The Multitude

Translated by Siobhan Marie Anderson

In these cities of shadow and ebony,
Where prodigal lights shine forth,
In these cities, which thrash about,
With their tears, their ruts and their blasphemy,
Come into a great swell, the crowds;
In these cities suddenly terrified
From bloody revolt and nightly fears,
I feel something grow and exalt in me,
And ferment, suddenly, my heart multiplied.

The fever, with trembling hands,
The fever, following folly and hatred,
Leads me
And rolls me like a boulder down the road.
Calculations all fall and are erased,
The heart leaps up, toward glory or toward crime;
And suddenly I seem to be he
Who is, outside himself, fleeing
Toward the wild call of unanimous forces.

Whether it be rage, or love, or dementia,
Everything passes, in a bolt of lightening, to the bare of all consciousness,
Everything is imagined, before it is felt
The nail of a profound objective driven home in the mind.

Haggard people conjure up torches,
A rumor of sea is devoured, upon porches,
Walls, signs, houses, palaces, stations,
In the demented evenings, before my eyes, terrifying;
In places, posts of gold and light
Lean, toward black skies, lights that exasperate;
A watch-face gleams, the color of blood, upon the fronts of towers;
Where a tribune speaks, at the corner of a junction,
And before we understand what is said,
There is a movement—and it is, with rage,
That we throw to the floor, that we disgrace an emperor,
That we break, that we destroy the pedestal upon which stands the gleaming idol.

The night is colossal and full of noise;
An electric fervor burns through the atmosphere;
Hearts are for the taking; the soul clenches,
In enormous dread, and is freed with cries:
We feel that the same moment is master
In blooming or trampling upon what is to be born.

The people are that which destiny
Will endow enough strong hands
To maneuver lightening and thunder
And reveal, among so many glimmering opposites,
The new star which every new era
Chooses to magnetize universal life.

Oh, don’t you feel how she is lovely and deep
My heart,
This hour
Which cries and beats with the heart of the earth?

That you mean something and the old wise-women
And the dogmatic sunsets upon the sea;
Here is the hour that drives blood and youth
Here is the formidable and marvelous drunkenness
From wine so deranged that nowhere seems ugly.
A vast hope, coming from the unknown, displaces
The ancient equilibrium that wearies the soul,
Nature seems to sculpt
A new face in its eternity;
Everything moves—and one would say the horizons march.
Bridges, towers, arches
Tremble, at the deepest point in the ground,
The multitude and its brusque thrusts
Seem to make the oppressed cities burst,
The hour has chimed in debacles and miracles
And in movements clear and golden,
Over there, far off in the Thabor mountains.[1]

Like a wave in lost rivers,
Like a rubbed out wing, at the end of the expanse,
My heart, in its insanities, breaking the capitals
Of their terrors and their triumphant rage;
See how it irritates and exalts
Every clamor, every disturbance, and every fear;
Creates a beam of millions of fibers:
Tightened muscles and nerves that vibrate;
Magnetize and reunite all of these currents—and take
So large a part of these brusque metamorphoses
Of men and objects,
That you feel the obscure and formidable law
Which dominates and oppresses them
Suddenly, in a fit of light, take shape within you.

[1] Verhaeren is most likely referencing Mount Thabor, a distinguished peak among the mountains of Palestine for its picturesque site, its graceful outline, the remarkable vegetation which covers its sides of calcareous rock, and the splendor of the view from its summit. Nearly isolated on all sides and almost hemispherical in shape, it rises 1650 feet above the Plain of Esdraelon, about five miles south-east of Nazareth.

Siobhan Marie Anderson is a writer and translator currently living in Paris, France. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in the United States and is currently pursuing her PhD in Comparative and French Literature at the Sorbonne. She is deeply interested in the crossroad between poetry and the art of translation.

Born in 1855 in the village of Saint-Amand in Flanders, Emile Verhaeren grew up to become Belgium’s national poet and a prominent voice of the Belgian symbolist movement of the late 19th early 20th century. He has written over 30 works, including plays, several critical essays, and many books of poetry, all written in French. His work and legacy remain relatively unknown to the English-speaking world.