Emmanuel Moses

Emmanuel Moses photo: J. Luc Bertini

Emmanuel Moses was born in Casablanca in 1959, the son of a French-educated German Jew and a French Jew: an historian of philosophy and a painter. He spent his early childhood in France, lived in Israel from the ages of ten to eighteen, and then returned to Paris, where he still lives. He is the author of eight collections of poems, most recently L’Animal (Flammarion, 2010) and D’un perpetuel hiver (Gallimard 2009), and of six novels. He is a translator of contemporary Hebrew fiction and poetry, notably of Yehuda Amichai. He also translates from the German and from the English. Last News of Mr. Nobody, a collection of Moses’ poems translated into English by Kevin Hart, Marilyn Hacker, C. K. Williams and others, was published by The Other Press in 2005. He and I, a collection translated by Marilyn Hacker, was published by the Oberlin College Press FIELD Translation Series in 2009.

A polyglot whose experience of the world comes as much from travel and human intercourse as from books, from an interrogation of the past which coexists with his experience of the present, Emmanuel Moses is a kind of Poète sans frontières. While some contemporary French poets eschew geographical specificity, a perennial subject of Moses’ poems is the crossing and the porosity of actual borders, geographical and temporal. A (Proustian?) train of thought set in motion by the placement of a park bench, the stripe of sunlight on a brick wall, will move the speaker and the poem itself from Amsterdam to Jerusalem, from a boyhood memory to a 19th century chronicle, from Stendhal to the Shoah. A subtle irony permeates Moses’ work, even (or especially) at moments meant to be self-reflective or romantic, an irony applied to the events of history as readily as to the events of a single young or aging man’s life. It is clear in Moses’ poems as in his fiction that the macro-events of “history” are made up of the miniscule events individual existence, or must be perceived as such to be understood. The breadth of the poet’s reading and his intimate relationship with architecture, music and painting inform his work and populate it with unexpected interlocutors: Chopin, Buxtehude, Fragonard, Breughel – or a London barman, or a woman pharmacist in Istanbul.

Marilyn Hacker’s books of poems include Essays on Departure (Carcanet, 2006) and Desesperanto (Norton, 2003). Recent translations: Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s Nettles (Graywolf, 2008) and Guy Goffette’s Charlestown Blues (University of Chicago, 2007). She received the first Robert Fagles Translation Prize for Marie Etienne’s King of a Hundred Horsemen, to be published by Farrar Strauss.


(Majorca, 2004)

Mimosa at Picafort

They were the last of the season
copper had replaced gold
they kept to roadsides
and vacant lots
disdained by newer blossoms
who would pluck them now
bedsides a few children tired of playing
an old man, to brighten his old wife’s
insects no longer approached them
they seemed vaguely ashamed
to be there still
tarnishing the foliage
while they knew they were expected elsewhere
and wished perhaps to be there already
they alone through those days of indecision
accepted their lot with resignation
the sea foamed
the sky thundered
the wind braced itself
like a huge horse
brought by force to the island
they still had everything to give
to any hurt heart

Between waking and sleeping

In this place of reconciliation where time bends and is scattered
ducks fly above the reeds
when you reach the old factory
the song of women planting rice still rises
with the tawny owl’s cry

green and silver, the water no longer reflects knees
and the shadows have fled
sometimes you find bygone faces
beneath wrinkled masks
in gloomy flats on the outskirts of resorts
but delicate clover crowns
protect these paddock of servitude
and evening lights them up like Christmas candles
thrusting from thickets of digitalis

for anyone who loses his way often
these ruts have no secrets
beyond the little bridge are other territories
which keep up their own legends
of amorous metamorphoses
sleeping maidens take warning
when the osprey arrives


Their heads flame with death and love
you abandon them on park benches
where animality
feasts forever

but the city spills out something else
a rain of translucent names
through which can be seen
the imperial blue sky
the night the Pleiades on a canopy

pillage in side-chapels and tomb-niches
the nave still held thousands of hurried footsteps
the birds flew away once and for all
no use for the watchmen to ascend
the tower each morning
the sea will no longer bear witness
to great migratory flows

the pirates’ flag at the Saviour’s feet
calls up the gathered martyrs
their bones dance with Bacchantes
around the Parilla of the besotted
heading straight for coitus

Café Lirico

Farewell to your villages of rose-scented soap
my lyric island
to your lemon trees ogling naked women
at poolside
like the elders in Scripture
farewell horses with bandaged pasterns
black pigs sleeping side by side with turkeys
farewell silky, laughing sky
escaped from the mountains’ too-brief embrace
farewell thistles farewell poppies
farewell dry stone walls of long-past days
battleships and birds stay in dock
last defenders of the Christian palaces
still haunted by innumerable Sicilian shadows
the call to prayer is stilled the baths are no longer steaming
but the bell-tower still looks towards an incongruous east
with the royal verdigris-tinted angel
in the off-hours the Phoenician and the Greek
exchange gossip in their shop doorways
they tire their eyes searching the horizon beyond the ramparts
neither Rome nor Belisarius will return
farewell to the gems of the bishop’s palace
the two silver pomegranates looted from some synagogue
no doubt transformed since into a church or convent
farewell my lyrical cafés

From the collection He and I by Emmanuel Moses
© Translated by Marilyn Hacker
Oberlin College Press FIELD Translation Series, Oberlin OH, USA, 2009

Published with the permission of Emmanuel Moses & Marilyn Hacker