Monday, December 21, 2009

Tristan Derème et la lune

I was reading Tristan Derème's Le Poisson Rouge (Grasset, 1934) last night and came upon the following passage, which immediately struck a chord.
...tandis qu'entre deux nuages apparaissait la lune. Elle était quasi transparente et si légère que l'on craignait, si elle se heurtait à la pointe du peuplier, qu'elle ne se brisât comme une bulle de savon.
Now, re-read Vérane's 1911 Le Nain qui Jonglait....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Contrerime XI

Contrerime XI is subtitled C' était longtemps avant la guerre.
This is the original:

Sur la banquette en moleskine
   Du sombre corridor,
Aux flonflons d' Offenbach s' endort
   Une blanche Arlequine.

... Zo' qui saute entre deux MMrs,
   Nul falzar ne dérobe
Le double trésor sous sa robe
   Qu' ont mûri d' autres cieux.

On soupe... on sort... Bauby pérore...
   Dans ton regard couvert,
Faustine, rit un matin vert...
   ... Amour, divine aurore.

Tricky to translate in the Toulet rhyme-scheme, but here's my attempt.

On a moleskin sofa
   in the dim wings
Harlequin grabs forty winks
   during Offenbach’s om-pah.

Zo' leaps between two guys
   flaunting an ass
(underwear? Pass!)
   tanned ‘neath tropic skies

One sups…one leaves…Bauby declaims…
   in your veiled glances,
Faustine, a new dawn dances…
   …Love, divine flame.

Some notes are needed to decipher some of Toulet's more arcane references.
Léopold Bauby (1867-1933) born seven days after Toulet, was one of Toulet’s best friends (and friend of Francis Jammes, who wrote of him: “un délicieux vieux garçon, aimable autant que savant et artiste". He was curator of the museum at Pau. He was the nephew of the Provencal writer Adrien Planté, mayor of Orthez, and possessed a library famous for its size and quality. His memoire of Toulet and he going to school can be found on p. 1377, of Laffont's edition of Toulet's Oeuvres Complètes, note 10. Gimeno, in his Spanish edition, remarks that in the poem Bauby is a poetic character without connotations. For a correct reading of verse rhythm, this name must be read in the French accent. Also, MMrs should be pronounced Messieurs in its entirety.
Moleskin: originally referring to the short, silky fur of a mole, moleskin is heavy cotton fabric, woven and then sheared to create a short soft pile on one side. The word is also used for clothing made from this fabric.
Zo': Female character created by Toulet; appears also in other places in his poems and prose works. It is a Créole source (Zoe or Zoroaide) of Mauritius in particular, where Toulet spent some time in his youth. It should be noted that the same character can acquire, according to context, different attributes and connotations.
Faustine: emblem of the girls of Bearn - easy (going?) shopgirls, domestics etc. No real possibility of an exact correlation in real life.
Falzar: Argot et familiar. Pantalon. Son falzar, il ne tenait plus qu'avec des ficelles et des épingles de nourrice (Louis-Ferdinand CÉLINE, Mort à crédit, 1936.)
Tout l'hiver j'avais fait la guerre dans les pantalons noirs d'un curé, falzar que j'avais découvert au presbytère de Frise, en fouinant dans un placard (Blaise CENDRARS, Main coupée, 1946)
I don't need to explain Offenbach, but Gimeno makes this interesting observation:
"One of the various portraits that Nadar did (of Offenbach) summarizes an entire world, the end of the Second Empire, the neck wrapped in marten fur, aged, the face deeply Semitic, his look worn by sarcasm and melancholy."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Contrerime X

This poem introduces for the first time a Chinese element to the Contrerimes. The poet Fô, of Toulet's invention, clearly has deliberate echos of the famous Li Po. Fô is the name of a poet, lover of Doliah, wife of the mandarin Jean Chicaille, who appeared for the first time in Les Ombres Chinoises, reprised in Comme une fantaisie. There will be more Chinoiserie later on, as we will see. Fô is speaking in verses one and two.
Toulet loved puns, faire les calembours, so the opportunity to use the word for worm le ver and for verses ses vers is seized upon gleefully. Le ver dans son linceul is of course the Chinese silkworm, le ver à soie. Tirer les vers du nez à quelqu'un is to worm something out of somebody - in my case it's to drag a translation out of my brain. L' or noir des tisanes refers to les tisanes opiacées - opium, to which Toulet was hopelessly addicted.

