Hammer with No Master: Poems of René Char
by Nancy Naomi Carlson
In his foreword to Stone Lyre, Nancy Naomi Carlson’s previous collection of René Char translations, Ilya Kaminsky praised “the intensity, the dream-like language, the gravity of tone, and the constant impression that one is reading not words in the language, but sparks of flames.”
Stone Lyre was a selection of poems from Char’s numerous volumes of poems; Carlson’s new Hammer with No Master is a discrete and continuous work, the first English translation of Char’s Le marteau sans maître, first published in 1934 — a time of rumbling menace that our time resembles.
“René Char died at 81 in 1988, which means he fills the heart of the history of twentieth-century French poetry. More than that he is among those figures who represent the consequences of Modernism. Finally more symbolist than surrealist he broke away from Andre Breton’s movement right before the war in which he served in the Resistance. All of that experience and the long post-war focus his fierce and severe imagination. Nancy Naomi Carlson’s new translation of an important selection from Char’s career is both accurate and alive to Char’s lyric vitality and wonderfully strange prose-poetry.” –Stanley Plumly
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The beasts at the head of the ship wreathe the face of the woman I love. Mountain herbs fade under the stillness of eyelids. My memory easily becomes what it believes to be the gain of its most hopeless dreams, while water that cannot be found continues to flow in its mirrors’ scope. And the thought of ash?