Farewell, Paris

A liberal translation of Catullus XLVI

Spring was blossoming through chilly rain, 
The strain of winter silently levelled 
By the golden rays of a Western sun.
“I shall leave the streets of Paris
And her cheap, sweaty bars;
I shall go and the cities of Britain and Italy.”
Already I felt Wanderlust, my feet lighter with the thought of travel. 
“My dear band of beloved poets, musicians and talents all accepting, we have come so far over the years and known many strifes…”

Wait, that will do; I’m outta here. Farewell, fuckers. 

A Sonnet For All Seasons

Spring

April spring blew life onto the lilies.
We sat and talked loudly of Elvis
And of theatre, our souls warmed by the breeze
That wetted dry streets, kindly with a kiss.

A kiss? A dream? Do I dare thus to dream
Of what might never be? Like parched flowers,
My thirsty pages crave the ink, and beam
With tender white when calmed by rising showers.

Not yet have nineteen promised winters passed
Nor twenty summers eclipsed by your grace.
Can I share the spring with you on green grass?
Autumn rains will come. ‘Til then, let’s embrace.

There you were, dreamlike you, fresh, young, aroused.
And I? No rage here; just a cloud in trousers.

Summer

Two fires, unknown, may rage at summer’s break,
Enflaming dry roots of their separate lands;
The trees are coarse – beauty – the bark is fake,
While men fight fire that offers them fair hands.

Yet fire will meet with fire, with power won,
When once the shields rest by the rusty axe:
Remember, beast, do not fight swords with guns;
Forget beauty, when worms crawl on their backs.

Yet summer’s rage is screaming like raw meat
Within the entrails of my shattered mind;
Fire might destroy, but flames can bring retreat,
When on white and black folds you dare be kind.

Winter chill is now a ghost; we are changed.
You are here, I am now – passion deranged.

Autumn

The black forest in autumn teems with lives,
Upon which we sat quite still, drank full and
Taught the trees our only song who still thrives
Amidst your absence and my art’s garlands.

What new paths did we not rediscover?
What the hand that fed us while we wondered
How best to retrace and to recover
What we had won and what was not plundered?

Water drops on hot rocks; I envy you,
My keeper, my sinner, my dream, my ghost.
I see your lips glistening with fresh dew,
My eyes looking up at you, my kind host.

Dear reader, love could be my only crime,
Now you’ve seen tears in a fistful of rhymes.

Winter

Sterile winter was sleeping like a dog,
Its embers embers, its poison dormant.
Grey beams struck my heart, all about a fog
Seized my pen, while my mind could but lament.

You suddenly from nowhere free arose,
Muse, singing softly by the coppice gate,
Ghost of earthly shivers, beauty as rose,
Last night’s Eve re-found, harbinger of Fate.

As long the roots to Hell, so long live we;
As high the clouds, the stars that burn so bright,
The birds that soar in our own infamy,
So deep the love I have for our one night.

But, with morning dew, my dog become wold,
Awakened with a start, you’ll scream “enough”!

Another Woolf Gone

Jane, 48, university lecturer.
Shop worker told store is closing.

“When are you going to get your clothes off?” she said.

The grey rain dampened the stone around the Pantheon. The bars were quieter than usual.

A lecturer at the university is to meet her husband within wooden panels. She asks softly her husband to kiss her navel and he obliges. After all it was a difficult day at the office; sales aren’t good; there are going to be some cutbacks; a receptionist or two are going to have to go. He notices her necklace.

“Stacey, can you please come into my office?”

I specialised in Virginia Woolf. Seymour-Smith’s the name and I’m a specialist in Virginia Woolf. My heyday might have been, but my affection is mature.

On the dampened cobbles around the Pantheon, where the bars were quieter than usual, a woman breaks a heel. And the husband, top-button undone, offers his arm, which she gladly accepts. And he thinks of his wife, remembering the traffic before he could see his first born for the first time, and they move on within wooden panels.

The children are sleeping; the maid comes tomorrow.

The wife knows her husband’s kinks… and adores them. They sleep in a bed that no-one else knows.

