Rene Char

Courbet:The Stone Breakers

Sand and straw live gently, soften the fall of wine.
They gather quills from dovecotes.
Theirs is the gullet’s greedy tongue.
They slow bare toes of girls,
and pierce their chrysalids.
Lighthearted, they catch the well-suffered blood.

In the stones we devour the grey fire’s plague,
While in town they conspire and scheme.
Still nothing beats these ruined roads
Where twilight air bears the scent of tomato vines,
Forgiveness for outbursts soon to come from our wives,
And the bite of thirst shoved down to our knees.

Son, our labors of dust
Will be seen tonight in the sky.
Already the oil is rising to life from lead.

Translator’s note: This poem refers to a painting by Courbet completed in 1849.
It depicts an older man and a younger one working side by side on a road.

— translated from the French by Nancy Naomi Carlson