FROM THE TRANSLATOR’S INTRODUCTION
To look at Leconte de Lisle now is to discover a sensibility strikingly similar to that of Elizabeth Bishop (with Africa instead of Brazil as his mise en scène). In some ways, he reminds me, too, of Wallace Stevens, stuck up in the fog of Hartford and longing for the glare of the tropics (“Home from Guatemala, back at the Waldorf ”). He was an accomplished classicist who translated Homer’s Iliad and Aschylus’ “Eumenides.” But it is as a poet that he fascinates me, and particularly as one whose technical abilities are impressive and whose subjects were often deliberately exotic and primitif. They are, in their way, pastorals of an odd kind. Most of the pieces I have translated and offer here are from his Poèmes Barbares although I have included a piece or two from other volumes. For that reason, and for the sake of clarity, I decided on Jungle Poems, which isn’t far off.
— DAVID R. SLAVITT
“THE JAGUAR’S DREAM”
Under the black mahogany, vines in bloom
hang in the heavy, silent, fly-filled air
enlivened by cries of the bright-colored parrots there
and the howlings of monkeys from somewhere deep in the gloom,
as the tired killer of oxen returns to his lair
over the mossy fallen tree trunks where he
pauses to stretch his rippling muscles and yawn.
His fearsome mouth gapes wide in lethargy.
He is thirsty too. Large lizards, green and tan,
flee from the rocks on which they sunbathed as though
he might take notice of them. He passes by,
indifferent. The blink of his golden eyes is slow
and languid. Is he purring? Is it a sigh?
He stretches himself out upon a flat
rock and, with his powerful tongue, he licks
a paw, grooming himself. (He is a cat.)
His muscles quiver. His elegant long tail flicks.
Does he dream, perhaps, of some lush green plantation
in which he leaps and plunges again and again
his claws into flesh? In his savage imagination
what can he do but attack the beasts in their pen?
PRAISE FOR DAVID R. SLAVITT
“Slavitt’s touch is light, and he writes beautifully…. His satire is sharp, and he can be wildly funny.”
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“One of America’s most lucid and classical poets…. Slavitt’s attitude is, as one would expect of a Hebrew as well as Greco-Latin classicist, sharply questioning as well as tragic. He is a poet one reads to know more.”
“Slavitt is both smart and wise; he’s as well known for his translations of the writers of antiquity as he is for his original work, both poetry and prose.”
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