Un jour qu’il faisait nuit, Robert Desnos

It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry
The sun so hot I froze to death; Susanna, don’t you cry.
“Oh Susanna,” Stephen Foster

Un jour qu’il faisait nuit, Robert Desnos

Il s’envola au fond de la rivière.
Les pierres en bois d’ébèce les fils de fer en or
et la croix sans branche.
Tout rien.
Je la hais d’amour comme tout un chacun.
Le mort respirait de grandes bouffées de vide.
Le compas traçait des carrés et des triangles à cinq côtés.
Après cela il descendit au grenier.
Les étoiles de midi resplendissaient.
Le chasseur revenait carnassière pleine de poissons
sur la rive au milieu de la Seine.
Un ver de terre marque le centre du cercle sur la circonférence.
En silence mes yeux prononcèrent un bruyant discours.
Alors nous avancions dans une allée déserte où se pressait la foule,
Quand la marche nous eut bien reposé
nous eûmes le courage de nous asseoir
puis au réveil nos yeux se fermèrent
et l’aube versa sur nous les réservoirs de la
La pluie nous sécha.
One day when it was night, translation, Denise DeVries

He flew to the bottom of the river.
The ebony stones, the gold-plated wires
and the branchless cross.
Nothing at all.
I hate her with as much love as anyone.
The dead inhaled great gulps of emptiness.
The compass traced five-sided squares and triangles.
After that he descended to the attic.
The midday stars shone.
The hunter returned, a carnivore full of fish
on the bank in the middle of the Seine.
An earthworm marks the circle’s center on the circumference.
In silence my eyes uttered a noisy speech.
So we walked along a deserted alley where the crowd thronged.
When the walk had rested us,
we found the courage to be seated,
then on waking, our eyes closed and
the dawn poured down the night’s reservoirs.
The rain parched us.

Robert Desnos, born July 4, 1900 in Paris, rebelled against his father’s bourgeois plans for his future. His first poems were published in La Tribune des Jeunes in 1918; soon after, he became acquainted with members of the Paris Dada circle, including André Breton. Breton was especially impressed with Desnos’s ability to enter a trance state and speak lines of automatic poetry. Automatic writing was among the techniques for which surrealism became famous. During World War II, Desnos joined the French resistance. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and died of typhus in a concentration camp a few days after the Liberation.

I took a straight-forward approach to this translation, trying not to stray from the original. It reminded me of “Oh Susanna.” While looking for the lyrics, I found 20 other songs about opposites.


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