Timothy Adès : Poet and Translator

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Victor Hugo (1802–1885): Borgia

Translated by Timothy Adès

Je me penchai. J’étais dans le lieu ténébreux;
Là gisent les fléaux avec la nuit sur eux;
Et je criai: — Tibère! — Eh bien? me dit cet homme.
— Tiens–toi là. — Soit. — Néron! — L’autre monstre de Rome
Dit: — Qui donc m’ose ainsi parler? — Bien. Tiens–toi là.
Je dis: — Sennachérib! Tamerlan! Attila!
— Qu’est–ce donc que tu veux? répondirent trois gueules.
— Restez là. Plus un mot. Silence. Soyez seules.
Je me tournai: — Nemrod! — Quoi? — Tais–toi. — Je repris:
— Cyrus! Rhamsès! Cambyse! Amilcar! Phalaris!
— Que veut–on? — Restez là. — Puis, passant aux modernes,
Je comparai les bruits de toutes les cavernes,
Les antres aux palais et les trônes aux bois,
Le grondement du tigre au cri d’Innocent trois,
Nuit sinistre où pas un des coupables n’échappe,
Ni sous la pourpre Othon, ni Gerbert sous la chape.
Pensif, je m’assurai qu’ils étaient bien là tous,
Et je leur dis: — Quel est le pire d’entre vous?

Alors, du fond du gouffre, ombre patibulaire
Où le nid menacé par l’immense colère
Autrefois se blottit et se réfugia,
Satan cria: — C’est moi! — Crois–tu? dit Borgia.

I leaned and I looked in the shadowy zone
Where lurk in dark night all the tyrants, the Scourges.
I called out ‘Tiberius!’ and ‘Well?’ he replied:
‘Just stay there.’ ‘Agreed.’ ‘Nero!’ Rome’s other villain:
‘Who dares to accost me?’ Said I: ‘Good. Stay put.’
‘Sennacherib! Tamburlaine! Attila!’ ‘What
Do you want?’ said three maws. ‘Stay there. Quiet! On your own:
Not a word.’ I turned. ‘Nimrod!’ ‘What?’ ‘Silence!’ And then
‘Rhamses! Hamilcar! Phalaris! Cyrus! Cambyses!’
‘What is it?’ ‘Stay there.’ So I passed to the moderns,
Comparing the noises from so many caverns,
The throne to the forest, the cave to the palace,
Pope Innocent screaming, the tiger who bellows:
Evil night which the guilty can never escape,
Not Otto in purple, not Gerbert in cope.
All were present, correct: I checked carefully first:
And I asked them ‘Of all of you, which is the worst?’

From deep in the gulf, from the gloom of the gallows,
Where once long ago like a fledgling in danger
He cowered and fled from the infinite anger,
Satan roared ‘It is I!’… ‘Do you think so?’ said Borgia.

Translation: copyright © Timothy Adès

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