Pride of hearts, the proud grace of substance
shining in velvet, in veneers, in every eye;
the fine high language of posture and of pose,
inherited hauteur of women and kings!
You triumph, Van Dyck, prince of mild gestures,
in each of these splendid creatures soon to die,
these lovely hands ready, even now, to open—
without a qualm she spreads her palms to you!
Under pines these riders halt beside a brook
calm like them, yet like them close to sobs;
magnificent royal children already grave—
their raiment resigned, their plumed hats mutinous,
and in their jewels glittering, as if through flames,
the bitterness of tears that fill imperious souls,
but not so full as to fall from a single eye.
And you above all, so delicate on parade
in pale-blue silk, one hand forgotten on your hip,
the other holding a pear torn from its branch—
what do they mean, your gesture and your gaze
as you stand so at ease in your dim hideaway,
Your Grace, the Duke of Richmond, O young sage!
—or young fool? Each time it’s to you I return,
and each time the sapphire at your throat
glistens as flawless as your unruffled gaze.
[Translated from the French by Richard Howard]
Marcel Proust is the author of In Search of Lost Time, undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of Western imaginative literature. This cycle of seven novels, spanning some 3,200 pages and teeming with more than 2,000 characters, has stirred Graham Greene to say that Proust was the “greatest novelist of the 20th century” and Somerset Maugham to call it the “greatest fiction to date”. His untranslated poems are due out in a new translation by Richard Howard for Penguin.
Richard Howard received a B.A. from Columbia in 1951 and did graduate work at Columbia and The Sorbonne. He is the author of eleven books of poetry, including Untitled Subjects (Pulitzer Prize, 1970) and, most recently, Inner Voices: Selected Poems and Paper Trail: Selected Prose, as well as the critical study Alone with America and the critical prefaces of the anthology Preferences.