Théophile Gautier (1811-1872): The Hippopotamus

Translated by Timothy Adès

L’Hippopotame: A poem about a Rhinoceros, translated from the French of Théophile Gautier (1811-1872).

L’hippopotame au large ventre
Habite aux jungles de Java,
Où grondent, au fond de chaque antre,
Plus de monstres qu’on n’en rêva.

Le boa se déroule et siffle,
Le tigre fait son hurlement,
Le bufle en colère renifle,
Lui dort ou paît tranquillement.

Il ne craint ni kriss ni zagaies,
Il regarde l’homme sans fuir,
Et rit des balles des cipayes
Qui rebondissent sur son cuir.

Je suis comme l’hippopotame:
De ma conviction couvert,
Forte armure que rien n’entame,
Je vais sans peur par le désert.

The sturdy Hippopotamus
inhabits jungles Javanese
where snarl in caverns bottomless
undreamable monstrosities.

The boa hisses and unscrews;
snuffles convulse the buffalo;
the tiger caterwauls. He chews,
or slumbers, tranquillissimo.

He fears not kris nor assegai,
he looks at man and stands his ground;
he laughs, when shots from the sepoy
spatter his leather and rebound.

The hippopotamus and I
have an impenetrable hide.
In armour-plate of certainty
I roam the plains with dauntless stride.

Translation: Copyright © Timothy Adès

Published in In the Company of Poets (Hearing Eye)

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