Translations of Translations: Steve Kronen’s take on Sappho, Flaubert and Verlaine

The three poems here are from a new manuscript, A Thousand Oars in the
Water – 45 Versions from Sappho to Claribel Alegría
, and were rendered
from other translations cribs, and notes.

On the Topmost Branch

after Sappho

On the topmost branch an apple
the pickers forgot—
red and sweet.

Not forgotten, unreachable.


after Gustave Flaubert

Emma missed her daughter.
Barely the second week
of six allotted the Mother of God,

she ignored the almanac and trod
through the village growing weak
before the shops. Stones in the street

pressed through her shoes and bruised her feet.
Should she, she wondered, go on?
Sparks seemed to fly

from the spines of their gables,
houses shuttered
against the blaze of the sky.

From out of a doorway Leon,
holding in his arm some papers,
paused beneath Lheureux’s gray awning.

Would he, she asked, care to walk? …. “If…,”
he said, then said no more. The meadow
lay beyond the street. Past it

was the Rollet house where her baby slept
beneath a cloth in a wicker basket.
They leaned to each other and stepped

beyond the gaze of Tuvache’s wife
who’d spent some hours at her window.
All of Yonville talked by morning.


after Paul Verlaine

Winds above the meadows rile
the weathercock—
the dull-red brick
and gray-blue tiles
of some official’s summerhouse. Miles

of sun-bright fields and then fairy
stands of ash trees rise on
a thousand far horizons.
A vast Sahara
of lucernes gauze the prairie

and our quiet cars in even
file glide across the quiet sprawl.
Sleep gentle cow and bull,
sleep gentle calf in
the washed-out rainbow light of heaven.

Through this hush we wend along,
a salon of every coach. We,
in our leisure, sotto voce,
rehearse a world modeled on
the distant dreams of Fenelon.


About the translator:

Steve Kronen’s books are Homage to Mistress Oppenheimer (Eyewear),
Splendor (BOA), and Empirical Evidence (University of Georgia). He is a
librarian in Miami where he lives with his wife, the novelist Ivonne

Read more translations here.

About the author

Sappho, born on the island of Lesbos, was considered the greatest poet of her age. Of Sappho’s approximately 11,000 assumed lines of poetry (deduced from historical notes), only one poem, "Ode to Aphrodite," is extant in its totality; the rest are lost or survive only in fragments. The searing intimacy, concision, vivacity, and metaphor of her work (originally written for the lyre) have protected and preserved at least those fragments, as well as her reputation for the last 2600 years.

About the author

Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, his first published novel, created a scandal for its supposed immorality. Flaubert was charged with "outrage to public morality and religion," but subsequently acquitted. Critic James Wood notes how the novel’s precision, realism, and its subsequent influence mark a before and after moment in the history of the novel. Flaubert was born in Rouen and died in Croisset of a brain hemorrhage in 1880.

About the author

“Malines” is from Verlaine’s Romances sans paroles, published in 1874 while Verlaine served 555 days in the Mons, France prison for shooting in the wrist after a drunken row, his on-again, off-again boyfriend, the enfant
terrible poet Arthur Rimbaud. Verlaine, who had left his wife and child for Rimbaud, would convert to Roman Catholicism while serving his sentence. Before his death from alcoholism and other maladies at the age of 51, his fellow writers declared him the “The Prince of Poets.”

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