Renée Vivien, born Pauline Mary Tarn (1877-1909), was a British poet and high-profile lesbian of the Belle Époque who wrote French poems in the style of the Symbolistes and Parnassiens.

My translations of Renée Vivien

“Undine” by Renée Vivien
loose translation/interpretation by Kim Cherub aka Michael R. Burch

Your laughter startles, your caresses rake.
Your cold kisses love the evil they do.
Your eyes—blue lotuses drifting on a lake.
Lilies are less pallid than your face.

You move like water parting.
Your hair falls in rootlike tangles.
Your words like treacherous rapids rise.
Your arms, flexible as reeds, strangle,

Choking me like tubular river reeds.
I shiver in their enlacing embrace.
Drowning without an illuminating moon,
I vanish without a trace,
lost in a nightly swoon.

Original French text:

Ton rire est clair, ta caresse est profonde,
Tes froids baisers aiment le mal qu'ils font;
Tes yeux sont bleus comme un lotus sur l'onde,
Et les lys d'eau sont moins purs que ton front.

Ta forme fuit, ta démarche est fluide,
Et tes cheveux sont de légers roseaux ;
Ta voix ruisselle ainsi qu'un flot perfide ;
Tes souples bras sont pareils aux roseaux,

Aux longs roseaux des fleuves, dont l'étreinte
Enlace, étouffe, étrangle savamment,
Au fond des flots, une agonie éteint
Dans un nocturne évanouissement.


by Renée Vivien
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

the Amazon smiles above the ruins
while the sun, wearied by its struggles, droops to sleep.
murder’s aroma swells Her nostrils;
She exults in blood, death’s inscrutable lover.

She loves lovers who intoxicate Her
with their wild agonies and proud demises.
She despises the cloying honey of feminine caresses;
cups empty of horror fail to satisfy Her.

Her desire, falling cruelly on some wan mouth
from which she rips out the unrequited kiss,
awaits ardently lust’s supreme spasm,
more beautiful and more terrible than the spasm of love.

NOTE: The French poem has “coups” and I considered various words – “cuts,” “coups,” “coups counted,” etc. – but I thought because of “intoxicate” and “honey” that “cups” worked best in English.

Original French text:

L’Amazone sourit au dessus des ruines,
Tandis que le soleil, las des luttes, s’endort.
La volupté du meurtre a gonflé ses narines:
Elle exulte, amoureuse étrange de la mort.

Elle aime les amants qui lui donnent l’ivresse
De leur fauve agonie et de leur fier trépas,
Et, méprisant le miel de la mièvre caresse,
Les coupes sans horreur ne la contentent pas.

Son désir, défaillant sur quelque bouche blème,
Dont il sait arracher le baiser sans retour,
Se penche avec ardeur sur le spasme suprême,
Plus terrible et plus beau que le spasme d’amour.


by Renée Vivien
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

When the moon weeps,
illuminating flowers on the graves of the faithful,
my memories creep
back to you, wrapped in flightless wings.

It's getting late; soon we will sleep
(your eyes already half closed)
in the shimmering air.

O, the agony of burning roses:
your forehead discloses
a heavy despondency,
though your hair floats lightly ...

In the night sky the stars burn whitely
as the Goddess nightly
resurrects flowers that fear the sun
and die before dawn ...

Poetry by Michael R. Burch The PoetBay support member heart!
Read 24 times
Written on 2021-06-06 at 04:26

Tags Vivien  French  Lesbian 

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Michael R. Burch The PoetBay support member heart!
I do hope the coo-er of coos
will listen to her Muse!

When I read FT's erotic poems, I was immediately reminded of Renee Vivien's -- quite a compliment to them both!

Coo & Co The PoetBay support member heart!
Thank-coos for this introduction to Renée Vivien, Mike.

At the word 'Undine' we think immediately of the piano piece by Ravel, which has a subtle sensuality echoed here. The 'blue lotuses' are particularly effective, likewise the 'tubular river weeds'.

'The Amazon' is also appealing, especially for 'exults in blood' and 'rips out'. We like the capitalisation in 'She' and 'Her'. We like 'cups' too.

Finally, we enjoyed 'Song' very much. Coo is tempted to write a song based on 'Song'. Control yourself, Coo :>)

Altogether, excellent :>)