Featured Poem

Elegy for a Friend


When life was strong and when we’d walk
as if in a dream, slipping from the métro to Dante’s
hell without changing faces or
pace; when love

carried us like a torch from strands
to waves of hair, crackling flames of promises
cindered swiftly by the wind; when nights
stayed white and

turned our faces to the wall, moving
the moon’s reflection quarter to quarter beneath
our lids, it was already dancing there
and strong and white, that shadow

that burns all shadows while it waits for us.


Always, still, tomorrow, these paltry
words, thrown off in passing, overflow us.
They pile up in the margins of our lives
smooth, unfevered

sand, to which no one pays attention
until the heart suddenly beats
its wings and begins to count its steps,
because everything has been said,

everything, and all that’s left is to shut the door.
But suddenly it resists and creaks like
memory before a mountain of forgetting:
this pile of sand, this

silence that takes up all the space and screams.


Perhaps that sudden rain was needed
on the dying roses and summer roofs
to make the sky grey once again
with a dreamer’s eyes

and lead slowly up from the depths the figure
of the absent one to his third-storey window,
rue Poliveau, when the generous plane-trees
still had the wherewithal to return

the poet’s greeting, and his breath, and
colours to his room, lightening the grip
of living and his double question
in the raw mirror: who

am I, who? and my life, where have you gone?


If we had known this, that the wind consoles
more than it batters – and the sorrowful
heart goes to sleep in its hand
like a child

whose tears keep flowing,
or that the forest splits suddenly in two
to let the sky’s breath pass through
and drink its fill

of the naked light that woodcutters
grope for like a nest of silence
beyond the chainsaws – if we had known
that, would we have stayed

sitting so long in our afflicted bedrooms?


It’s the same story always and we blame ourselves
afterwards for having in the heat of words
and wine allowed dark clouds to rise
on the friend’s brow

reading nothing beyond his eyes, nothing
of the desert of life and the man’s thirst
as he wrestled his shadows, when he kept
turning his uneasy

head towards the lights in the street
as if he already saw spring
making its way up the branches and already feared
that he lacked the strength

to climb up with it like a cat in summer.


One day we must depart, no longer knowing
anything of what was at the source
of the fire, nor how nor why
things all at once

began to go wrong
and the fire went out, the rosebush changed
to thorns, love to scorched earth
and what remains with

our footsteps echoing where the heart once was
is paltry: some words on paper that
no longer say anything except that they were
written, read and reread

by a blind man dancing in the fire.

» Comment on this translation 0 comment(s)

About the translation:
» Read translator's notes
Guy Goffette
Marilyn Hacker
Original language:
2015 Number 1 - SOLD OUT - Scorched Glass

About the author

Original poet

Guy Goffette

Guy Goffette is one of the most unabashedly lyrical contemporary French poets, a man from northern France (born in the Ardenne...

» Read more
Marilyn Hacker


Marilyn Hacker

Marilyn Hacker is the author of twelve books of poems, including Names (Norton, 2009), Essays on Departure (Carcanet Press, UK...

» Read more


No Comments


Browse poems

By original language »

By issue of MPT »

Go Digital

Subscribe to the digital edition of MPT for access to all back issues and to the Exactly app.» View free trial issue

Back to top
Supported by Arts Council England

Copyright © Modern Poetry in Translation and contributors
Website design ashbydesign
Developed by Code Frontiers
Powered by Storemill