Learning to translate, language to language, thought and rhythm, mood and sentiment. At a Centrum class with Robert Bly the students helped to translate Francis Ponge’s The Oyster. I still struggle with that poem. I have read many translations, the one that Bly published, my own, and others. Ponge compares the oyster to a heavenly world. It is closed up tight. That reminds me of God’s Kingdom. It is here (Jesus said it is upon us), only some will enter it (the oyster is very hard to open), and when opened it reveals a heavenly vision (the mother of pearl interlining of the shell is only seen when it is opened). The Apostle Paul talked of the mystery of the Kingdom and inside of the oyster is the mystery of its salty brine ebbing and flowing like a whole world. There are circles like halos that are marks on the shell, remnants of the people’s attempt to open it. A world, a mystery and a heavenly vision, and inside is the whiteness of the clouds and the sea creating something beautiful with a special formula that only the oyster knows. The pearl is created and becomes a thing that all want to adorn themselves with.


by Francis Ponge, translated by Jane Swanson

The oyster is the size of an average stone yet rougher in appearance and less in color, brilliantly white. It is a world tightly closed.

Yet it can be opened and it must be held in the hollow of a cloth, using a knife and slightly chipped open, you try several times. Curious fingers cut into it, breaks nails, such a crude work. The blows are marks on the door of the shell, white and round, making a kind of halos.

Inside we find a whole world to eat and to drink under a pearly sky with heavens from both above and heavens from below, while forming a pond, and a viscous green bag which ebbs and flows with smell and sight, fringed on the edges with black lace.

Sometimes a very rare formula for pearl is deep in the throat of pearliness, which we immediately adorn ourselves with.

Francis Ponge was a French poet who wrote prose poetry, usually a paragraph in length, and describing everyday objects.


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