10 January 2024

Translation: Blaise Cendrars Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of the Little Jehanne of France, Part 2

Sonia Delaunay, 1913

This is Bora Mici's original French to English translation of the poem La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France or Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of the Little Jehanne of France by the French early 20th century poet Blaise Cendrars whose name evokes a phoenix. Sonia Delaunay created the accompanying artwork for the poem, which tells the story of the poet's squalid journey on the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow to China across Russia alongside a young prostitute who seems to embody a certain redeeming innocence and nostalgic love left behind.

Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of the Little Jehanne of France by Blaise Cendrars with artwork by Sonia Delaunay, Part 2

I am laying flat in a plaid
Colorfully clad
Like my life
And my life does not keep me any warmer than this Scottish burlap
And all of Europe seen from the wind breaker of an express at full steam
Is not any richer than my life
My poor life
This tartan
Threadbare on chests filled with gold
Alongside which I roll
That I dream
That I smoke
And the only flame of the universe
Is a poor thought …

Tears well up from the bottom of my heart
If I think, Love, of my mistress;
She is but a child, that I found like this
Pale, immaculate, at the back of a brothel.

She is but a child, blond, laughing sadly,
She does not smile and never cries;
But at the bottom of her eyes, when she lets you drink from them,
Trembles a sweet silver lily, the poet’s flower.

She is sweet and quiet, makes no reproach,
With a long shiver at your approach;
But when I come to her, from here, from there, from a feast,
She takes a step, then closes her eyes — and takes a step.
Because she is my love, and the other women
Just have golden dresses on tall bodies of ribbon,
My poor friend is so alone,
She is completely naked, has no body — she is too poor.

She is just a candid flute, a filigrane tower
The poet’s flower, a poor silver lily,
All cold, all alone, and already so wilted
That I get teary eyed if I think of her soul.

And this night is like a hundred thousand others when a train dashes in the night
— The comets fall —
And man and woman, even young ones, delight in making love.

The sky is like the torn tent of a poor circus in a small fishing village
In Flanders
The sun is a steamy lantern
And all the way at the top of a trapeze a woman arches her body into a crescent.
The clarinet the piston a bitter flute and a bad drum
And here is my cradle
My cradle
It was always near the piano when my mother like Madame Bovary played the sonata’s of Beethoven
I spent my childhood in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
And I skipped school, in the train stations in front of the trains departing
Now, I have made all the trains run behind me
I have also played in the races in Auteuil and Longchamp
Paris-New York
Now, I have made all the trains run through all my life
And I have lost all of my bets
There’s only Patagonia left, Patagonia, which suits my great sadness, Patagonia, and a trip to the Southern seas

I am on the road
I have always been on the road
I am on the road with the little Jehanne of France.

The train jumps perilously and falls back on all its wheels
The train falls back on its wheels
The train always falls back on all its wheels.

“Tell me Blaise, are we very far away from Montmartre?”

We are far, Jane, you have been traveling for seven days
You are far away from Montmartre, from the Hill that fed you, from the Sacré-Coeur whose shelter you cherished
Paris has vanished and its enormous blaze
All we have tarried are the ashes unburied
The rain that pounds
The peat that swells
Siberia that pivots
The heavy heaps of snow that rise up
And the bell of madness which trembles like a last wish in the blue sky’s deepness
The train quivers at the heart of leaden horizons
And your sorrow sniggers …

“Tell me Blaise, are we very far away from Montmartre?”

Read Part 1.

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