work of Gérard de Nerval, pen name of Gérard Labrunie, a major figure in French Romanticism.


The god Kneph, as he trembled, shook the universe:

Isis, his mother, then rose from her couch,

Made a gesture of hatred to her savage husband,

And the ardor of the old days shone once more in her green eyes.

‘Look at him,’ she said, ‘he dies, that old pervert,

All the frosts of the world have passed through his mouth,

Shackle his twisted foot, put out his deceptive eyes,

He is the god of volcanoes and the king of winters!

‘The eagle has already passed, the new spirit calls to me,

In his honor I have clothed myself in the robe of Cybele …

He is the beloved child of Hermes and Osiris!’

The goddess had fled away upon her golden conch

And the sea reflected back to us her adored image

And the skies were aflame under the scarf of Isis. 


Le dieu Kneph en tremblant ébranlait l’univers :

Isis, la mère, alors se leva sur sa couche,

Fit un geste de haine à son époux farouche,

Et l’ardeur d’autrefois brilla dans ses yeux verts.

‘Le voyez−vous, dit−elle, il meurt, ce vieux pervers, 

Tous les frimas du monde ont passé par sa bouche, 

Attachez son pied tors, éteignez son oeil louche, 

C’est le dieu des volcans et le roi des hivers ! 

‘L’aigle a déjà passé, l’esprit nouveau m’appelle,  

J’ai revêtu pour lui la robe de Cybèle…

C’est l’enfant bien−aimé d’Hermès et d’Osiris !’ 

La Déesse avait fui sur sa coque dorée,

La mer nous renvoyait son image adorée,

La mer nous renvoyait sous l’écharpe d’Iris. 


You ask me why my heart is so filled with rage

And why I bear an untamed head upon a flexible neck;

It is because I come from the race of Antaeus,

And I throw back the darts against the conqueror god.

Yes, I am one of those inflamed by the spirit of the Avenger,

He has branded my forehead with his angry lips,

Beneath the pale skin of Abel, alas! stained with blood,

I sometimes bear the ruthless blush of Cain!

Jehovah! the last one to be vanquished by your jinn,

Who, from the pit of hell, cried out: ‘O tyranny!’

Was my grandfather Belus or my father Dagon …

Three times they plunged me into the waters of Cocytus,

And, sole guardian of my mother the Amalekite,

I now sow at her feet the old dragon’s teeth.


Tu demandes pourquoi j’ai tant de rage au coeur 
Et sur un col flexible une tête indomptée ;
C’est que je suis issu de la race d’Antée,
Je retourne les dards contre le dieu vainqueur. 

Oui, je suis de ceux−là qu’inspire le Vengeur, 
Il m’a marqué le front de sa lèvre irritée,
Sous la pâleur d’Abel, hélas ! ensanglantée,
J’ai parfois de Caïn l’implacable rougeur !

Jéhovah ! le dernier, vaincu par ton génie,
Qui, du fond des enfers, criait : ‘O tyrannie !’ 
C’est mon aïeul Bélus ou mon père Dagon…

Ils m’ont plongé trois fois dans les eaux du Cocyte, 
Et, protégeant tout seul ma mère Amalécyte,
Je ressème à ses pieds les dents du vieux dragon. 


What! everything is sensitive 

                                         – Pythagoras

Man! free thinker – do you believe yourself the only one who thinks

In this world where life bursts forth from everything?

Your free will disposes of the forces in your possession,

But from all your councils the actual universe is absent.

Respect the active intellect in a beast:

Each flower is a soul that blossoms in Nature;

A mystery of love dwells in metal;

‘Everything is sensitive!’ And everything has power over your being.

Beware of blind walls behind which there are eyes watching you:

Matter itself is verbal if man knows the language…

But do not use it for some unholy purpose!

Often in an obscure being dwells a hidden God;

And as a nascent eye covered by its lids,

A pure spirit grows beneath the flesh of stones!


Eh quoi ! tout est sensible
                                 – Pythagore

Homme, libre penseur ! te crois−tu seul pensant 
Dans ce monde où la vie éclate en toute chose ?
Des forces que tu tiens ta liberté dispose,
Mais de tous tes conseils l’univers est absent. 

Respecte dans la bête un esprit agissant :
Chaque fleur est une âme à la Nature éclose ;
Un mystère d’amour dans le métal repose ;
‘Tout est sensible !’ Et tout sur ton être est puissant. 

Crains, dans le mur aveugle, un regard qui t’épie :
A la matière même un verbe est attaché…
Ne la fais pas servir à quelque usage impie

Souvent dans l’être obscur habite un Dieu caché ;
Et comme un oeil naissant couvert par ses paupières, 
Un pur esprit s’accroît sous l’écorce des pierres ! 

Gérard de Nerval translated 1

Peter Valente is a writer, translator and filmmaker. He is the author of eleven full length books, including a translation of Nanni Balestrini’s Blackout (Commune Editions, 2017), which received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. Forthcoming is his translation of Nicolas Pages by Guillaume Dustan (Semiotext(e), 2021).

Gérard de Nerval translated (2)

Gérard de Nerval, pen name of Gérard Labrunie, was a major figure in French Romanticism. A poet, novelist, essayist, and translator, he introduced French readers to the German Romantics. Among his major works are ‘Les Chimères,’ ‘Les Filles du feu,’ and ‘Aurélia ou le rêve et la vie.’

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The Blue Nib believes in the power of the written word, the well-structured sentence and the crafted poetic phrase. Since 2016 we have published, supported and promoted the work of both established and emerging voices in poetry, fiction, essay and journalism. Times are difficult for publishers, and The Blue Nib is no exception. It survives on subscription income only. If you also believe in the power of the written word, then please consider supporting The Blue Nib and our contributors by subscribing to either our print or digital issue.

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