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Caprice by Algernon Charles Swinburne

March 30, 2011

translated into English by Elisabeth Gitter

Je ne veux pas de jours où Juin brûle et flamboie,
Pas de rayonnement de soleil, pas de joie,
Pas de bruit de chansons écloses ça et la,
Pas d’amour; je ne veux rien de ces choses-là.
Je ne veux pas, ô Dieu, de lumière ni d’ombre,
Du matin rose et fier ni du soir fauve et sombre,
De la femme ayant l’œil au vent et l’âme en feu,
De l’homme; je ne veux pas de vous-même, ô Dieu.
Car j’ai dans mes chansons, moi poète, des mondes,
Des mers où maint navire a sombré sous les ondes,
Des forêts pleins de chants et des champs pleins de blé,
Des amants égarés sur le sentier sablé;
Des couchers de soleil, des batailles, des femmes,
Des roses, des enfants, des arbres et des âmes;
Mon œil vaut plus qu’un astre; et j’ai dans mes vingt ans
Toutes les fleurs avec tous les pleurs du printemps.


I want no bright June days, no summer light,
No radiance or glory, no delight,
No psalms and serenades; I need none.
No love, God. No shimmering, no shadows,
No rosy-fingered dawn, no forest nights;
I need no woman, icy-eyed, on fire,
Nor any man. I’ve no use, God, for you.
I am a poet. Worlds rise with my songs;
I dream oceans, sink ships beneath the waves;
Birds carol in my woodlands; fields grow gold.
I sing lost lovers wandering the shore,
Sunset, women, willows, children, roses, war,
And souls; my astral eye illumines all.
I grasp within my span of twenty years
The whole of spring: the flowers and the tears.

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Sketch of Swinburne by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Sketch of Swinburne by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Associated with the Pre-Raphaelite circle in England, Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) was a prolific poet and translator — most notably of Villon — who wrote several unpublished poems in French. His “Caprice” is in French alexandrines in the style of Victor Hugo, whom he idolized. The Swinburne scholar Cecil Lang discovered the manuscript of “Caprice” in the Library of Congress and published it in his New Writings by Swinburne (1964). The manuscript paper is watermarked 1863, but the poem, if the text is to be taken literally, would have been composed a few years earlier.

A specialist in the Victorian period, Elisabeth Gitter is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College, CUNY. Her translations of French and Italian poetry have been published in TLS and Victorian Poetry.

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  1. Roberta Burnett
    March 30, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Lovely translation. Thanks.
    I wonder if a native French speaker had read the French would it have been read with more speed, indicating a certain, other liveliness?

  2. March 30, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Oh! Very lovely, and very Swinburne-ish! My French is fairly feeble, “l’œil au vent,” does it mean literally “the eye to windward,” or is there more linguistic warrant for “icy-eyed”? (I don’t care, I think it’s brilliant, just wondering if I’m missing something in the French.)

  3. March 31, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Wonderful, Elisabeth! I really enjoyed hearing you read the French as well as the English.

    (I am Susan Hartung’s friend who alerted her to qarrtsiluni. I have a poem in the New Classics issue)

  1. May 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm
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