Gabrielle Althen

Gabrielle Althen

Gabrielle Althen, poète, est aussi romancière, nouvelliste, essayiste. Elle vit à Paris et dans le Vaucluse. Elle est professeur émérite de littérature comparée de l’Université de Paris X-Nanterre. A publié, une douzaine de recueils de poésie, dont Présomption de l’éclat, 1981, Noria, 1983 et Hiérarchies, 1988, chez Rougerie; La Raison aimante, Sud, 1988; Le Pèlerin sentinelle, Le Cherche Midi, 1994; Le Nu vigile, la Barbacane, 1995 ; Coeur fondateur, Voix d’encre, en 2006 et L’Arbre à terre, nu(e) en 2007; des nouvelles, Le Solo et la Cacophonie, contes de métaphysique domestique, Voix d’encre, 2000, un roman, Hôtel du vide, Aden, 2002. Egalement, Dostoïevski, le meurtre et l’espérance, essai, au Cerf, en 2006 et, tout récemment, La belle mendiante suivi de Lettres de René Char à Gabrielle Althen, l’Oreille du Loup, 2009.

Outre sa création propre, elle mène une réflexion sur l’art et sur la poésie et se livre à ce qu’elle considère comme des essais de critique méditative. Elle s’intéresse à la peinture et a écrit sur l’œuvre d’un certain nombre de peintres, dont Edouard Pignon et Javier Vilato. Elle a écrit le texte de Chronopolis, film de Piotr Kamler, présenté à Cannes en 1982.

Elle s’intéresse à la peinture et a publié un certain nombre de livres d’art.

Elle fait partie du comité de rédaction de Siècle 21, et collabore à de nombreuses revues françaises et étrangères.

Elle est également membre de deux jurys de poésie.

Gabrielle Althen, poet, is also a novelist and essayist. She lives in Paris and in Vaucluse. She is professor emeritus of comparative literature at the University of Paris X-Nanterre.

She has published a dozen collections of poetry, including Présomption de l’éclat, 1981, Noria, 1983 and Hiérarchies, 1988, chez Rougerie; La Raison aimante, Sud, 1988; Le Pèlerin sentinelle, Le Cherche Midi, 1994; Le Nu vigile, la Barbacane, 1995; Coeur fondateur, Voix d’encre in 2006 and L’Arbre à terre, nu(e) en 2007; Le Solo et la Cacophonie, contes de métaphysique domestique, Voix d’encre, 2000, a novel, Hôtel du vide, Aden, 2002. Also, Dostoïevski, le meurtre et l’espérance, essay, au Cerf, 2006 and most recently La belle mendiante monitoring René Char’s and Gabrielle Althen’s letters, l’Oreille du Loup, 2009.

Besides her own creative work, she leads discussions on art and poetry and writes critical essays. She’s interested in painting and wrote about the work of a number of artists, including Edouard Pignon and Javier Vilato. She also wrote the text Chronopolis to Piotr Kamler’s film presented at Cannes in 1982.

She is part of the editorial board of Siècle 21, and works with many French and foreign journals. Gabrielle Althen is also a member of two panels of poetry.


Out of a sudden fear of boredom
I carried our rooms of silence
Onto the high plains of the sun
Where it’s not possible
To throw stones at the light
The wheel of heat was perfect
In this silence there is your refusal to speak
Your fear your sonorous descent
One can hear its endless echo at the bottom of the well
In your silence there is my silence
A pauper’s silence pierced with a fine thread of joy
There where I rejoice as a bee embroiders
Bannerless at every hour of noon
— I hear it bronzing in the sun’s clamor–
And silence on silence
On these plains perishes the solitude
Which each of us wears like a medal around his neck
And the wind amuses itself while taking nothing
Colors mingle rooms communicate
We barely know how to laugh
Children teased by joy
But these high plains are the hour’s incarnation
To which gravity lends its luck
— its ordinary charm–
The mountain’s honey touching the sky
With our teeth


Evening its honeyed hands, different
From the clasped hands of sky
Evening around the fountain
The fountain murmurs a tear hushes
The way a star falls asleep on a cheek
At the same time in the hospital of grief
Between ferocity and gentleness
The heart’s pack of dogs keeps howling
One can’t count the heart’s dogs
But who muzzled once more
The source about to be born in this basin?
With its thrashing angel’s hands
A sweetness closes the box of misfortune
Taking from it scraps of an exquisite dress
As for you, you lived in absence, your brow imperturbable
And you didn’t watch out
In the drama of ordinary time
You noticed a few indifferent oracles
Two-toned omens
Two-dimensional sequences
The horde barks a sweetness leans down
Between the two the source does what it can
Pure movement of light
The wheat in the fields is blue
It’s the face of God that has showed itself
And left only its retreat
It leaves us empty-handed
— Flowers of waiting : bouquet of the poor
The feeble flower of hands —

