Max Jacob

Translated by Andrew S. Nicholson

Poem in a Style that Isn’t Mine

For you, Rimbaud

    My horse stumbled over the sixteenth-notes! the notes spattering even my soul’s green sky: the eighth sky!
    Apollo was a doctor and I am a pianist at heart, if not in actual fact. It must be so, with flats and measures unloading from scribbled steamboats, gathering minuscule banners for hymnwriting.
    The miniscule, it’s vast! and it conceived of Napoleon as an insect between two tree branches, painted his nose too big in watercolor, shaded his court in too tender colors, but it was not greater than Napoleon himself, oh Ataman Prajapati!
    The miniscule, it’s a musical note!
    Man carries with him photographs of his ancestors like God did Napoleon, oh Spinoza!
    Me, my ancestors—these are harp-notes. God conceived of Sainte-Hélène and the sea between two tree branches. My black horse has good eyes, though albino, though he’s stumbled from the notes of a harp.

Poem in a Style that Isn’t Mine

For you, Baudelaire

    Beside a holly tree whose leaves left for the village, Don Juan, Rothschild, Faust, and a painter chatted.
    —I have amassed an immense fortune, said Rothschild, and while it gives me no joy, I continue to acquire more, hoping to rediscover the pleasure I found in my first million.
    —I have continued to seek love in the midst of woe, said Don Juan. To love, to not love, it’s a torment, but I’ve continued to seek love in hopes of uncovering the passion I felt with my first love.
    —When I discover the secret that wins me fame, said the painter, I seek other secrets to occupy my thoughts; for I was denied the fame I first should have won, and I return to my formula despite my disgust.
    —I left science for happiness, said Faust, but I have returned to science, although my methods are outdated, because there is no happiness but research.
    Beside them, a young woman crowned with fake ivy:
    “I tire of me, I am too beautiful!”
    And God from behind the holly trunk:
    “I know the universe, I tire of me.”

Marcel Proust

…Anna de Noailles stepped onto the beach dressed in a white satin bonnet with buttonholes adorned in violet, the picture of that year’s fashion. Mendes and me, we had come with two elderly cousins who had not failed to bring their paper-wrapped dried mackerel, shattered as a rainbow. They were greedy, etc.