Strange Arts & Visual Delights
Night scene on the battlefield, showing Verey lights being fired from the trenches, Thiepval, 7 August 1916. (https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205072490)
In “Nocturne,” the final poem of Henry-Jacques I have translated so far, a night in the trenches becomes a dark night of the soul. He is becoming part of the darkness; the darkness is becoming part of him. He must find a new language—using words that war “has not stained”—to understand the shadow, both “hard” and “ungraspable,” that holds him.
Cold night, with supple tentacles
winding round the neck and shoulder:
here I am, I don’t know where,
stooping in a narrow cell.
From the pit around me rise
the arcana, opaque and hard.
I grope the earth as if fumbling cards.
Tonight hands must be my eyes.
Like a beast in the teeth of a snare,
my will contorts itself, dismayed
that in this gloom I am no more
than shadow merging into shade.
I feel as if I were being poured
into hard, ungraspable shadow
that, through fissures I cannot see
and without noise, slips into me.
The mind, mustering all its power
to leave the dark in which it’s caught,
floats like wood, emptied of thought,
on the black, slow-moving water.
It hears the murky silence made
of whispering voices in the thousands
flowing together in human currents.
Huddled in the trench we wait.
A little more and the naked mind
dares question its fate; and now,
escaping the words that war has stained,
it senses truths it never knew.
And from the throat of the pit a noise
rises, a funereal voice:
“What are you doing in this shadow?”
And my heart responds, “I do not know.”
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.