She’d been at a conference on Woolf that day. LOVING THE OTHER.

He had been driven home after taking some clients out to the Raspoutine night bar.

“Stacey, could you step into my office please?”

Coffee pervades the marble kitchen by a maid’s doing.

A husband’s hand lingers on the wife’s thigh.

“I’ll have to take those shoes to the cobbler’s,” she says, while the children line up to go to school.

A conference on Virginia Woolf called “Loving the other”. The Raspoutine calls, while a wife breaks a heel on the cobbles around the Pantheon.

The jewels are casually resting on the bedside table. More bad news in the paper.

“Stacey, would you come into my office please?”

Where are the female voices? The husband shatters the dreams of another young woman. And it smells of office. Back at home, the couple sits in front of the living room mirror which they’ve made love by countless times.

Sous le pavé, je demeure.

Why do I have to write the last lines of a young woman’s hope? It smells of office.

All this time dominated by men in the emperor’s new clothes and no perfume.

“Stacey, will you come into my office please?”

The wife’s jewels flashes in his eyes, and my cold pen cannot stop recording.

One more desperate Woolf gone; one more cuntish Seymour-Smith still living.

I have to lie to my younger self, screams the boss-man inside.

And do you know what I’d call this? I’d call it a fucking continuation of History.

An Invitation to Dinner

A hungry translation Catullus 13

If your schedule is not so busy this Thursday, dear friends, then you will dine like a king chez moi. So long as, of course, you yourself bring the meal – and make it a large one, with wine, some Parisian ladies too, a good deal of wit and all the jokes you can find. 

If and only if you do this, my fellow poets, you will dine like a king chez moi; for my purse has been eating baked potatoes for the last month.

However, I can offer you something much more tasteful and correct: a guy called Cupid gave it me on Rue de Venise – one sniff of this, friends, and you will ask the gods to make you all nose. 

See you next Thursday!

The Hypocrite’s Dance

Rich men praise a mighty king
Who in peace does justice bring
But when chance against him turns
Will find out he never learns

Fascists in the countryside
Armies with their lawless files
They think men can do no wrong
Where no woman sings her song

Stage lights cheat the actors’ game
Truthfulness they will not tame
Curtains hid their guilty lives
Now the public sees their lies

Poets sing of better times
Daily they compose their rhymes
Lines that you will never doubt
Myths they one day will wear out

Time for unrest this is not
Stop your shouting cease your plots
Patients from their final rest
Pay us back with interest!

Have you taken your pink pill?
Prey to God you won’t fall ill
While the poor must stock your shelves
Stay inside and save yourselves

Twitter: @egb2025

Last night, I dreamt of Venice…

A liberal translation of Virgil’s Eclogue I.

Two Venetians, Giorgio and Francesco, reminisce and realise.

Giorgio
There you are! Lying on your rowing boat, enjoying a shaded leisure by your favourite piazza while you strum your guitar, a laid-back melody of foreign origin. Me? I am being forced to flee this place, to move on and never come back. You? You teach the delicate waters to resonate with easy words.

Francesco
Salve, my dear Giorgio! This peace is a mystery even to me and I will not leave anytime soon; long have I enjoyed the altars of Bacchus and willingly served his cult. As a young man, my mind would be softened by words, songs, forms, notes of another’s creation – not my own. Now, this muse reigns my soul again and has allowed me once more to play on my nimble boat.

Giorgio:
I do not deny you this privilege, friend, but instead I marvel at your composure, while all around us there is barren frenzy and unwanted need. I have run my gondola around these canals for weeks on end, finding only a few thin tourists. I saw one man strolling with a pretty girl and who looked like a fat sale. He was about to embark, when he tumbled, clutching his chest. He fell like an oak on the stones in front of the church and died before help could even reach him: ghe sboro. But tell me, Francesco, what has brought on this blessed state of mind?

Francesco
I remembered the city of Paris, which I once thought just another tourist trap like our own. Many years ago, I visited this place and brought my choice lines of poetry to dress them up in more cultured rags. At the time I was in the habit of comparing cats to lions, daughters with mothers, acorns to oaks. But then I saw this global metropolis raising its head above the international playground, like the chestnut trees reaching towards the skies on its wide and famous boulevards.

