Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 7
Spring 2013

The Hummingbird

Charles-René Marie Leconte de Lisle

Translated from French by David R. Slavitt

The green hummingbird, king of the hills, sees
the glisten of morning dew and the sun’s bright light
on the nest he has woven high up in the trees
and he rises up like a spark to vanish from sight.

He darts at once toward the nearby spring, a mise-
en-scène of bamboo in which even a slight
breeze rustles the grove with a sound like the sea’s,
and the red hibiscus blossoms guide his flight.

From these he sips the sweet liqueurs of his
passion to surfeit and more, for his life is
far too short to satisfy his craving—

as on your rosebud lips where often I
have drunk thirsty for more of what I was  having,
my greedy soul both feared and longed to die.


Le Colibri

Le vert colibri, le roi des collines,
Voyant la rosée et le soleil clair
Luire dans son nid tissé d’herbes fines,
Comme un frais rayon s’échappe dans l’air.

Il se hâte et vole aux sources voisines
Où les bambous font le bruit de la mer,
Où l’açoka rouge, aux odeurs divines,
S’ouvre et porte au coeur un humide éclair.

Vers la fleur dorée il descend, se pose,
Et boit tant d’amour dans la coupe rose,
Qu’il meurt, ne sachant s’il l’a pu tarir.

Sur ta lèvre pure, ô ma bien-aimée,
Telle aussi mon âme eût voulu mourir
Du premier baiser qui l’a parfumée!


SHJ Issue 7
Spring 2013

Charles-René Marie Leconte de Lisle

was born on October 22, 1818 on the island of Réunion off the southeast coast of Africa. From that simple sentence, much of his oeuvre can be logically inferred. A fellow like that goes to Paris and finds himself among the feathers and frou-frou of the July Monarchy, which was a bizarrely optimistic moment in French culture, materialist, luxurious, confident, and altogether hypocritical, for the gap between rich and poor was wider than it had been at any time since the Ancien Régime. Leconte de Lisle had grown up on his father’s sugar plantation which was operated by slaves. And he had a kind of disgust for what he saw around him, the artificiality and smugness whetting his appetite for the cliffs, beaches, and wildernesses of Réunion.


SHJ Issue 7
Spring 2013

David R. Slavitt

is the author of over 100 books—non-fiction, novels, poetry, short fiction, and translations. His work has appeared in many journals and anthologies including Best American Poetry, Boulevard, Poetry, Texas Review, and The Yale Review.

His most recent books include Change of Address: Poems New and Selected (LSU Press), Re Verse: Essays on Poetry and Poets (Northwestern University Press), and a new translation of Sophocles’ Theban Plays (Yale University Press), Four Greenlandic Poets (New American Press), and Overture (Outpost19).

Forthcoming volumes: The Other Four Plays of Sophocles and Civil Wars and Other Poems.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury