Louise Michel, “The Claque-Dents”

THE CLAQUE-DENTS


[Translation only at “The Good Louise”]


[ Claque-dents: the chatter of teeth in unheated rooms, the wretches who live there, the hovels and brothels where they live, the vampires in human guise who keep them there in order to drain the life from them, the clank of gold and, finally, the gnashing of teeth in the death throes. The word itself chatters. How would we choose just one meaning, when all of these, together with the event they signal—the final exhaustion of the Old World—are so obviously the composite protagonist of Louise Michel’s tale? ]

The claque-dents: these are the death throes of the Old World.

It dreams, this Old World, of decking itself out again in purple and ermine, of giving drink to swords. But the purple and ermine are soiled, and the rusty swords want no more blood. The orgy is over.

The old world, its teeth are chattering in its death throes. Shylock and Satyr at once, its chipped teeth seek living flesh; stricken with panic, its claws search, deepening every keen misery. This is the delirium that marks the end.

In vain it wants to renew itself, to drink the blood of the crowds in long drafts; its sops, blood money, rise in its throat to suffocate it.

The debacle begins with the faint clink of gold. The danse macabre of the banks waltzes around a few last Bastilles.

The bell tolls for all tyrannies. But they do not want to die, feeling the sap of a fresh spring.

In Caledonia, we saw old paperbark trees, whose age no one knew, crumble suddenly, although there were still some green twigs on their dead branches.

A dull thud, a cloud of dust, and it was finished; the great tree was no longer anything but a little heap of dust, through which bustled, desperately, some insects from another age: enormous millipedes, hairy spiders, brightly colored bugs.

Thus will disappear this society where might makes right.

In Germinal, the breezes sing, troubling the grass, the flowers with their sweet breath.

At times, a last icy breath passes through the air like a passing leaf.

Soon, the nests in the woods will fill with life.

Thus we come to Germinal, to the end of our ages-old winter.

Le claque-dents, c’est l’agonie du vieux monde.

Il rêve de s’affubler encore de pourpre et d’hermine et de donner à boire aux épées. Mais la pourpre et l’hermine sont souillées, les épées rouillées ne veulent plus boire, l’orgie est terminée.

Il a, le vieux monde, le claque-dents de l’agonie; Shylok et Satyre à la fois, ses dents ébréchées cherchent les chairs vives; ses griffes affolées fouillent, creusent toutes les misères aiguës, c’est le délire de la fin.

En vain il voudrait pour rajeunir boire à longs traits le sang des foules, ses pots de vin lui montent à la gorge achevant de l’étouffer.

La débâcle est commencée au petit bruit sec de l’or, la danse macabre des banques valse autour des dernières bastilles.

Le glas sonne sur toutes les tyrannies. Mais elles ne veulent pas mourir, sentant la sève du printemps nouveau.

Nous avons vu là-bas, en Calédonie, de vieux niaoulis dont nul ne savait l’âge, s’effondrer tout à coup ayant encore sur leurs branches mortes quelques rameaux verts.

Un bruit sourd, un nuage de poussière et tout était fini; le grand arbre n’était plus qu’un petit tas de poussière dans laquelle s’agitaient désespérément des insectes d’une autre époque, mille-pieds énormes, araignées velues, punaises chamarrées.

Ainsi disparaîtra la société où la force prime le droit.

En germinal, les brises chantent, agitant de leurs douces haleines l’herbe pleine de fleurs.

Par instants, un dernier souffle glacé traverse l’air comme une feuille qui passe.

Bientôt s’empliront de vie les nids dans les bois.

Ainsi nous touchons à Germinal, à la fin de notre hiver séculaire.


[Chapter I]


 

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