ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"The Branch", translated by Hoyt Rogers from Ce qui fut sans lumière (1987), by Yves Bonnefoy,

You're a branch I pick up at the edge
Of the woods, but discard at the end
Of the world, hidden in a mound of stones
Where that other path invisibly begins.

(Every earthly instant is a crossroads. 
When summer fades, our shadow glides
To its other country—under the same 
Trees as before.  It's rare for us to miss
The branch we used last year, distractedly, 
To part the grass all summer long.)

I think of you, now that it's snowing.  
I see you there, a senseless club
Of wood-knots, your bark peeling 
Where your somber forces swell.

And I go back, a shadow moving on white ground, 
Toward your sleep which haunts my memory.
I seize you; I scatter your dream,
Your drops of water soaked with light.
I stride to where the earth
Falls away between the trees.
I throw you as far as I can;
I listen to you bounce from rock to rock.

(No, I still want you
A little while longer.  I walk on.  I take
The third path, the one that trails off
Into the grass.  I wonder why I never explored
These thickets before.  True, they're dark; 
True, I hear no birdsong from the leaves.
I press on; soon I reach a house where I lived
Before.  I'd forgotten how to come home,
Just as life passes by and words are said,
Without our noticing, for the last time
In all eternity.  A fire is burning
In one of the empty rooms.
I listen to it hunt for the bough of light
In the mirror of its embers—as deluded
As a god who believes he can create
The spirit and the life from tangled knots,
From the endless labyrinth of night.

I place you gently on the bed of flames.
Watching you flare up in your sleep.
I bend over you a long time yet; I hold
Your hand that is childhood, ending.)

Hoyt Rogers is a poet, writer, and translator. He translates from the French, German, Italian, and Spanish; he is known for his English versions of Bonnefoy, du Bouchet, and Borges. He has published many books; he has contributed poetry, fiction, essays, and translations to a wide variety of periodicals. His edition of Yves Bonnefoy’s Rome, 1630 received the 2021 Translation Prize from the French-American Foundation. His forthcoming works include a poetry collection, Thresholds (MadHat Press), the novel Sailing to Noon (Spuyten Duyvil, book one of The Caribbean Trilogy), and a translation of Bonnefoy’s The Wandering Life (Seagull Books). For more information, please visit his website


La Branche

Branche que je ramasse à l'orée des bois
Mais pour t'abandonner à la fin du monde,
Cachée parmi des pierres, dans l'abri
Où commence invisible l'autre chemin

(Car tout instant terrestre est un carrefour
Où, quand l'été s'achève, va notre ombre
Vers son autre pays dans les mêmes arbres,
Et rarement est-on venu reprendre
Une autre année la branche dont on courbe
Tout un été, distraitement, les herbes),

Branche, je pense à toi maintenant qu'il neige,
Je te vois resserrée sur le non-sens
Des quelques nœuds du bois, là où l'écorce
S'écaille, au gonflement de tes forces sombres,

Et je reviens, une ombre sur le sol blanc,
Vers ton sommeil qui hante ma mémoire,
Je te prends à ton rêve qui s'éparpille,
N'étant que d'eau pénétrée de lumière.
Puis je vais là où je sais que la terre
Se dérobe d'un coup, parmi les arbres,
Et je te jette aussi loin que je peux,
Je t'écoute qui rebondit de pierre en pierre.

(Non, je te veux
Tout un moment encore. Je vais, je prends
Le troisième chemin, que je voyais
Se perdre dans les herbes, sans que je sache
Pourquoi je n'entrais pas dans ses fourrés
Certes sombres, certes sans voix d'oiseaux dans les feuillages.
Je vais, je suis bientôt dans une maison
Où j'ai vécu jadis mais dont la voie
S'était perdue comme, quand la vie passe,
Des mots sont dits, sans qu'on s'en aperçoive,
Pour la dernière fois dans l'éternel.
Un feu brûle, dans une de ses salles toujours désertes,
Je l'écoute qui cherche dans le miroir
Des braises le rameau de la lumière,
Ainsi le dieu qui croit qu'il va créer
L'esprit, la vie, dans la nuit dont les nœuds
Sont serrés, infinis, labyrinthiques.

Puis je te pose, doucement, sur le lit des flammes,
Je te vois qui t'embrase dans ton sommeil,
Je suis penché, je tiens longtemps encore
Ta main, qui est l'enfance qui s'achève.)

The renowned French poet Yves Bonnefoy (1923-2016) was an ardent voyager throughout his life. His journeys and sojourns in foreign countries left an obvious imprint on his oeuvre.  His intense experience of New England landscapes during his stay in Williamstown sparked a turning point in his work towards a greater simplicity—the "second simplicity" Hoyt Roger speaks of in his Yale anthology. As Bonnefoy said in another poem, he "owed a lot to Hopkins Forest"—the woods near Williamstown where he often went walking. Thanks to this and other locales, the snow became a recurrent image in his work.

For a brief introduction to the life and work of Yves Bonnefoy, see his page at the Poetry Foundation,

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