« Ce tapis que nous tissons comme
      « Le ver dans son linceul
« Dont on ne voit que l' envers seul :
     « C' est le destin de l' homme.

« Mais peut-être qu' à d' autres yeux,
     « L' autre côté déploie
« Le rêve, et les fleurs, et la joie
     « D' un dessin merveilleux. »

Tel Fô, que l' or noir des tisanes
     Enivre, ou bien ses vers,
Chante, et s' en va tout de travers
     Entre deux courtisanes.


“This tapestry we plot
like a worm in his pall
we may never see all:
that is man’s lot.”

“Mayhap for another eye
the obverse may show
the dream, and the flowers, and the glow
of a marvellous design.”

Thus Fô, whom the dark, gold tisanes
(or his poems), inebriate,
singing, leaves in a state,
between two courtesans.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Contrerime IX

Once again I've skipped a sequence, until I find a solution that satisfies. Meanwhile, here is Contrerime IX, subtitled Nocturne.

Ô mer, toi que je sens frémir
       À travers la nuit creuse,
Comme le sein d' une amoureuse
       Qui ne peut pas dormir ;

Le vent lourd frappe la falaise...
       Quoi ! Si le chant moqueur
D' une sirène est dans mon coeur-
       Ô coeur, divin malaise.

Quoi, plus de larmes, ni d' avoir
       Personne qui vous plaigne...
Tout bas, comme d' un flanc qui saigne,
       Il s' est mis à pleuvoir.


Across the night’s hollow,
O sea, you whom I sense quiver
Like the breast of a lover
Turning on her pillow;

The heavy wind strikes the bluff…
What! If the mocking dart
Of a siren is in my heart –
O heart, divine rebuff.

What, no more tears,
Since no one heeds…
Quietly, like a heart that bleeds,
The rain appears.

Contrerime VII

This conterime is a bit of an oddity, bringing Clostridium botulinum, sausages, and apparently a German customs officials into the realm of poetry - well, verse anyway.
It is generally forgotten now that for much of the 19th and 20th century the Germans were called Boches in quite a pejorative mood. In France Francophililia and Germanophobia were two very complementary attitudes characteristic of the culture of postwar 1870, when the Prussians gave the French a very bloody nose. This attitude can be detected in many of the works of Toulet - when he tried to enlist in the '14-'18 war, he was very eager to have the Rhineland occupied and under French control, as Jacques Boulenger recounts in Toulet au bar et à la poste (still findable on eBay, or try
The word us is seen here as meaning a learned individual, not a customs official: Steinmetz notes : le –us serait celui d’un savant professeur, évidemment latinisé.
During the 19th century, it was believed that botulinum toxins developed from eating rotten sausages; the term botulism or the Latin botulus means black sausage. At the end of the 18th century, some well-documented outbreaks of sausage poisoning in Southern Germany, especially in Württemberg, prompted early systematic botulinum toxin research. The German romantic poet and district medical officer Justinus Kerner (1786-1862) published the first accurate and complete descriptions of the symptoms of food-borne botulism between 1817 and 1822. Kerner did not succeed in defining the suspected biological poison which he called sausage poison or fatty poison.
Eighty years after Kerner's work, in 1895, a botulism outbreak was recorded after a funeral dinner in the Belgian village of Ellezelles. Musicians in a brass band developed double vision and muscle paralysis after sharing a meal of pickled ham. This led to the discovery of the pathogen Clostridium botulinum by Emile Pierre van Ermengem, Professor of bacteriology at the University of Ghent. Ermengen found the bacterium in both the pickled ham and in the three unfortunate victims at post-mortem. Toulet seems to have published the first versions of the poem in 1913, first in Les Marches de Provence, in the first trimester of that year, then in the October-December issue of Vers et prose. Goodness knows where he read about the bacterium.

Here's the poem:

Le microbe : Botulinus
     Fut, dans ses exercices,
Découvert au sein des saucisses
     Par un alboche en us.

Je voudrais, non moins découverte,
     Floryse, que ce fut
Vous que je trouve, au bois touffu
     Dormante à l' ombre verte ;

Si même l' archer de Vénus
     Des traits en vous dérobe
Plus dangereux que le microbe
     Nommé : Botulinus.

Translation (don't look for too much poetry):

The Botulinum microbe
Was, while doing his worst,
Unmasked in the bratwurst
by a Boche in a robe.

