Thursday, April 14, 2005

Poems: Deguy's "Who What" + John Ashbery's "My Erotic Double"

More poems (hey, it is National Poetry Month, so I'm doing my part!), since I don't have time to post right now.

Two poets from parallel worlds, Michel Deguy, a Frenchman born in 1930, and one of the leading establishment figures in his country and in European poetry, and and John Ashbery, an American born in 1927, and arguably the most influential living American poet. Both poems have a bit of erotic bite, though the second is obviously more light-hearted playful.

First, Michel Deguy's


Il y a longtemps que tu n’existes pas
Visage quelquefois célèbre et suffisant
Comment je t’aime Je ne sais Depuis longtemps
Je t’aime avec indifférence Je t’aime à haine
Par omission par murmure par lâcheté
Avec obstination Contre toute vraisemblance
Je t’aime en te perdant pour perdre
Ce moi qui refuse d’être des nôtres entraîné
De poupe (ce balcon chantourné sur le sel)
Ex-qui de dos traîné entre deux eaux
Maintenant quoi
Bouche punie
Bouche punie cœur arpentant l’orbite
Une question à tout frayant en vain le tiers


For a long time you have been nonexistent
A face sometimes famous and sufficient unto itself
How I love you I don’t know For a long time
I have loved you with indifference I love you to hatred
By omission by murmur out of cowardice
Obstinately Against all probability
I love you losing you to lose
I who refuse to be ours dragged
From stern (a balcony jig-sawed on salt)
Ex-who dragged backwards between two waters
Now what
Mouth punished
Mouth punished heart pacing the orbit
A question to all vainly opening up third party

Copyright (c) 1973, Michel Deguy.
© Translation: 2004, Anne Talvaz.


Next, John Ashbery's


He says he doesn't feel like working today.
It's just as well. Here in the shade
Behind the house, protected from street noises,
One can go over all kinds of old feeling,
Throw some away, keep others.
The wordplay
Between us gets very intense when there are
Fewer feelings around to confuse things.
Another go-round? No, but the last things
You always find to say are charming, and rescue me
Before the night does. We are afloat
On our dreams as on a barge made of ice,
Shot through with questions and fissures of starlight
That keep us awake, thinking about the dreams
As they are happening. Some occurrence. You said it.

I said it but I can hide it. But I choose not to.
Thank you. You are a very pleasant person.
Thank you. You are too.

Copyright (c) 1981, 2005, John Ashbery, all rights reserved.


  1. The first five lines of the Ashbery read uncannily like Cavafy. Thanks.

  2. "Erotic Doubleness" must have been in the air: I reread that poem from my copy of JA's "Selected" the same evening you posted it, drawn there by coming across a mention of it by Reginald Shepherd in an interview with Christopher Hennessy....