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SHJ Issue 7
Spring 2013

The Jaguar’s Dream

Charles-René Marie Leconte de Lisle

Translated from French by David R. Slavitt

Under the black mahogany, vines in bloom
hang in the heavy, silent, fly-filled air
enlivened by cries of the bright-colored parrots there
and the howlings of monkeys from somewhere deep in the gloom,
as the tired killer of oxen returns to his lair
over the mossy fallen tree trunks where he 
pauses to stretch his rippling muscles and yawn.
His fearsome mouth gapes wide in lethargy.
He is thirsty too. Large lizards, green and tan,
flee from the rocks on which they sunbathed as though
he might take notice of them. He passes by,
indifferent. The blink of his golden eyes is slow
and languid. Is he purring? Is it a sigh?
He stretches himself out upon a flat
rock and, with his powerful tongue, he licks 
a paw, grooming himself. (He is a cat.)
His muscles quiver. His elegant long tail flicks.
Does he dream, perhaps, of some lush green plantation
in which he leaps and plunges again and again
his claws into flesh? In his savage imagination
what can he do but attack the beasts in their pen?


Le Rêve du Jaguar

Sous les noirs acajous, les lianes en fleur,
Dans l’air lourd, immobile et saturé de mouches,
Pendent, et, s’enroulant en bas parmi les souches,
Bercent le perroquet splendide et querelleur,
L’araignée au dos jaune et les singes farouches.
C’est là que le tueur de boeufs et de chevaux,
Le long des vieux troncs morts à l’écorce moussue,
Sinistre et fatigué, revient à pas égaux.
Il va, frottant ses reins musculeux qu’il bossue;
Et, du mufle béant par la soif alourdi,
Un souffle rauque et bref, d’une brusque secousse,
Trouble les grands lézards, chauds des feux de midi,
Dont la fuite étincelle à travers l’herbe rousse.
En un creux du bois sombre interdit au soleil
Il s’affaisse, allongé sur quelque roche plate;
D’un large coup de langue il se lustre la patte;
Il cligne ses yeux d’or hébétés de sommeil;
Et, dans l’illusion de ses forces inertes,
Faisant mouvoir sa queue et frissonner ses flancs,
Il rêve qu’au milieu des plantations vertes,
Il enfonce d’un bond ses ongles ruisselants
Dans la chair des taureaux effarés et beuglants. 


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