The request was unsayable
The word amidst the dogs nowhere to be found
Unless, unworthy of the Lord’s feast
We did not know how to find the table
I hear amidst the dogs I hear the child crying
And it’s my heart in the hospital of grief
Between ferocity and gentleness
My dear my little one be a bit patient
This evening its honeyed hands, different
Its clasped hands of sky…
When the mountain is dark
Meteors will make their nests
And perhaps so will we


Alone among the wind’s numerous fingers
It’s the touchstone of azure
On this nude blue day
Eternity leaving
The heart’s well in one motion
Stirs up the hard fire
The rock shuffles its deck
Since the sky’s cone is alive
Here lies the heart in pain
–You yourself are the coolness of noon
Will I touch the eternity of your face?
But I’m afraid of that sapphire
Which lurks in your entrails as well
And I’m alone with the naked thread of my thought
I’m naked in my heat
Our house stands guard
A blue hull drifts towards the center of my heart
The wind is always opening its arms to me
You didn’t understand you told me
Either the wind
Or the interlacing of lines
Which we couldn’t see
As for me I’d just begun to barely glimpse
A nude blue shadow
In the shadow of your heart
And in your eyes’ chamber –
A brief swatch of sky
Our nude blue shadow
And your fragile pastime of smiling
Embraced blamelessly with death beside them

Touchtone of azure
Beauty of the interior
Indictment for the heart’s grave
Within the enclosure
God is naked as the host of his sky


Three cypresses stand vigil
Where forgiveness will create a door
Simple plants, which embrace each other
Live there
Soon we will open our desires by a notch
This landscape is admirable but what’s removing its beauty?
Sometimes I ask myself where do they still dig
In the compost of sin
Banners of missing sky bathe the earth
Death will have moved an inch up through the floor
To offer everyone its cluster of black berries
I always hear the buzzing of pride
And I don’t know if I’ll recapture my name
My brain’s poor name rebuilt on my heart
The appeal is pronounced and the vigil insists
As for me, I’m staying where the reed leans
So take care, the sky starts here
Things are nonetheless very narrow right below
With effort, I focus on the ground between the vineyard and the house
But the weightless sky begins to slip away
Has history mentioned it?
It has already left our feet
No doubt forgiveness is like the sky
Road and crown everywhere with open doors
Offering their green and missing fruit to eat
— The thing is at once absent and enormous –
You’re weeping, I think, o my desire…
The happy sentry near the shore who keels over
Touches nothing
Has nothing to take from us
I took a friendly berry from the tree
The road is a short one I arose

Limpid wind the earth flies
Denuded sky trees’ journey
Clarity, clarity, what do you want of us ?
One knows it — right here and far away
Far away and right here –
When the celebration is shrill
All clarity has a double depth
We loved crystal we thought because it spoke of light
But what does the light say
— Wind which travels, trees that sing —
To us who don’t know what to do with it ?
What does the light say to us
Marking with a hole the shadow-stain
Of boredom ?


Ulysses on a sea of faces
On a sea of reefs and hazards, on a sea of suffering
My brother in the pain of flotsam
Fear singing among the episodes
And my fingers groping warmth
I climbed the ladder of flesh
Ulysses brother and neighbor, my likeness
Between two bird-cries
Teach me to be present among the drowning
Our hands are full of the rumor of lips
Our hands also full of silence that gnaws between our eyes
Our living hands upon the waves
Our hands searching for life in faces
And the sea shows its jaws
And we are small
Thus the planks of the boat are scattered every time
Death-rattles, winks of an eye
The corner of the eye able to cheat
I don’t know if our consciences are collapsing
It’s our wrinkles whose paths cross and our skin which confesses
Old brother teach me to wait
Teach me to last
One day I saw the world crack open on a smile
With the sky howling happiness on either side
But in my grief a while ago
The sea was swollen with abysses
And all standards in confusion
I spelled life and a name cried out
And light laughed

© to the English translations: Marilyn Hacker

Marilyn Hacker is the author of twelve books of poems, including Names (Norton, 2009) Essays on Departure (Carcanet Press, UK, 2006) and Desesperanto (Norton, 2003). Her ten volumes of translations from the French include Marie Etienne’s King of a Hundred Horsemen (Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 2008) which received the 2009 American PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s Nettles (The Graywolf Press, 2008). She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Published with the permission of Gabrielle Althen & Marilyn Hacker