Le vainqueur noir que rien ne protège

At school I knew a boy who was bullied by pupils and teachers alike. I never wronged him myself, but I was complicit in his torment by my failure to intervene. On one occasion a couple of hundred of us witnessed him being stoned before school. Another boy, a close friend of mine and the gentlest of people, became involved in fights absurdly easily. One day he returned from lunch with broken glasses.

These people were mistreated, but they would not have suffered as badly if they had only possessed some instinct for self-preservation. They were the dodos of our school, trusting, credulous and the easiest of prey. Their experience at the hands of bullies appeared to leave them no less ignorant of the threat they faced.

Bespectacled and bookish, and conscious of my vulnerability for these reasons, I kept my head down and avoided trouble. Caution reigned over my adolescence, and I remained safe. It’s an effective solution in the short term, but the danger is that when you grow up, you find that you have forgotten how to live, perhaps never even knew how in the first place, and now it’s too late to learn.

Ce coup de poing en marbre était boule de neige,
Et cela lui étoila le coeur
Et cela étoilait la blouse du vainqueur,
Etoila le vainqueur noir que rien ne protège.

Il restait stupéfait, debout
Dans la guérite de solitude,
Jambes nues sous le gui, les noix d’or, le houx,
Etoilé comme le tableau noir de l’étude.

Ainsi partent souvent du collège
Ces coups de poing faisant cracher le sang,
Ces coups de poing durs des boules de neige,
Que donne la beauté vite au coeur en passant.

This marble punch was a snowball,
And it starred his heart
And it starred the victor’s jacket,
Starred the black victor whom nothing protects.

Stupefied he stood
Barelegged in the lair of solitude,
Beneath the gilded walnuts, mistletoe and holly,
Starred over like the blackboard in the classroom.

Often this begins at school,
These punches that fill the mouth with blood
These hard snowball punches,
That beauty jabs at the heart in passing by.

Jean Cocteau
English translation by Margaret Crosland

Image from Wikimedia Commons.


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