“In Which Gwendolyn MacEwen Translates Émile Nelligan: II” by Grant Wilkins, from Arc’s 2020 Shortlist

In Which Gwendolyn MacEwen Translates Émile Nelligan II

La romance du vin means the song of wine or sometimes, the winemaker who
when the hour is right measures out the stubborn grapes in his bronze and beaten tubs
the dark of their veins and the light of their vines an act of love and an act of faith
and dark doubting sung in the original Greek.

Un poète means a poet or sometimes, a magician that Fool in the deck of his own destiny
whom the rose-dreams call upon with wild laughter and bitter rage to pour words like wine into the chiming glass through the pain of days over tavern draught.

Le jardin d’antan means the garden of long ago or sometimes, the thin garden
where the Nile floods and Persian cats dream of birds flaming among the mangoes
in the morning of a world of scented lilies and greening palms and papyrus rolls under
blood red suns.

Prière du soir means evening prayer or sometimes just, the prayer for that hollow
doorway to eternity through which will pass my unhappy dreams of gold-coiffed gods in
masks of stone and a long funereal march made to the clash of silver rosaries.

Musique funèbres means dismal music or sometimes, thunder-song when the storm
subsides to a mournful calm and the temple musicians play sad notes on two-string lutes
and tinny pipes their finger-rhythms soft and slow lingering ghosts left dying in the snow.

Rêve d’artiste means the poet’s dream or sometimes, the invocation at the broken edges
of those things I cannot see a frisson of orange groves and rain clouds where life goes on
creating life with the sadness of a copper sunset in a new world I almost remember.

Lise Rochefort on “In Which Gwendolyn MacEwen Translates Émile Nelligan: II”

This poem engages the reader with its original premise: One wonders if MacEwen (polyglot and arguably, the best female Canadian poet of her era) had indeed translated Nelligan, the best French-Canadian poet of his time. Yet it’s dream, not truth, that wins out. The translator’s rhythms and assonances fracture into numerous ceasurae of imagistic associations from her own life. Intriguing… Chapeau!

Grant Wilkins is a letterpress printer, papermaker, small press publisher and occasional poet from Ottawa. He has degrees in History & Classical Civilization and in English, and he likes ink, metal, paper, letters, sounds and words, and combinations thereof.

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