Giorgio
And what brought you to Paris in the first place?

Francesco
Freedom. I discovered it late in life, before my greying beard had made me wiser and I still thought that change could be achieved through violence. Then I was held by Italy, cultivating my harsh gardens and milk-white pretentions, exerting brute force over the undulations of an unremitting ideal. I did not care for freedom; I thought not of material accumulation. And though many a time rich ideas would leave my humble threshold, the return I was seeking would not come back, and my right hand, stained with brassy ink, could seize no profit.  

Giorgio
This morning when we crushed a cup of amber wine on the San Giacomo, I wondered why you wept to think of these streets and wherefore you glutted sorrow on sunk grapes; you have been absent from this Bay. The fountains, the palazzi – they missed you.

Francesco
What could I do? The high tides would not free me from their manacles, because my lover threw herself into madness, as I lost her kiss and we both missed the synchronicity of waves.  And then I saw something more, something concrete, the thing now for which our company travels from place to place and from which near seven years ago I was given the first statement of change: “Boys and girls, feed your verses as before, and rear your mighty tomes”.

Giorgio
Most peaceful you now must be in the Floating City, though the streets are emptying and tainted algae make a parasite of our youth. Fortunate soul, to have gazed upon the Seine under the cooling shades of that city’s beautiful canopy; your days were spent in the limits of swift culture, drinking from the cool taps and listening to the flock’s gentle lowing. Italian borders are never too far away, and upon Hesperian sheets you can be lulled whenever you choose, while sea dogs and Sirens, your own delights, will never cease their plaintiff melodies.

Francesco
Sooner wine be replaced with water, the exiled Syrian restored to princeliness or the Union renewed again, than I shall forget the face of those streets lit up.

Giorgio
Come, my friend, it is time. San Francisco calls, the Dominican Republican waits on us and bound France yearns to enjoy the meanderings of our sutured raft. I will miss my rural home and the countryside that surrounded me, a child. The birches that point directly to heaven have shaded me for a time; they have seen me grow, but I them never. Now a dismal soldier threatens, and infectious barbary stands ready to ravage our well-tilled trade. Look at where war has led us, faithful citizens of an eternal republic; it was for this that so many books were published? Go on, fellow writers, with your happy lines. Look at me in my ruin, as my once cherished house crumbles in despair; I’ll sing no more songs and die an exile, while my over-polished crop of wailing words will fall short before the dawn, languishing by the sickly willows and cypresses.  

Francesco
But you will stay here the night: the Venetian moon is rising and we have all we need for the moment: wine, wit and wisdom. The tavern awaits us, the crowd longs to be pleased and the smoking pipes and bitter brews might yet comfort our rusty throats.  

Poetic Privilege

A liberal translation of Catullus X

A friend caught me at the bar the other night and introduced me to his new woman. She was underdressed but had some good conversation, though a little desperate. We ordered drinks, sat down and started chatting.

‘How’s your job going, Ed?’

Not bad, I said.

‘You made any money yet?’

I replied truthfully that the bossman, not the lackeys, make the good money; especially if they’re so crooked as to sell their own ass sitting down, or at least the next intern’s swollen peach.

‘But you must be making quite a bit now; didn’t you say you were going to buy a car?’

Now, to appear bigger than I am in front of this beautiful woman, I said: Fortune hasn’t been so unkind to me in the private world that I am not able to buy a Mercedes.

(Let alone a car, sometimes I can’t afford a metro ticket and have to squeeze strangers’ asses just to get a ride).

‘Wow, that’s fantastic’, this woman said. ‘Can you give me a ride to the Rasputin night bar tomorrow evening? I’m going with some friends.’

Wait a second – I spat my drink – what I said then: I didn’t mean to say Porsche or Mercedes or whatever it was; but it’s my friend’s: Malik’s, no Matt’s, or someone’s. Basically, it’s like my own, and what do I care, I get around just fine. Anyway, woman, who are you to call out my charm? Don’t you see that this is the privilege of being a poet?

