In the Twilight of Life, translated by Harriet McAlonan

“Tard dans la vie”
Abdellatif Laabi

In the twilight of life
I’ll disappear on a bench
Suffering receding
I’ll extinguish the fire
Of passions which truncated my journey
I will put an end to the litany
Of questions and answers now obsolete
I will leave this senseless field
Of vision
I will tattoo on my palm
My final little love poem
And I will fall asleep
Into the delicious somnolence
Of a tree.


I chose this poem as I wanted to translate a contemporary French poet whose English translations I had never read. I had heard of Laâbi and greatly admire his battle for justice and cultural freedom. I liked the syntax and succinct, unpretentious style of this particular poem and the peaceful, melodic emotion that it evoked in me of a peaceful death or the idea of the death of the poet, perhaps, as he loses the ability to think/see clearly with the advent of old age. I found it beautiful and moving. I tried to retain the simplicity of the original poem, the brevity of the lines and the tree/bench/field (nature) imagery. The slow, methodical rhythm, which almost feels like the poem itself is nodding off, like the poet – I tried my best to retain. I enjoyed the difficulty of translating “m’absenter”, “’écourté” and “vieillies”, which I found didn’t translate easily into English. I loved and wanted to retain the enjambement of the “feu/des passions” and “litanie/des questions”. I loved the “champ de la vision incohérente” image and hope that you like my choice of “senseless” to translate it as I was debating between that and ‘blurred’, which just didn’t encapsulate the incoherent, incomprehensible nature of the French image. I was happiest with my choice of “receding”and “truncated” as the latter is such a harsh word which is perfect to evoke his life being cut short and prepares the reader for the tree image at the end.

Original poem by Abdellatif Laâbi