Jacques Réda: October Morning

With our final  post month this month, and the final post before we launch the full Winter Issue of The High Window in Early December, we bring to a conclusion our series of poems commemorating the October Revolution. This week’s poem is by the French poet Jacques Réda. It’s a stunning portrait of Trotsky, the orator, and evokes the revolutionary fervour he was capable of unleashing. Jacques Réda is one of the finest living French poets and one, who by virtue of his concrete imagery and visual impact, is also amongst the most accessible. The superb translation below, which was kindly supplied by Jennie Feldman, is taken from Treading Lightly (Anvil Press. 2005), Jennie’s bilingual selection from the poetry of Jacques Réda.

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You can also read some more of his poems in our earlier French Poetry supplement by following this link:  Jacques Réda

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Jacques Réda: Poem

OCTOBER MORNING

Lev Davidovitch Bronstein ruffles his goatee, hands restless,
Ruffles his shaggy hair; in a moment he’ll
Leap out of his waistcoat and lose his scholar’s spectacles,
This figure addressing Kronstadt sailors hewn from the rough
Timber of Finland and with scarcely less feeling
Than the rifle butts that let fly dirty snow.
He preaches, Lev Davidovitch, he talks himself hoarse while
Over the leaden Neva the cruiser Aurora slowly
Turns its turrets towards the dim façade
Of the Winter Palace.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWhat a performer; what a yellow sky;
What a weight of history on the empty bridges where the odd car
Rumbles, its wings bristling with bayonets.
Tonight, at Smolny, beards have grown; seared
By tobacco and filament bulbs, eyes
Roll, Petrograd, before your twilight, your silence
Where out there, in an earnest crowd of grim-faced Latvians,
Lev Davidovitch prophesies, exhorts, threatens, trembles
Too as he feels the inert mass of centuries
Tilt irreversibly, like cannons on their axles
At the edge of this October morning.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx(And already Vladimir
Ilitch is secretly back in the capital; later
He’ll sleep, with the same dotard’s make-up, in a glass coffin,
Forever unmoving below the bouquets and fanfares.
Meanwhile Lev Davidovitch shakes his shock of hair,
Retrieves his eyeglasses,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx– where a little blood, a little Mexican
Sky will mingle on the last day, so far
From you, muddy October, raving in the flurry of red flags.)

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MATIN D’OCTOBRE

Lev Davidovitch Bronstein agite sa barbiche, agite
Ses mains, sa chevelure hirsute ; encore un peu, il va
Bondir de son gilet et perdre ses besicles d’érudit,
Lui qui parle aux marins de Cronstadt taillés dans le bois mal
Équarri de Finlande, et guère moins sensibles que
Les crosses des fusils qui font gicler la neige sale.
Il prêche,Lev Davidovitch, il s’époumone, alors
Que sur le plomb de la Neva lentement les tourelles
Du croiseur Aurora vers la façade obscure du
Palais d’Hiver se tournent.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxQuel bagou ; quel ciel jaune ;
Quel poids d’histoire sur les ponts déserts où parfois ronfle
Une voiture aux ailes hérissées de baïonnettes.
À Smolny, cette nuit, les barbes ont poussé ; les yeux,
Brûlés par le tabac et le filament des ampoules,
Chavirent,Petrograd, devant ton crépuscule, ton silence
Où là-bas, au milieu des Lettons appliqués et farouches,
Lev Davidovitch prophétise, exhorte, menace, tremble
Aussi de sentir la masse immobile des siècles
Basculer sans retour, comme les canons sur leur axe,
Au bord de ce matin d’octobre.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx(Et déjà Vladimir
Ilitch en secret a rejoint la capitale ; il dormira
Plus tard, également grimé, dans un cercueil de verre,
Immobile toujours sous les bouquets et les fanfares.
Cependant Lev Davidovitch agite sa tignasse,
Rattrape son lorgnon,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx— un peu de sang, un peu de ciel
Mexicain s’y mélangeront le dernier jour, si loin
De toi boueux octobre délirant au vent des drapeaux rouges.)

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Jacques Réda was born in Lunéville in 1929. From 1987 to 1996 he was editor of La Nouvelle Revue française and is a reader for the publishing house of Gallimard. One of France’s greatest living poets, he has published numerous collections of poetry since Amen, his debut in 1968. Since 1963, he has also been a regular contributor Jazz Magazine and written several books about Jazz such L’Improviste (1980).

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