My European Country

I was asked to write down in words about growing up European. There are people who will read this and think I am exaggerating: the idea that Britain might once have been a European country is mad to them, insulting even. But I say it loudly and write it even more so: the country that I was raised in and which I love is European. Anyone who says that I am wrong does not see two sides of a story. Anyone who scorns at this idea does not see the ridicule we are currently in. Anyone who is offended does not see the hurt that I, like many others, feel at this decision for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union at midnight of 31st January, 2020. 

It pains me though to talk from the position I am in: one of privilege. I went to an excellent, free grammar school. My grandparents were insistent on the fact that if me or my brother wanted to go on a school trip, there would be money there for it. My parish had links to Germany; I’ve always loved the idea of twinned towns – what a brilliant initiative to make the geographical distance just a little smaller. The inter-rail  ticket made me see the world on my own for the first time and ultimately to see myself. I have gotten drunk in most countries in Europe, have sampled local cuisine, and often been welcomed into family homes with warmth and confidence. I have been moulded by Latin and Ancient Greek, which fuel a desire to know more about modern European languages and culture. That my country has once again arrogantly turned its back on international cooperation is a plight I would love to apologise for. But how can I? What can I do to make things better?

I have witnessed racism in the pubs of England. I have seen man do the most outrageous things and not even blink an eye. I have watched as they destroy their bodies through almost back-breaking work and their minds on drug-fuelled nights out. I have received threats from these people. I felt the desire to leave my country because of this sort of environment and now the lid has been taken off and all those foul vapours are floating about, worse than the epidemic of coronavirus. It is a toxic, poisonous energy and the Conservative party, having experimented with fracking to harness natural gas, turned to the media to control this crowd. 

Further to the point, it would appear that nationalist tendencies are spreading around the world, causing many societies to regress several decades in terms of gender equality, race relations and environmental policy. When they are tackled on their views, they turn to invective; when they are confronted with something alien, they bully; when they feel they are about to be beaten, they resort to violence. Take as an example the murder of Jo Cox, a mother, an MP, and a Remain supporter who was killed by a far-right sympathiser just one week before the 2016 referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union. Imagine that latent threat of physical violence as people went to the polls. 

As for what we can do, there are as many options as there are personalities, but none of them is ideal. The first is to wait it out – go and find the most remote place you can and wait for it all to blow over. The benefit is that you’ll be able to write the novel that speaks to your generation, but you might miss out on some of the fun to be had. The next suggestions is ‘to become the change you want to see in the world’. The idea being that if you want people to think more open-mindedly, then you too must have your mind as clear and porous as limestone. Next, you can always join the violence: shave your hair off, pick up some bricks at the next demonstration and beat up someone up, as you see fit. Another is to say, well, if I can’t beat them, I might as well join them: ’you don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.’ Sign up to the party that you think is going to win and be in power for the next few years. But just hope they don’t anything too drastic that might one day have you seeking for deniable plausibility. The list is exhaustive; see where your conscience will take you. 

It might seem overwhelming, this sense of duty. It is – it’s supposed to be. How you navigate it is up to you and you might just want to sail past the whole all together. My country men and women have forgotten this and will one day be brutally reminded. But until then, I’m going to stay on the Continent for as long as possible and remember that my country, the one I love, is a European one. 

I blame Camus

Patrica was 20 when Albert
Took her in his arms and they danced.

In 1945, Bidasse and Mandarine were born.
Comic children of a comic-less time.

Patricia was not their mother,
Nor was Maria Casarès, Spanish passion.

It was Francine.
Francine, who could not offer Chinatown and foxtrots,

Only

two children 
two suicide attempts
.

Was it his fault

that he couldn’t resist a smile?
that he needed his freedom?
that he was never made for marriage?*

hair still clotted with vomit looking up from her hospital bed as the man she had given all her unwarranted love looks down paternally a young woman shouts:

yes yes it is your fucking fault

*These three lines are a literal translation from page 40 of Le Figaro’s hors-série on Albert Camus, December 2009 and were the point of departure for this poem.