Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Jules Supervielle (1884–1960) was born in Montevideo, studied in France, then lived alternately in a Paris suburb and in Montevideo. He published ten collections of poetry. T.S. Eliot said of him and Saint-John Perse, "There are no two poets of their generations of whose permanence I feel more assured."

Secret Sea

When no one's watching it,

The sea stops being the sea

And turns into what we are

When no one can see us.

It spawns other kinds of fish

And makes other kinds of waves.

It's the sea for the sea

And for those dreaming of it,

Just as I am doing here.

"A gray ox in China. . ."

A gray ox in China,

Asleep in his stable,

Stirs and stretches his spine.

An ox in Uruguay,

At the very same time,

Turns around to see

If anyone has moved.

Flying past above both,

One at day, one at night,

A bird soundlessly makes

A tour of the planet

And never touches it

And never comes to rest.


The sun is rising on Venus;

Over the planet a slight stir.

Is it a barge with no oarsman

Sailing across a sleeping lake,

Is it a memory of Earth

Arriving up here awkwardly,

A flower winding on its stem

In these reeds where there are no birds

Turning its face up to the light

Nettling the inhuman atmosphere?

Rain and the Tyrants

I watch the falling rain

And the puddles that make

Our dingy planet shine.

A clean rain is falling

As it fell in Homer's time

And in the time of Villon.

It falls on mother and child

And on the backs of sheep

Rain is falling again

But it cannot soften

Either the iron hearts

Or hard heads of tyrants

Or shower them with the grace

Of perfect astonishment.

Gentle rain is falling

Everywhere in Europe

Putting all the living

In the same envelope

Despite the infantry

Loading their rifles

And despite the newspapers

Beckoning to us.

A gentle rain

Drenching the flags.


translated from the French by Geoffrey Gardner 

The Horses of Time
Tamarack Editions, 1985