Poetry News

'The Four Little Girls': New In-Progress Translation of Play by Pablo Picasso

By Harriet Staff

Picasso print, plate 13 of the Vollard Suite

Jerome Rothenberg has dug up some translations he began a few years ago of Les Quatre Petites Filles, "the second of the two full-length plays Picasso wrote in the 1940s." The text Rothenberg's posted on Poems and Poetics is dark and delightful, reminiscent of Ashbery's Girls on the Run and Mac Wellman's play Jennie Richee. Maybe that's too easy of a connection--the Henry Darger angle--we'd love to read the entire play. From the translator's note:

While there may be less razzle-dazzle here than in the better known Desire Trapped by the Tail, there was a pop, almost juvenile quality in the language, or in how I perceived the language, that I wanted to emulate in the version I was starting to transcreate. My sense of Picasso poète then & now, contrary to Gertrude Stein’s dismissal of him, was that what he offered was the real goods which his awesome reputation as an artist only tended to obscure. My own efforts only went this far until other projects of that time intervened & I lost track of what I had earlier begun. Some ten years later I came across the first several pages of the translation in progress, & with the ease of publication that the internet allows, I’m posting it here, both for the record & for whatever pleasure it may still bring.

And an excerpt from "The Four Little Girls":

little girl ii – mama mama come out & see Yvette wreck the garden Yvette burn the butterflies up mama mama

little girl iii– go take your places wherever you want & burn the cock’s feathers & light all the candles the baby clothes hung on the old cherry tree – & wake up & I’ll tell you & untie the wings of the little dead birds in their cages their scatterbrained singing the paisley prints on the sleeves of the dress on the pleats of the sky oh so high all fall down from the sky.

little girl i – singing – we’re not gonna go to the woods no more the laurel trees are down on the floor & the beautiful babe hey (she shouts) hey hey hey cause the cat has taken a bird from the nest in his mouth & he’s choking it now with his claws & dragging it back of the lemony cloud dipped in butter that melts on the edge of a wall that’s all bunged up with earth & a sun that’s covered with ash.

little girl iii – oh that’s just too dumb

little girl iv – go take your places down by the flowers the knitting yarn trailing all over the garden & hanging its rosary beads up like eyes & the full cups of wine in fine crystal the organs we listen to short little arms pitterpatting the cotton wool sky from somewhere in back of the big rhubarb leaves.

little girl i – go take your places your places life’s wrapping me up my passion’s like chalk on my coat it’s in tatters & full of black ink stains that flow down my throat from the blind hands that seek out the mouth of the wound.

little girl iii (hidden in back of the well) that’s it yes that’s it yes that’s it.

little girls i - ii - iv – dumb dumb – you’re so dumb – you’re two times as visible there – yeah yeah everyone sees you – you’re totally naked & covered with rainbows. Go fix up your hair it’s on fire it’s starting to burn up the string of bows scraped on the tangled-up hairdo of bells licked clean by the mistral.

little girl iii – that’s it – yes that’s it – that’s just it you can’t catch me alive & can’t see me – I’m dead.

little girl iv – don’t be such a jerk

Read it all here.