Paradise with the Donkeys

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.

Wyeth’s Milk Cans

Very much enjoying Richard Wilbur’s Collected Poems. Here’s one reason why.

Wyeth’s Milk Cans
by Richard Wilbur

Beyond them, hill and field
Harden, and summer’s easy
Wheel-ruts lie congealed.

What if these two bells tolled?
They’d make the bark-splintering
Music of pure cold.