Three poems by Ariane Dreyfus

Ariane DREYFUS has published several books of poetry, most recently La lampe allumée si souvent dans l'ombre (José Corti, 2013), Nous nous attendons (Le Castor Astral, 2012), and La terre voudrait recommencer (Flammarion, 2010). The three poems included here are from Les compagnies silencieuses (Flammarion, 2001).

Translators' introduction:

When this project started and I was reading the work of many contemporary French poets, I was disappointed at the dearth of female writers available. Several poetry collections suited my preferences: playful and lyric poetry, poetry of innuendo and insinuation. However, many lacked the forcefulness of spirit that I wanted. Ariane Dreyfus' collection Les compagnies silencieuses especially struck me as strong, feminine, and accessible--poetry I wanted to bring to non-francophone readers. It seemed important that this work be translated, and so we offered ourselves as vessels.

--Elias Simpson

Translation of poetry makes for clumsy work. This project, part of our ongoing translation of Dreyfus’ Les compagnies silencieuses, stumbles on multifarious syntax and double-tongued slippage. We do our best to dance with Dreyfus' poise and irony, bringing the poems onto the stage in English. The job is to make the poems as true to the images and sentiments as the languages allow. Flexible French prepositions bend two ways, and the subjects and objects of sentences nimbly trade places as lines develop. Fragments and pacing are more familiar in English, and thus can be more gracefully executed. We also hope the reader will appreciate the sensuality of the poems from this collection, as love-making is an important kind of dancing. Overall, the voice of Dreyfus’ poetry is absolutely beautiful. We hope our readers can enjoy it as well.

--Elias Simpson and Corinne Noirot


But really, I’ve cried too much!



“You're here? That’s good.”

Whoever steps aside, he puts it in my hand


We linger before the water. First the rough wood, then his leg did not move.


Childhood wanders

We don't know to repel its comebacks

At peace maybe

Nobody looks for us


The real boat makes a dull sound. We watch under our feet the man whose strength is softer upon departure

He steps over the coiled ropes

At the bottom of the boat.

Still sitting next to the damp ladder

We no longer feel what enters us.


The more water I draw the less I know to ask,

To draw inside

Each person so vertical,

Thought is enough to fall.


One moment left.

His leg turns warmer than the air.

The sun lowers.


It’s gone, the real one.

Far, far away, as small in our eyes as the toy in our fingers.

“You either you didn’t experience it?

—We don’t know if we're waiting, if we understand.

—We hurt whoever comes.”


Rather than vanishing,


          What a dark bath ahead of us!


 Mais, vrai, j’ai trop pleuré!



   « Tu es là ? C’est bien. »

   Celui qui s’écarte des autres, il le pose dans ma main


 On s’attarde devant l’eau. D’abord le bois râpeux, puis sa jambe n’a pas bougé.


   L’enfance erre

   Nous ne savons pas repousser ses retours

   Peut-être tranquilles

   Personne ne nous cherche


Le vrai bateau rend un bruit sourd. Nous regardons sous nos pieds l’homme dont la force est plus douce en partant.

Il enjambe les cordes enroulées

Au fond du bateau.

Toujours assis à côté de l’échelle mouillée

Nous ne sentons plus ce qui nous pénètre.


À force de puiser je ne sais plus demander, 

De puiser dedans

Chacun tellement vertical, 

La pensée suffit pour tomber.


Il reste un moment.

Sa jambe se fait plus chaude que l’air.

Le soleil baisse.


Il est parti, le vrai.

Très loin, aussi petit dans nos yeux que le jouet dans nos doigts.

« Toi non plus tu n’as pas connu ça ?

—On ne sait pas si on attend, si on comprend.

—On fait mal à ceux qui viennent. »


Plutôt que la disparition, 



Quel bain sombre devant nous !


Like a woman slides under a man

I read your writing


Or it’s me who writes in bed

The blank page makes that light where I forget to see myself

Always improving

There is a side where the ink isn’t dry

That leads up to you


When you read me you say it

Or never

I take all the fabric according to the warmth

The pieces of life according to

My clearly future death


I was not leaning over the abyss

Woman over a man


She who writes is not a young girl for long

Rather often


Words needed to slip between them

To see

None are true alone

Luckily the turmoil does not refuse the hand


So many poems that I’m hidden all over the woods?

You choose




The bark you say I’ve touched.


