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jacques darras | bruno grégoire | olivier apert

geraldine postel

An Autobiography of Human Species
Jacques Darras

First I must go through my own death
And that won't be a small business.
Eighty-six kilos of my flesh
To see them vanish at a go,
Tilted on the edge of a hole
In a churchyard somewhere somehow,
Slipping down a knotty rope
That 'll burn the hands of a docker,

Careful for fear he might mangle
The oaky angle of my bier,
While my own kids in sable dress
Daughters wearing their mourning veils
In their swooning will be upheld
By their husbands, my son stiff-jawed
Stiffened on his own skeleton
Lest he should follow in my wake,

What a hard thing to undertake!
I have no idea in what earth
They will bury me, little know
In what country I had rather
Come quiet, at choice, whether Ailly
Round the corner of my plains,
Or Iona with all its kings
Duncan, Malcolm, Macduff, Macbeth,

But by what right? I'd love the sea
The salty wetty sea were in
At the uncapsizeable time
When the boat of my bones will sink
And I have folded up my mast,
And am pulling in at slow pace
Into harbour like a coaster
Back from fishing. On that first night

Lying among the other dead
Shivers will run along my spine,
Of feverous cold and all in spite
Of that beautifully named sheet
Suaire said to mop up the sweats
Of those whom awe of Death disquiets
More than the very Death itself
After they have hardened. I will

Then feel unbelievably cold
Cold of a cold gripping in ice
The spring of imagination
Hardly springing from its fountain
So that it will not breathe a scum
Not e'en a cloud nor a vapour
On the surface of its mirror
A dead echo of my vision,

As if my sight were resounding
And pleased itself sounding its sound.
I'll have to walk through my own death,
Though the difficulty will be
To enter while my corpse walks through
The door of my hanging senses,
The dull door of the oiled hinges
In oil of neverheard silence.

O how difficult that will be!
Ulysses had his shades, Dante
Virgil for a guide, I only
My puzzled ego to survey
A map become utterly blurred
Within its bounds of watered ink
Through lack of habit as if Death
No more inhabited its earth

z Its old recognizable land,
A democratic wanderer
Outside the ring of its own crown,
Being banal being banished
By universal consent, by
Communitarian sharing up,
An equal part per citizen.
A Democrat Death is indeed!

And yet I wonder if His reign
Has not increased or expanded
After He has been guillotinned
To resurrect like a Hydra
In a crowd of many necks. What
Does the crowd tell us in the street
Where it struts around royally
Be it pedestrian or car-driven?

My death moves me, my death dies me,
It matters more that it carries
Me in that universal street
Than I should care where it takes me,
Where it takes me doesn't matter
For in that street we are several,
Several beings of the same sort,
The more we be and the closer

We shall press up against the door
At the exit, squeezed together
Into the little room left us
The more we 'll have the clear feeling
We prevent Death from entering
By sheer numbers. It stands a bit
Like an army at war that crowd
Milling around, a secret war

Against a foe hid in the shade,
Number versus number. Death is
Cipher through which the naughts go blank.
Now let's figure up: forty-three
Billion people have come on earth
In forty-thousand years, from the
Stone age to Saint-Peter's. And then
The flow accelerates. Follow

Nine billion in a thousand
Years until A.D. One Thousand,
Three point three in eighteen-hundred,
Seven point nine this century.
Forecast are for the twenty first,
Twelve billion men. Demographers
Humourlessly predict to us
That things by then should be stable.

I in the rows of that mortals'
Army am not an accountant
But a fragile man from Sumer
Summarizing the lines he broke
And broke again being bad at sums
Just able to multiply eight
By eight times eight lines sixty-four
Octets in all journeying into

The night of soldierly death.
Who will explain why war with Death
Allied itself from origin?
Poetry counts as well although
It knows not how to count as far.
It's a novel She writes linked up
Through its branches, its family
Into collaterality.

The breaks she glues, she calls, she "colle",
Laterally, having at her
Disposal always a spare rib
Of a novel line she may add
And match with the previous linkeage,
Tinkering tottering tittering along.
Let me not forget my own death
As if I were Miss-Poetry

Commendable without end
By its middle! Half way through my
Age am I and nothing will mend
The before-end with the after-
Butt provided it follows.
I am now my own digression,
Driving my car down to Montreuil
With Laurence Serne the Irishman,

That Sentimental Journeyer.
An inn, let's stop. What circumstance?
The BBC (say bibici--
Our counter says six syllables
Are spent) has me record the Reith
Lectures one thousand nine hundred
Eighty nine. A feat! Please, cheer me
Up! First Frenchman ever to fence

Up in recorded duel with
Shakespeare! On twenty-eighth of March.
We--meaning friend Daniel Snowman
My producer and me--have just
Roamed through all Picardy
From River Maye down to the sea
Blue sky young wheat new leaves on trees
Montreuil-sur-Mer in March is dead.

Jacques Darras, "An Autobiography of Human Species", 1993
Here Darras has adapted an extract of Canto II of his Autobiography of Human Species that is part of Le Petit Affluent de la Maye, 1993 (Le Cri). The Autobiography consists of ten Cantos composed in octosyllabic meter.

Jacques Darras was born in 1939 in Picardie, France and is professor of Anglo-American Literature at the University of Amiens. He has translated Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, Malcolm Lowry, Basil Bunting, Geoffrey Hill among others. He has published La Maye, 1988 (Trois Cailloux); Le Petit Affluent de la Maye, 1993,William Shakespeare sur la Falaise de Douvres, 1995, andVan Eyck et les Rivières, a novel in verse, 1997 (Le Cri).

jacques darras | bruno grégoire | olivier apert