On the Lane to Death
(Sur le chemin de la Mort - Henri Michaux)

Out on the lane to Death
my mother came across a great ice-floe.
She wanted (it was already
getting late) to speak:
a vast, cotton-wool field of ice.
She looked at us, my brother and I,
and then she cried.

We told her - truly absurd lie -
we understood her perfectly.
And then she smiled
her charming young girl's smile, the one
that was the real her -
her pretty, almost mischievous smile.
After which she was taken, into the great Opaque.



(first published in Modern Poetry in Translation 2014)



Song for Wulf 


To my people he'd be like a gift, easy prey

if he dared to come armed, the man

they'd love to destroy.

    So we live in our separate worlds,

Wulf on one island, I on another - 

this fastness encircled by marsh and fen,

this island of blood-thirsting, battle-hard men

who'd love to destroy him if ever

he dared to come armed.

    So we live in our separate worlds.

The rain continues to fall. In my thoughts

I am tracking his far-trailing footsteps,

waiting and keening, wound fast 

in the circling warrior arms of another,

every thought bringing equal measures

    of pleasure and pain.

Wulf, my own Wulf, I am weak

from thinking of you and your over-long absence,

the grief in my heart far greater

    than any hunger for food.

Remember, Eadwacer, warrior: it's easy

to sever those ties never truly united.

Remember that Wulf has carried our unhappy wolf-cub

away with him into the woods - the song

      he and I made together.


from The Exeter Book,10th-century

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