Tuesday, July 5, 2016

French Poetry As Antidote

In my other life, I was a French literature major and read stacks and stacks of novels and essays over those four years, most of which I disliked intensely probably because it was so very difficile.  Don't ask me to say anything in French except perhaps for La Marseillaise (the French National Anthem) which I strangely committed to memory back in the seventh grade.  Le jour de gloire est arrivée. Obviously, the later laboring over tenses and conjugations and idiomatic expressions and the history of French linguistics for four years prepared me for a life of great financial success and acclaim, and even though I can't carry on a conversation in French, I can read the poetry with relative ease and even remember some of my favorites.  It's been an odd day today, so why not think about my skill and love of French poetry? With the possible exception of Jack Gilbert and William Carlos Williams (Asphodel, That Greeny Flower), there are few English-speaking poets who can rival the French in expressions of love as far as I'm concerned. Here's what I mean:

Les roses de Saadi

J'ai voulu ce matin te rapporter des roses;
Mais j'en avais tant pris dans mes ceintures closes
Que les noeuds trop serrés n'ont pu les contenir.

Les noeuds ont éclaté. Les roses envolées
Dans le vent, à la mer s'en sont toutes allées.
Elles ont suivi l'eau pour ne plus revenir;

La vague en a paru rouge et comme enflammée.
Ce soir, ma robe encoure en est toute embaumée...
Respires-en sur moi l'odorant souvenir.

The Roses of Saadi

I wanted to bring you roses this morning.
There were so many I wanted to bring,
The knots at my waist could not hold so many.

The knots burst. All the roses took wing.
The air was filled with roses flying,
Carried by the wind, into the sea.

The waves are red, as though they are burning.
My dress still has the scent of the morning.
Remembering roses. Smell them on me.

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore


  1. Didn't Rimbaud mainline heroin, or some similar opiate? I think it may be possible to do both.

    Anyway, fab poem! I can't quite read the original French -- even after more than a year of instruction, I'm not quite there yet -- but I love the translation.

  2. Mmmmm...the poem....what a lovely visual in this stanza "The knots burst. All the roses took wing.
    The air was filled with roses flying,
    Carried by the wind, into the sea."

  3. In my memories eye, I see the roses in my lost garden and now I remember their scent.
    Thank you for a good morning vision.



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