The Last Poem Of Jacques Brel

"Les Marquises" (The Marquesas) is the final lyric on Jacques Brel's last album of songs.

The allusion is to a small group of islands about 850 miles northeast of Tahiti. On one of these islands, Hiva Oa, Brel is buried, in the same cemetary as Paul Gauguin. As Frank and Rose Corser had written: "The Marquesas Islands, known to the inhabitants as "te henua enata" (or "te fenua enana" in the southern islands) which means the land of men and the people call themselves, "enata", the men."

People in Polynesia remember Brel. He flew patients in his private plane to hospitals, and he helped with mail delivery between islands back when.

An earlier version of my translation was published in CHAMINADE LITERARY REVIEW (Honolulu, 1995), with the original poem, in French, interfacing.

Although I didn't get to Hiva Oa, in 1989, I spent a week on Nuku Hiva, the largest island of the Marquesas, the island where Herman Melville jumped ship in 1842. You could say that with TYPEE, his first book, he invented Gonzo Journalism. But there was a lot of seafaring literature then. Byron's grandfather "sailed round Cape Horn" and wrote of the Giants of Patagonia.

Anyway, here is THE MARQUESAS, by Jacques Brel:

They speak of death as you speak of fruit
They see the sea as you see a pit
The women are lascivious in the fearsome sun
And there is no winter that is not summer
The sidewinding squalls beat grain upon grain
Some old white horses whinny Gauguin
And without wind time stops
In the Marquesas

From the rising evening fires and stars
Enlarge and the moon advances
And sea rends itself infinitely broken
By rocks which pray the names of the passion-swept
And then from far off dogs chant repentence
And some two-steps and some slow moves
And the night is deferred and the trade winds disperse
In the Marquesas

The laugh is in the heart the word is in the glance
The heart is a voyager the way is by chance
And the falling of the coconuts write songs of love
The convent girls take no notice of
The canoes come the canoes go
And my memories become my myth
What can I say since grieving's not for show
In the Marquesas