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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

Wake: Up to Poetry

"The act of poetry is a rebel act."

Poem of the Week: “Poète / Poet” by Vénus Khoury-Ghata

We’ve been posting translations to celebrate National Translation Month, and today we’ve chosen a French poem by Vénus Khoury-Ghata from her collection, Au sud du silence. Khoury-Ghata is a translator herself, most notably from French to Arabic  for the magazine Europe, but this poem was translated into English by Michael Bishop for an anthology of French poetry that WFU Press published in 1997.

The translator’s influence comes into play particularly with the word “jaunissent,” which Bishop translates into “yellowing.” The connotation of the French word could indicate a ripening, as a banana turning yellow, or it could indicate a decay, as the yellow that jaundice causes over time. The double meaning highlights the complexities of the poet’s work, the difficult and beautiful act of creation.


Tu auras pour cité les frontières du silence
pour automne les mots qui jaunissent dans ta bouche
pour épouse la soif qui sort de son linge délirante et nue

Tu nourriras d’oiseaux l’asphalte des villes
de l’argile de tes mains tes phrases

et pour mourir
tu t’allongeras jusqu’aux lointaines limites de ta peau


Your city will be the frontiers of silence
Your autumn words yellowing in your mouth
Your wife will be thirst shedding its linens delirious and naked

You will feed birds to the tarmac of cities
the clay of your hands to your wordings

and to die
you will stretch out to your skin’s farthest limits

–Vénus Khoury-Ghata, translated by Michael Bishop, from Women’s Poetry in France (1997)

"Poet" by Vénus Khoury-Ghata

More about National Translation Month
NTM was founded in 2013 with three primary objectives: promoting translation scholarship, increasing translation prevalence in literary education, and promoting foreign language authors across cultures. NTM reminds readers of the increased literature accessibility and insight that translations offer. Translation expands cultural awareness and the field of literature in an increasingly global society. Read more on the National Translation Month website.

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