Two Occitan poets, Bernat Manciet & Marcela Delpastre, from an Assemblage in Progress
Translated with commentaries by Pierre Joris & Nicole Peyrafitte
[What follows is part of a new gathering of written & oral Occitan literatures, conceived as a sixth volume of Poems for the Millennium under the title A Millennium of Occitan Writing. The time span goes from the earliest surviving examples of Occitan poetry — that of the 11th century trobadors, the inventors of European lyric poetry — to the work of the current generation of Occitan writers, concerned with rehabilitating their language in both daily & literary modes in an epoch which one could describe as somewhat “post-colonial.” The book will be finished by 2015 & should be published late that year or in early 2016 from Contra Mundum Press. (P.J.)]
from LITURGY: The Mystery of Glory
Uzeste, August 1998
horse steps through stone
silences in the stone
clams & knives
& ferns & frost flowers
fires in the holy stone
deep glory within the rock
fire frozen in the lithostrata
fire safe fire that speaks
boulder heart Our Lady
you kept it all to yourself
they burn in your heart
you sleep & cannot sleep
temblored by springs
impatience of live dew
of constrained power
cloistered fire enisles you
to sing exacts you
to nighten disperses you
to humble yourself exalts you
& you reach like a branch
oaks of flaming cushats
you are but a moan
you are but a cushat
stripped maiden edifice
a naked word
dying from dawn to dawn
at sunrise at plum moon
moan & stone
umbrage of moan to those who groan
shade them with fire & stone
for you yourself fire & fresh shade
refreshing thickets of fire
the flame clothes you in softness
soft bare stone
like fresh ewe’s cheese
harp pities you abandoned
like a betrothed
naked like fulgurant
moon chunk at river’s rim
moonlight you call
& the moon howls you to the heights
your springs spurt & spread
toward the springs night’s springs
your gardens rise like lettuces
chunk of fire grows stems & columns
your gladiolas throw shadows on heaven’s peaks
whose gardens you unveil
bodies of stone they carry away
your cravings: Azael & Rafael & Renel
& Rehel with Gabriel & Michael the seven torches
& the seven tulips all Uriel
“& may the stone rise!” they flame together
& the stone blazed
clothed in song
& fire & light & song are but one & the same stone
that holds all stones at once
all night the willow on the eyes integral
NOTE: Bernat Manciet (1923-2005) one of the, if not the, major Occitan poet of the second part of the 20C. Assumpta Est is a section from a strange, near-blasphemous “liturgy” speaking to the landscape that anchored both man & work, las Lanas de Gasconha, the Landes of Gascony. Translating Manciet poses the complex problem of translating from a minoritized language, a problem intensified by the poet’s decision to write in a specific regional variation of Occitan, namely the Gascon spoken in the Landes region, & in a version — he is proud to claim — “only forty people understand,” while specifying elsewhere: “My language is black Gascon, which is a dialect of great harshness and with a kind of internal contempt for the other languages.” The work thus presents an opaque, near impenetrable surface, whose rhythms & abrupt music do however help the reader through its semantic clottedness. Not that this is new to modern (or even older) poetry, to the contrary. Thus his quasi-contemporary, the German language poet Paul Celan spoke of “the darkness of the poem today, of a darkness of the poem qua poem, a constitutive, thus a congenital darkness. In other words: the poem is born dark; it comes, as the result of a radical individuation, into the world as a language fragment, thus, as far as language manages to be world, freighted with world.” Manciet’s poems come indeed freighted with the darkness of a threatened culture, landscape & language.
I don’t know if they bleed, the stones. Or if they scream, if they howl under the wheel & the mace, or if the knife’s blade wounds them, deep in their flesh, slicing through them.
I know that the loam that sometimes runs from them, no matter how red, is not blood.
And I’ll say nothing of their tenderness, from stone to stone, from water to air.
But what I know is that our blood comes from the stone. And our flesh comes from nowhere else, come from stone we are stone, we are dust and wind’s smoke.
That our blood is blood of the stone, and our heat is of the sun, and our wail the howl of the stone, through which our soul passes full-bodied, that we are the soul of the stone — but tell me, the stone, who is the stone — where does she come from?
The Scream of the Stones
When the stones start to howl, to howl like a sick dog,
like a child lost in the night,
like the dogs at the moon,
like a woman in her pains,
have you heard them, the stones?
When the stones howl under the hammer and under the mace, when the stones wail under the steel’s edge,
have you heard them lament?
— Have you heard them sing?
When you hear it blow, the wind that goes & whips the stone,
& that passes its hands through its hair, its fingers over the stone’s soft cheek,
listen to it sing...
Listen to it sleep, the stone. For so much time inside the blackness of time and of the stone.
Listen to it breathe.
So bravely, such a long and deep breath that never ends, you’ll listen to its respiration...
One on top of the other, one behind the other, one against the other, sand above, sand below, the earth is deep and the stones sleep inside of it.
Don’t you hear them sleep?
NOTE: Marcela Delpastre (1925-1998) is an immense poet from the Limousin region who proudly gave her profession as “peasant.” Though she studied philosophy & literature in high school & then decorative arts in Limoges, she gave it all up in 1945 to return home & run the family farm. Writing both in Occitan & in French, she is the author of a massive oeuvre still in the process of being published (by Jan dau Melhau at Editions du Chamin de Sant Jaume). As one commentator put it: “She is as much of a literary genius as Manciet or Rouquette and yet in France she is accorded much less recognition, being considered a less-valued ‘peasant-poet.’ A witness of the profound upheavals of the post-WW2 era, she cultivates an ongoing absolute relationship to the — her — land & to her language(s), through conscious & reactive writing & persistent anger, both nourished by ethnography & a deep knowledge of ecosystems & of the human soul.”