Poetries by Georges Schehadé, translated by Austin Carder
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When autumn sends a shiver
Down the mountain
Place the swan’s eye on your neck
Wondrous wind in the dead of night
I love you I’ve been told
The first book-length translation of works by this important Egyptian-born, Lebanese-French poet, Poetries presents the core of Georges Schehadé’s (1905-1989) œuvre. Though best known as a dramatist, Schehadé was first and foremost a poet. His lifework was the seven volumes of crystalline poems published over a span of nearly a half-century (1938-1985), each successive volume simply and enigmatically titled Poetries. It is from these seven books that our selection has been drawn.
In 1986, the Académie Française awarded Georges Schehadé the inaugural Grand Prix de la Francophonie. Despite having received wide admiration from his contemporaries—including Max Jacob, Octavio Paz, André Breton, and Paul Éluard—the poetry of Georges Schehadé is virtually unknown today, with this collection being the very first translated into English. In his translator’s note, Austin Carder calls this collection “a lullaby or an enigmatic fairy tale told before bed. Its tone is one of self-sufficient prayer—a pronouncement rather than a plea—addressed to no one in particular and to anyone. These weathered songs key into the language of music, not by approximating its effects but by innervating sparks of meaning that flash forth…Schehadé’s broken-off parables convulse with the dual beauty of both hymn and elegy.”
As a key member of the Surrealists, Schehadé helped define 20th century French avant-garde poetry—in part, because his work overflows the Surrealist ethos, entering territory that is both more vulnerable and more eerie. Carder perfectly captures his unique flavor; as he says in his excellent translator’s note, “strict faithfulness would have meant a greater betrayal.” His translations take the risk of attending to the spirit as well as to the letter, and the result is a text that thrives in its new language, radiating the brilliance of the freshly minted.
Austin Carder’s metabolic recasting of the hitherto barely noticed poetry of Georges Schehadé reveals his integral devotion to the vitality of his craft. These are wondrous, sublime, and delicate events of a poetic passing-through.
Floating up as if from the weave of the page itself, these perfectly pitched versions of Georges Schehadé’s Les Poésies convey a mysterious sense of the inevitable. One couldn’t ask more of a translation, and with the gift of this one Austin Carder gives us (and English) a haunting new poet of magical clarity and uncanny quiet. This is a beautiful book.
Austin Carder’s lucid translations of Schehadé’s poems convey the melancholy of the original in an English that gives rise to its own compelling melody. A good translator is a good listener, and Carder listens closely to the French original before he breathes his translations into life: “Listen through the branches / for the golden sound of a dying tree.” There is a quiet beauty to these translations, and a stark simplicity; Carder knows that staying true to the spirit of the original text is the best way to let a translation sing with its own convincing, and equally original, voice.