Richard Wilbur, a great poet in his own right, also has a reputation as an exceptional translator of non-English poetry. What follows is one I enjoy, originally written by French poet Francis Jammes (1868-1938). I cannot read French, so I don’t know if Wilbur improved on the original or not. Either way, this version is very fine.
(The photograph is of Jammes, n.d.)
A Prayer to Go to Paradise with the Donkeys
to Máire and Jack
When I must come to you, O my God, I pray
It be some dusty-roaded holiday,
And even as in my travels here below,
I beg to choose by what road I shall go
To Paradise, where the clear stars shine by day.
I’ll take my walking-stick and go my way,
And to my friends the donkeys I shall say,
“I am Francis Jammes, and I’m going to Paradise,
For there is no hell in the land of the loving God.”
And I’ll say to them: “Come, sweet friends of the blue skies,
Poor creatures who with a flap of the ears or a nod
Of the head shake off the buffets, the bees, the flies . . .”
Let me come with these donkeys, Lord, into your land,
These beasts who bow their heads so gently, and stand
With their small feet joined together in a fashion
Utterly gentle, asking your compassion.
I shall arrive, followed by their thousands of ears,
Followed by those with baskets at their flanks,
By those who lug the carts of mountebanks
Or loads of feather-dusters and kitchen-wares,
By those with humps of battered water-cans,
By bottle-shaped she-asses who halt and stumble,
By those tricked out in little pantaloons
To cover their wet, blue galls where flies assemble
In whirling swarms, making a drunken hum.
Dear God, let it be with these donkeys that I come,
And let it be that angels lead us in peace
To leafy streams where cherries tremble in air,
Sleek as the laughing flesh of girls; and there
In that haven of souls let it be that, leaning above
Your divine waters, I shall resemble these donkeys,
Whose humble and sweet poverty will appear
Clear in the clearness of your eternal love.