To a Public Prosecutor or a Judge of Mud*, Translation of Paul Verlaine’s : A un magistrat de boue*
Remembrance from the year 1885
Dedicated to the late internationally-famous Franco-Vietnamese lawyer : Jacques Vergès (1925-2013) who likewise defied/despised less-than-upright judges and was not afraid to say so in court.
(Here, one should bear in mind that when the persona of the poem apostrophises, he is using the French second-person familiar or rude pronoun « tu » aimed at the Public Prosecutor)
Bugger off, make yourself scarce or rather much sooner
From our land of decent folk : chaste Ardennes
Go to your equally virtuous Auvergne where meander
The sluggishness of your chugged up veins.
Idler ! get out of this Public Prosecutor’s Office to polish
In the literal sense
Feet of others to the letter instead of anchoring slavish,
By filthy Caryatid’s frozen stance,
In this court where you hammer away at the innocent
Demanding banishment to the penal colony and jails
Here where in your summing up expressed through frightful accent
Worse yet than can be thought droll,
Despicable lawyer who amassed, the least they tell me,
For himself nothing but his inherited fortune
Without which he could ne’er have earned but a penny
Indeed even a thune,*
You insulted me, You ! from the safety of your stage,
Rude, trivial, peasant !
You dared insult me, Me ! a Man solely by Beauty bound in
Me, whom the world would with fame anoint !
You talk of my morals, you insignificant chatter-box,
Bereft of the slightest eloquence,
Yet insults when they emanate from such a rascal’s voice-box
Can hardly be thought of as being of any consequence.
The consequence of all this, first of all you’re a sod
Who knows not how not to be but a beast,
Well without further ado – whereas, due to your shameful assault
Pinning down a poor poet
A naïve poet who may not be blamed for having done any wrong
But for being this poet,
Victimsed by him, subject to the laziness in him throng,
Common, ugly, in his boëte*,
(Exactly as you pronounce it, double and triple auverpin*)
That in the centuries to come
That you be damned ! your name, Grivel (be bathed in shame)
By virtue of this little poem.
• Magistrat de boue : literally « a judge of mud », in fact is a play on the word : « debout », that is, to stand up. In France the Bench is distinguished by judges who speak while standing up or those who prosecute in the name of the People, and those « juges de siège » who speak while being seated or rather the judges who pass sentences.
* thune : a five-franc coin, that is, a inconsequent sum
* boëte : a fishing trap
* auverpin : or « avergnat », an inhabitant of the province of Auvergne
T. Wignesan – Paris, 2013