The Three Birds

Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo
Translated from the French by Vivek Narayanan

The iron bird, the bird of steelwho after having lacerated the clouds of morningwould want to puncture the starsbeyond the day,retreats, as if in remorse,into an artificial cave.The corporeal bird, the feathered bird,who forces a tunnel through the windto get to the moon he’s seen in a dreamamong the branchesfalls with the nightinto a labyrinth of leaves.And the disembodied one—hewho ravishes the custodian of the skullwith a stammering song—opens those echoing wingsmoves to pacify spacenever to return except once, as an immortal.

Les Trois Oiseaux

L’oiseau de fer, l’oiseau d’acier,
après avoir lacéré les nuages du matin
et voulu picorer des étoiles
au-delà du jour,
descend comme à regret
dans une grotte artificielle.

L’oiseau de chair, l’oiseau de plumes
qui creuse un tunnel dans le vent
pour parvenir jusqu’à la lune qu’il a vue en rêve
dans les branches,
tombe en même temps que le soir
dans un dédale de feuillage.

Celui qui est immatériel, lui,
charme le gardien du crâne
avec son chant balbutiant,
puis ouvre des ailes résonnantes
et va pacifier l’espace
pour n’en revenir qu’une fois éternel.

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Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo (4 March 1901/03 – 22 June 1937), born Joseph-Casimir Rabearivelo, is widely considered to be Africa’s first modern poet and the greatest literary artist of Madagascar. Largely self-educated, he earned his living as a proofreader. He wrote seven volumes of poetry in French, including Presque-Songes (Near-Dreams) (1934) and Traduit de la Nuit (Translations from the Night) (1935). 

Vivek Narayanan was born in India and grew up in Zambia, Southern Africa. His books of poetry include Universal Beach and Life and Times of Mr S. He is also Co-editor / curator for Almost Island, an India-based international literary organization, publisher and journal. He currently teaches courses in poetry, literature and interdisciplinary research at George Mason University.

Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo's bilingual Presque-Songes (Near-Dreams), from which “Les Trois Oiseaux” is taken, is the first of two poetry collections in which the poet wrote each poem in both French and Malagasy. These later works are described by academic Claire Riffard as "his strangest, evoking rural and commonplace images alongside unexpected dreamlike visions, superimposing the new and the forgotten ..."

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