Aurélia Lassaque

photo (c) Raphaël Lucas

photo (c) Raphaël Lucas, Aurélia Lassaque

Aurélia Lassaque (b. 1983) is a bilingual poet and performer who writes in French and Occitan, the language of the medieval troubadours. Endangered today, it is still spoken in Southern France, in Val d’Aran (Spain) and a few valleys in the Piedmont region of Italy. Her work has been translated into over twenty languages including Asturian, Basque, Catalan, Dutch, Finnish, Hebrew, Italian, English, Norwegian, Spanish and Turkish. Her collection Pour que chantent les salamandres (Editions Bruno Doucey, 2013) has been translated in many different languages and received critical attention from, among others, The Guardian, the Al Araby Al Jadeed literary supplement and Haaretz Daily. Her second French/Occitan collection, En quête d’un visage, a prescient dialogue between Ulysses and Elle/Ela (She), was published in France by Editions Bruno Doucey (May 2017), and selections from this collection have appeared in several publications in English, including Poetry at Sangam (2017) and Poems from the Edge of Extinction (2019). Recent performances in Occitan and English translation include T Junction 2018, songs and recitation in French and Occitan at the 49th Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2018, and an interview on Trafika Europe (2020). Aurélia Lassaque also collaborates as a screenwriter for the cinema with director Giuseppe Schillaci: Transhumance (co-screenwriter, actress), a short film poem, presented at the 76th Venice Film Festival (MaTerre 2019, Cantiere Cinepoetico Euromediterraneo).

Madeleine Campbell

Madeleine Campbell is a Canadian writer, researcher and translator who teaches at the University of Edinburgh. Her translations of Francophone Maghrebi poets were published in the University of California Book of North African Literature (2012), Lighthouse (2015) and MPT Magazine (2016). In 2017 she was awarded an ALTA Emerging Translator Menteeship to translate bilingual Occitan/French poet Aurélia Lassaque’s En quête d’un visage (2017). Her translations from this collection have appeared in Poetry at Sangam (2017), the Poetry International Festival website (Rotterdam 2018), Poems from the Edge of Extinction (2019), and The Arkansas International. Poems from Lassaque’s first collection Pour que chantent les salamandres appeared in Pratik (2019). Madeleine’s book Translating across Sensory and Linguistic Borders was published in 2019, edited with Ricarda Vidal from King’s College London and she leads the special interest group on Intersemiotic Translation and Cultural Literacy at

Please visit:

The following translation is an extract from bilingual Occitan/French poet Aurélia Lassaque’s En quête d’un visage (In Search of a Face), published by Editions Bruno Doucey in Paris, May 2017. This collection retells c’s ancient myth through a dialogue between Ulysses and Elle (She), the woman who waits. Aurélia explains: “The dialogue takes place before Homer’s tale, and so her name is unknown, for her story has been subsumed in his story and the rewriting of history.”

Canto I

The sun has risen. Facing it, the boy murmurs his commandments.

Close by, kneeling, is the one he loves. Arm-deep in sand, she digs.
The boy prays: that they may remember his name, that they remember his name until the last man, that Ulysses be that man.
After, he seizes the sun with his hands, bites it and hounds it with laughter.

She has no need to hear his prayers, she knows what Ulysses’ dreams are made of.
And so she burrows like an animal maddened by storm.
A labyrinth. She wishes she could keep the sun there, make the sea her accomplice.
In the labyrinth she places small statues of clay.
One for herself, one for Ulysses.
Their hands are clasped.
A wedding is held.

But the labyrinth is made of sand.
Every morning, she must begin again and come the wedding hour, she vows twice over.


This island is scarred
with shrieks of laughter
from children of the high seas

in the shade of its market stalls
i tasted your games
we were scarcely ten years old
and you stowed your treasures
inside torn pockets

from old men on the shore
you stole bits of netting
to string with stones
in the shape of seashells

with trembling hands
you left one-eyed fish
and underripe fruit
on my window ledge

the olive tree bore a name
i revealed to you
along with the alphabet
they carved with flint
into the masts of ships

we told one another
fantastic stories
alive with whales
who spoke a strange tongue
alive in your salt-encrusted words
and our tears were true
when the ebbing summer
made us turn from each other


I want you child again
to relive the days when great winds
whipped your hair into sculptures
of sand and salt

when you came to my lair
with unhurried steps
to let me admire your tousled crown
and peregrine bearing

you would not speak
but made grand gestures
the sun on your back
you summoned the shadows

and I called you my Queen

I want to slip the hands of a child
round the nape of your neck
to hold your face like a chalice
and sway to a blind man’s dance

I want to graze your foot
in the cool dust, I want
your laughter to devour me

I want to sleep when you wake
as goats clatter down the hillside
to welcome the night

I want to watch you go, to be alone
when I gather
to the sound of herding bells
the salt-sand pearls
fallen from your hair


Night after night a storm
flooded the reefs
with garlands of children
breaking through the darkness
in peals of white laughter

you took me by the hand
and i liked being held
by you, barely a man
yet already bound to war
you were my beast-child
heedless of the taste of blood
and i longed for your bite


You whispered ‘Ulysses’
a murmur
in the palm of my hand
rolling your fig-scented
over my scant offerings

your voice dwelled in the future and I feared your madness
your fevered brow and your nightly vigil
as though the fire’s secret were yours to keep
as though time and god were yours to sacrifice
to the flame

Poetry in this post: © Aurélia Lassaque
Translated from Occitan by: © Madeleine Campbell
Published with the permission of Aurélia Lassaque and Madeleine Campbell