Floryse, I would give thanks
To find you in the shade,
Asleep in the green glade,
Displaying your flanks;

Even if Cupid’s bow
Buries in you arrows
As deadly as the sorrows
Clostridium might sow.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Léon Vérane

As an aside from the Contrerimes, here are two more translations of Vérane. Both poems are from his volume Bars, published in Toulon in 1923. Ths first is called, simply


Parmi les nickels et les glaces
De ce bar où l’alcool est roi,
Pauvre homme tu caches ta face
Sous la grille de tes dix doigts.

Une liqueue flambe et rutile
Dans ton verre et son parfum dur
Evoque de lointaines îles
Incrustant une mer d’azur.

Mais que t’importent les Antilles,
Leurs lianes et leurs palmiers
Et le morne où de rouges filles
S’éventent sous les girofliers?

Autre que les buveurs vulgaires,
Toi, tu n’accoudes au comptoir,
Parmi les flacons et les verres,
Que le poids de ton désespoir.

Et nulle ivresse ne peut faire
Que s’efface enfin de tes yeux
Ce corps souple et blanc dont s’éclaire
Le divan aux coussins soyeux,

Ce corps où tu voudrais inscrire,
A la fois martyr et bourreau,
Et ta détresse et ton délire
Avec la pointe du couteau.

Where nickel and glass mingle
in this bar where alcohol reigns,
behind the grid of your ten fingers,
poor fellow, you hide your pain.

A liqueur flames and gleams
in your glass and its heavy must
evokes an azure sea
that distant isles encrust.

But what do you care for the Antilles
their lianas and palm tree groves
where the redheads on the hills
fan themselves under the cloves?

Unlike the common drinkers
you lean heavily, elbows on bar,
among the flagons and clinkers
weighing only your despair.

And drunkeness alone can erase
definitively from your sight
this supple white body that the chaise
with its silk cushions makes bright,

this body you would make an engraving,
at once sadist and game
of your distress and your craving
with the point of a skean.

Le Diable au Bar

Les alcools fleurissaient les verres à facettes
Et le zinc lumineux semblait un reposoir.
Je trouvais au patron une figure honnête,
Un nerf de bœuf était derrière le comptoir.

Les flacons arboraient d’étranges étiquettes,
Une fille faisait ses lèvres au miroir.
L’aveugle sur le seuil, d’une aigre clarinette
Aggravait à dessein la descente du soir.

Des marins qui n’étaient inscrits sur aucun rôle
Troquaient pour un peu d’or de maigres perroquets
Ou des singes pelés juchés sur leur épaule
Et les barques s’entrechoquaient le long des quais.

Alors au ciel monta la lune lente et plate
Qui fait hurler en chœur les déments et les chiens
Et le Diable vêtu d’un chandail écarlate
Pénétra dans le bar et dénombra les siens.


The drinks bloomed in the cut glass,
And the polished zinc was an altar,
I thought the patron had an honest face,
Though a cosh was behind the counter.

Each flagon bore a strange label,
A girl fixed her lips in a glass on the wall,
A blind man leaning on the gable
Squeaked his clarinet toward nightfall.

The sailors who were not on deck,
Bartered scrawny parrots for little tender,
Or bald monkeys perched at their neck,
At the quay the boats bumped their fender.

The flat, slow moon rose in the sky
Making dogs and lunatics moan,
And the Devil, in a scarlet guernsey
Arrived, took account of his own.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Contrerime XVI

Toulet made an appearance with others of the Fantaisistes in the first issue of Le Cahier des Poètes, November 1912. He published four poems under the general heading Madrigaux. The first three were printed under the group title L’eau qui courait (Running water), and were titled individually Agesipolis (to become Contrerime XXXVI), Le Cocher de Fiacre (Contrerime XXXVI) and Pyrenées (Contrerime XXXIII). The fourth poem, under the heading Querelles was called La Paille Rompue – I guess you could call it “The Last Straw”. It was to become, with two very small alterations, Contrerime XVI. Toulet substituted Trottoir de l' Élysé'-Palace for Trottoir de l'Élysée-Palace in the first line for metrical rigour, and in the second line - Et toi, nuit en velours became Dans la nuit en velours.

Trottoir de l' Élysé'-Palace
Dans la nuit en velours
Où nos coeurs nous semblaient si lourds
Et notre chair si lasse ;

Dôme d' étoiles, noble toit,
Sur nos âmes brisées,
Taxautos des champs-élysées,
Soyez témoins ; et toi,

Sous-sol dont les vapeurs vineuses
Encensaient nos adieux -
Tandis que lui perlaient aux yeux
Ses larmes vénéneuses.