Comme une femme se glisse sous un homme

Je lis votre écriture


Ou alors c’est moi qui écris couchée

La page blanche fait cette lumière où j’oublie de me voir

Toujours commencée

Il y a un côté où l’encre n’est pas sèche

Qui mène jusqu’à vous


Quand vous me lisez vous le dites

Ou jamais

Je prends toutes les étoffes selon la chaleur

Les morceaux de vie selon

Ma bien future mort


Je n’étais pas penchée sur le vide

Une femme sur un homme


Qui écrit n’est pas longtemps une jeune fille

Plutôt souvent


Il faut des mots pour se glisser entre eux

Y voir

Aucun n’est vrai tout seul

Heureusement le tumulte ne refuse pas la main


Tant de poèmes que je suis cachée dans toute la forêt ?

C’est vous qui choisissez


L’écorce que vous dites que j’ai touchée. 



—for my sisters



Having fallen in a hole, I was waiting for my legs to grow.




Collecting all my stuffed animals so they'll be happy. The huge forest of three rooms is good for that.


Would the parents come through the door?

The one crying imagines herself pushing it.


But then you can't go out anymore and the others see you.


For a long time school wasn't but panty stories. Such a long day.


Well bred, well clad, well fed.

Portrait of me.


I like to have two hands. One holds the other.


In the circle dance, all keep equally. Temporary dance, with flashes of sunlight.


There's a cave where my mother is staying

Where love doesn't deserve to enter.


The stray cats came anyway to give birth in the cellar. The party couldn't last, but I'd stay as long as I could, legs tucked close, for our warmth.


I wanted to dance. There would be boys as well. So my dad told about rats, of their love affairs.


We thus skirted the question, scientifically.


Twisted words, hook and bait.


The parents loved us, verb quite challenging to understand.


The pity of them, it's but an organ that grows on you. That holds badly.


The doctor undresses me. That intrigues the parents, my dad.




I'm growing far and wide. The parents bring forth their pains. Dizzy to be the worst but truly.

--à mes sœurs 


Étant tombée dans un trou, j’attendais que mes jambes grandissent.




Ramassant toutes mes peluches pour qu’elles soient heureuses. La grande forêt des trois chambres servait à ça.


Les parents passeraient-ils par la porte ?

Celle qui pleure s’imagine la pousser. 


Mais après on ne peut plus sortir et les autres vous voient.


L’école n’a longtemps été que des histoires de culotte. Une journée si longue.


Bien soignée, bien logée, bien nourrie. 

C’est mon portrait.


J’aime avoir deux mains. L’une tient l’autre. 


Dans la ronde, tout le monde risquait la même chose. Ronde non définitive, d’un soleil par instants. 


Il y a une caverne où ma mère reste

Où l’amour « n’est pas digne » d’entrer.


Les chattes à demi sauvages venaient tout de même accoucher dans la cave. La fête ne pouvait pas durer mais je restais aussi longtemps que possible, jambes ramassées, pour notre chaleur. 


Je voulais danser. Il y aurait aussi des garçons. Alors mon père parla des rats, de leurs amours. 


On faisait ainsi, scientifiquement, le tour de la question. 


Les paroles tordues, les hameçons-nourriture.


Les parents nous aimaient, verbe très difficile à comprendre.


La pitié d’eux, ce n’est qu’un organe qui vous pousse. Qui appuie mal.


Le médecin me déshabille. Ça intéresse les parents, mon père. 



Je grandis en haut et en large. Les parents approchent leurs plaies. Vertige d’être la pire mais réellement. 

Corinne Noirot was born and educated in France, where she became fascinated with English language and poetry at a young age. She holds a lifelong love of foreign tongues, voice, thought, rhythm, and the written word. She is professor of French at Virginia Tech. Her scholarship covers Renaissance literature and French poetry across the centuries.

Elias Simpson tried to grow up in Iowa, where he now lives after his MFA stint at Virginia Tech. He has published poems in Cold Mountain Review, Interim, Painted Bride Quarterly, H_NGM_N, and others. He is chief of the online art journal Toad. More of his and Corinne Noirot's translations of Ariane Dreyfus can be found in The Brooklyn Rail and Asymptote.


8.1 Spring 2015

  1. Editorial

  2. The postcard

  3. Fiction

    • Marguerite FEITLOWITZ / In the House of Stories
      Blindfolded and bound in the boot of an unmarked police car, the boy was delivered to the House of Stories...
    • Marie-Louise Bibish MUMBU / Me and My Hair
      The Bana mboka, the kids from here, versus the Diaspora, those who banished themselves. Fresh-Bagged versus The Bottled Stuff. Rainy Season versus Winter. Stayed versus Left. On Foot versus Driving. Boubou against Low-Waisted Pants...
  4. Poetry

  5. Non-Fiction

  6. Book review