French Book Week: From CARNAC by Eugène Guillevic, translated by John Montague


From the sea to the menhirs,
From the menhirs to the sea,

The same road, two contrary winds
With the one from the sea
Full of the other’s murder.

For thousands of years
The menhirs have faced you down
And that wind you hurl at them.


De la mer aux menhirs,
Des menhirs à la mer,

La même route avec deux vents contraires
Et celui de la mer
Plein du meurtre de l’autre.

Il y a des milliers d’années
Que les menhirs te tiennent tête
Et à ce vent que tu leur jettes.


Aligned, the menhirs,
As if being in line
Should bestow rights.


Alignés, les menhirs,
Comme si d’être en ligne
Devait donner des droits.


Like the stars on so many nights
So often are the menhirs

And the moon makes them
Enquire about other worlds,

Whereas you at least
One wouldn’t say.


En imploration
Comme les étoiles par tant de nuits
Sont souvent les menhirs

Et la lune les fait
S’enquérir d’autres mondes,

Alors qu’au moins toi
On ne dirait pas.

By Eugène Guillevic

Translated by John Montague

From Carnac by Eugène Guillevic, translated by John Montague, dual language French-English edition with an introduction by Stephen Romer (Bloodaxe Books, 1999). 152 pages, £12, 9781852243937.

Thank you to Bloodaxe Books for allowing us to publish these extracts.

One of France’s most important contemporary poets, Eugène Guillevic (1907-1997) was born in Carnac in Brittany, and although he never learned the Breton language, his personality is deeply marked by his feeling of oneness with his homeland. 

John Montague (1929-2016) was one of Ireland’s leading poets, and was the first holder of the Ireland Chair of Poetry. He published three books of poetry with Bloodaxe during the 1980s. His major poetry publications include The Rough Field, The Great Cloak, The Dead Kingdom, Mount Eagle, Time in Armagh and Smashing the Piano. His Collected Poems appeared from the Gallery Press in 1995, the year he received the American Ireland Fund Literary Award. His recent Gallery titles include Drunken Sailor (2004) and Speech Lessons (2011). His New Collected Poems was published in 2012, and followed by his posthumously published final collection Second Childhood in 2017. He translated Francis Ponge’s Selected Poems with Margaret Guiton and C.K. Williams (Wake Forest University Press, USA & Faber, UK).

Category: TranslationsFrench Book Week


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