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by Jules Supervielle


translated from the French by Geoffrey Gardener

In a world closed and clear
Without oceans or streams
A cutter hunts the sea
With a prow that hardly
Can stand the air’s soft stroke.
She drifts beyond her fear
Of staying immobile
Without her brittle sails
Swelling at all with joy.
Her gunwales are not washed
By the unreal salt sea
And the friendly dolphins
Imagined sluggishly
Do not perform for her.

All along the bulwarks
Her frozen crewmen wait
For the sea to appear,
For an auspicious hour.
If these sailors were watched
Up close and one by one
One would see year to year,
More than if they were stone,
That none of their faces
Ever ages a day.

But an identical
Ship sails the Pacific
With similar sailors,
But the live, come and go,
And each is at his task.
One climbs up the foremast,
Another to the bridge,
Sights stars through the sextant.
And here real dolphins play
Under the Captain’s eyes
Amid the salt sea foam
That is itself and sings.


Jules Supervielle was an important force in French poetry. He has not received his deserved recognition in this country due to spotty translations.

Geoffrey Gardener is busy rectifying this error. His poems and translations have appeared in Bleb, Cottonwood Review, New Letters, Skywriting, and APR. (Spring 1975)

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