Francis Ponge translated by John Ashbery


The Insignificant

     — “What is more pleasant than the blue sky, unless it’s a cloud, submissive in the sunlight?
     “That is why I prefer a commonplace idea to silence, and, even more than a white page, some writing considered insignificant.
     “This is my only exercise, and my hygienic sigh.”


The Candle

     Sometimes night revives a singular plant whose gleam breaks up rooms and their furniture into solid masses of shadow.
     Its leaf of gold clings impassively to the hollow of a little alabaster column by means of a very black stem.
     Seedy moths attack it in preference to the too-high moon, which is vaporizing the woods. But, instantly singed or worn out by the struggle, they lie trembling, on the verge of a madness that is close to stupor.
     Meanwhile the candle encourages the reader with the flickering light it throws on his book at each sudden release of an unusual smoke — and then bends over its plate to drown itself in its food.

“The Insignificant” and “The Candle”: Fulbright Project, 1956; previously unpublished. Translated by John Ashbery. These two poems by Francis Ponge will be included in Ashbery’s forthcoming Collected French Translations: Poetry, edited by Rosanne Wasserman and Eugene Richie (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Manchester, UK: Carcanet, 2014).