Pablo Picasso: A Translation in Progress of “The Four Little Girls”

[24 November 1947 – 13 August 1948]

Harpy with Bull’s Head and Four Little Girls on Top of a Tower with Black Flag Plate 13 from the Vollard Suite, December 1934

Translation from French by Jerome Rothenberg

The scene – a vegetable garden almost smack in its center a well.

four little girls singing – we’re not gonna go to the woods no more the laurel trees are down on the floor hey the beautiful babe will go pick them up then we’ll come out to dance hey just like they dance oh you sing dance & hug anybody you want

LITTLE GIRL I – we’ll open the roses with our sharp little nails & we’ll make their smells bleed on the crinkled up flames & the crinkled up games of our crinkled up songs & our pinafores colored in yellow blue & purple & crinkled up too.  And we play that we’re bad & we’re hugging each other it’s mad & we’re letting out horrible cries.

LITTLE GIRL II – mama mama come out & see Yvette wreck the garden Yvette burn the butterflies up mama mama

 LITTLE GIRL III – go take your places wherever you want & burn the cock’s feathers & light all the candles the baby clothes hung on the old cherry tree – & wake up & I’ll tell you & untie the wings of the little dead birds in their cages their scatterbrained singing
the paisley prints on the sleeves of the dress on the pleats of the sky oh so high all fall down from the sky.

LITTLE GIRL I – singing – we’re not gonna go to the woods no more the laurel trees are down on the floor & the beautiful babe hey (she shouts) hey hey hey cause the cat has taken a bird from the nest in his mouth & he’s choking it now with his claws & dragging it back of the lemony cloud dipped in butter that melts on the edge of a wall that’s all bunged up with earth & a sun that’s covered with ash.

 LITTLE GIRL III – oh that’s just too dumb

LITTLE GIRL IV – go take your places down by the flowers the knitting yarn trailing all over the garden & hanging its rosary beads up like eyes & the full cups of wine in fine crystal the organs we listen to short little arms pitterpatting the cotton wool sky from somewhere in back of the big rhubarb leaves.

LITTLE GIRL I – go take your places your places life’s wrapping me up my passion’s like chalk on my coat it’s in tatters & full of black ink stains that flow down my throat from the blind hands that seek out the mouth of the wound.

LITTLE GIRL III (hidden in back of the well) that’s it yes that’s it yes that’s it.

LITTLE GIRL I - II - IV – dumb dumb – you’re so dumb – you’re two times as visible there – yeah yeah everyone sees you – you’re totally naked & covered with rainbows.  Go fix up your hair it’s on fire it’s starting to burn up the string of bows scraped on the tangled-up hairdo of bells licked clean by the mistral.

LITTLE GIRL III – that’s it – yes that’s it – that’s just it you can’t catch me alive & can’t see me – I’m dead.

LITTLE GIRL IV – don’t be such a jerk

LITTLE GIRL I – if you don’t come back we’ll climb up the lemon tree into its branches
we’ll live out our dramas in flowers & our dances in tears on a razor.

LITTLE GIRL II – we’re going to get you a ladder (they look for a long ladder & carry one in but have trouble standing it up)

LITTLE GIRL I – no she’s in back of the well – no she’s on the roof of the house.

LITTLE GIRL IV – she’s on the flowery branch upper left of the pear tree.

LITTLE GIRL II – I see her hand slice the little leaf’s wing tip making it bleed.

LITTLE GIRL IV – no it isn’t her there in front of the bronze stain the blast of the bugle onto the pane of the room upstairs boiling hot from their punches the blinded sun’s broken-up corners & feeling her way in the darkness.

LITTLE GIRL I – she’s crawling she looks like she’s searching between the wet leaves & the grasses a quick bite to eat then unwinding her arabesques colors & curves tiny gossamer threads.

LITTLE GIRL IV – do you want to come out here Paulette yes or no cause you bug us I ’ll go & tell mama you don’t want to play any more that you’re looking to make yourself special by changing yourself in a thousand weird ways into baskets of Japanese flowers.

LITTLE GIRL II – let them do what they like I’ll go & pick grapefruits I’ll eat them I’ll spit out the seeds I’ll wipe off my lips with the back of my hand & I’ll light the festoons of the lamps with my laughs with incomparable cheeses I beg you to take them I throw myself down at your feet & I sign myself very sincerely

LITTLE GIRL I – it’s so hard to be with you here on a nice summer’s day & it’s more & it’s more & more clear that you won’t let me play with what chronologically touches the lessons they shoved in our ears all winter in class

LITTLE GIRL II – we’ve got to leave her & not worry about her no more & she’ll …

 [TRANSLATOR'S NOTE.  While Pierre Joris & I were translating & putting together Picasso’s Burial of the Count of Orgaz & Other Poems (2004), I began a translation of Les Quatre Petites Filles, the second of the two full-length plays Picasso wrote in the 1940s.  While there may be less razzle-dazzle here than in the better known Desire Trapped by the Tail, there was a pop, almost juvenile quality in the language, or in how I perceived the language, that I wanted to emulate in the version I was starting to transcreate.  My sense of Picasso poète then & now was, contrary to Gertrude Stein’s dismissal of him, that what he offered was the real goods which his awesome reputation as an artist only tended to obscure.  My own efforts only went this far until other projects of that time intervened and I lost track of what I had earlier begun.  Some ten years later I came across the first several pages of the translation and with the ease of publication that the internet allows, I’m posting it here, both for the record & for whatever pleasure it still may bring. (J.R.)]