Drugs bore us with their paradises.
Let them give us a little knowledge instead.
This is not a century for paradise.

Henri Michaux

from A CERTAIN PLUME (Un certain Plume, 1930, with additions in 1936)


Stretching his hands out from the bed, Plume was surprised not to encounter the wall. "Hmm," he thought, "the ants must have eaten it…" and he went back to sleep.

A bit later his wife caught him by the arm and shook him: "Look," she said, "you good-for-nothing! While you were busy sleeping, they stole our house from us." And in fact, sky stretched out uninterrupted on every side. "Oh well, it's over and done with," he thought.

A bit later they heard a noise. It was a train hurtling right at them. "Judging by the rush it seems to be in, it will surely get there before us," and he went back to sleep.

Next the cold woke him up. He was all soaked in blood. A few pieces of his wife were lying next to him. "When there's blood," he thought, "there is always so much unpleasantness; if only that train hadn't gone by, I would have been delighted. But since it has gone by already…" and he went back to sleep.

"Come now," the judge was saying, "how can you explain the fact that your wife was so badly wounded she was found chopped into eight pieces, whereas you, who were lying next to her, could not make a move to stop it, and did not even realize it? That is the mystery. That is the whole question."

"I cannot help him in this line of inquiry," thought Plume, and he went back to sleep.

"The execution will take place tomorrow. Does the prisoner have a statement to make?"

"I'm sorry," he said, "I haven't been following the affair." And he went back to sleep.

DAVID BALL's Darkness Moves: An Henri Michaux Anthology 1927-1984 was awarded the MLA's Scaglione prize for outstanding literary translation in 1996. His translations of modern French poetry have appeared in many journals (Poetry, Beacons, etc.) and anthologies; he has translated books by Pierre Louÿs and Pierre Loti. His own poetry has been published in places ranging from Locus Solus, The Atlantic Monthly, A Burning Deck Anthology, to The World, Bombay Gin, and in six small chapbooks: the latest is In Cities (Potato Clock, Boulder, Colorado, 2001). His articles on literary history and politics have appeared in Les Temps Modernes, Raison Présente, Scribner’s Encyclopedia of Poets, Revue de Littérature Comparée, Modern Philology, The Massachusetts Review and many other journals and books; on translation theory and practice in Germanic Review, Metamorphoses and Translation Review.

He is Professor Emeritus of French and Comparative Literature at Smith College.

Return to Home Page