Jean Sénac was an Algerian pied-noir poet, whose European heritage, open homosexuality, and advocacy of a native Algerian literature put him in conflict with the nascent Islamist government. He hosted a popular radio broadcast and helped to see many new writers into print, himself publishing multiple volumes of poetry increasingly under the sway of Allen Ginsberg and other radical American writers. “Edgard’s Lessons” predates those influences, written in the summer of 1954, shortly before the Algerian Revolution, when he was desperately in love with a young man about whom we otherwise know nothing except his name. Sénac lived his last years in poverty in Algiers, murdered in the night of August 28, 1973, for reasons much speculated about.
If singing my love is loving my country,
I am a soldier who won’t go back on what he said.
I hold his name tight like a nettle bouquet,
I walk in his footsteps, and I share his bed.
Summer camouflages squalor on the beaches,
So many hungry bellies bronzed by the sun
In town there’s ivy that evening interweaves
With thistles of pain, this meal their only one.
We can forget in one easy kiss, guileless,
The blood spilled at Casa or Diên Biên Phu,
There’s always a time beauty goes into exile.
A time heat tears us from our sheets, in two.
When I lose I carp, but in combat I recoup
The right to cherish you and to save our isle.
© Jean Sénac. By arrangement with the estate of the author. Translation © 2012 by Douglas Basford. All rights reserved.
from "Les Leçons d’Edgard"
Si chanter mon amour c’est aimer ma patrie,
Je suis un combattant qui ne se renie pas.
Je porte au coeur son nom comme un bouquet d’orties,
Je partage son lit et marche de son pas.
Sur les plages l’été camoufle la misère,
Et tant d’estomacs creux que le soleil bronza
Dans la ville le soir entrelace au lierre
Le chardon de douleur, cet unique repas.
Nous pouvons oublier dans un baiser facile
Le sang de Diên Biên Phu ou celui de Casa,
Il vient toujours un temps où la beauté s’exile.
Un temps où la colère nous arrache à nos draps.
Lors je perds, me plains et retrouve au combat
Le droit de te chérir et de saveur notre île.