By the Elysée palace
In the velvety eve
When our hearts seemed to heave
And our flesh without solace;

Dome of stars, noble roof,
See our souls on the rack,
Champs-Elysées taxis,
Bear witness; and you

Basement bar, bless our goodbyes
With winy fumes
While tears of doom
Make pearls of her eyes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The fantasists - L'Ecole fantaisiste

Tarbes, 1911. A slim pamphlet, 12 pages, 20 copies only, hors commerce.

Ce petit Cahier contient quatre Poèmes, lesquels ont été composés par MM. Francis CARCO, Tristan DERÈME, Jean PELLERIN, ET Léon VÉRANE.

The birth of a movement, of a school. Vérane's contribution was the most fantastical. Here it is.

Le Nain qui Jonglait

Dans les rameaux des ifs et de cèdres en còne,
Les perroquets rouges et verts se sont juchés
Et troublent d’un fròlis d’ailes le soir automne
Au long des boulingrins de corolles jonchés.

Et le nain sous son chaperon de velours jaune
Où comme un bleu panache un iris est fiché,
Jongle avec des citrons, des cédrats et des pommes
Aux cris rauques des grands oiseaux effarouchés.

Mais la lune surgie au ciel de lazulite,
Ecorne sa rondeur aux ifs pointus du bois
Et le nain qui jonglait, soudain devenu triste,

Songe qu’il a manqué pour la première fois
Un citron, un cédrat ou une pomme blanche,
Puisqu’un fruit est resté dans la fourche des branches.

My translation:

The Juggler Dwarf

The multi-colored parrots bow and scrape,
Among the yews and cedars now in cone,
Disrupt the autumn evening with their jape
Along the stretch of petal-strewn lawn.

A hooded dwarf in yellow velvet cloak
Juggling with lemons, apples, quinces, gourds,
Sporting an iris blue as a wisp of smoke,
Draws raucous cries from the great startled birds.

The full moon rises in the lapis sky
Rotundity impaled by pointed yews,
And dwarf, still juggling, heaves a sudden sigh,

Thinking that for the first time he might lose
A lemon, gourd or pallid apple, since
A jagged branch, it seems, has snagged a quince.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The fantasists - L'Ecole fantaisiste

Toulet stands on his own. He is, however, associated with the Ecole fantaisiste, a loose assemblage of like-minded writers that flourished from about 1912. Tristan Derème is responsible for the term - it appeared for the first time in a piece he wrote for Rhythm, the London review published by Middleton Murray and Katherine Mansfield. What did the school stand for, what were its aims, its philosophy? Derème himself explains, in this excerpt for his 1919 book, L’Etoile de poche:
Il s’agit de quelques poètes – je ne dis pas d’une pléiade ; je ne dis pas d’une brigade -, il s’agit d’une petite troupe de poètes qui aiment – ou qui aimaient, je change de temps pour certains – les mêmes Muses ou, du moin, les mêmes sourires le les mêmes larmes des Muses ; et ces poètes étaient liés par l’amitié.
Ce sont ou c’étaient Francis Carco, qui, depuis ces temps lointains, s’est consacré plus précisément au roman, et ce n’est point à dire, certes, qu’il ait abandonné la poésie ; Léon Vérane, Jean-Marc Bernard qui … fut anéanti par un obus, le 9 juillet 1915, à l’aurore, entre Souchez et le Caberet rouge ; Jean Pellerin, qui est mort, il y a peu de saisons, et d’une maladie que lui avait infligée la guerre. […] Nous avions vingt uns.
On pensera aussitôt que nous voulions tout briser. Non point. Nous voulions chanter ; nous songions plutôt à construire qu’à démolir ; nous voulions faire notre musique plutôt que de rédiger des manifestes que des œuvres ne suivent pas toujours.

Why did he not mention Toulet ? Because Toulet came late to the group, was older, was adopted as leader and inimitable master. The fantasists as a group were somewhat changeable in the beginning. In the 1912 Cahier des Poetes Carco cites as pure fantasists Derème, Pellerin, Bernard, Claudien (Robert de la Vaissiere, who wrote prose poems) Vérane and René Bizet. Toulet is accorded a footnote. As the reviews continued, other names came and went – Apollinaire, André Salmon, Tristan Klingsor, Léon Deubel, Fernand Divoire, Vincent Muselli, Marcel Ormoy.
Carco attempted to have Toulet’s verse published as early as 1913 – the first contrerimes started to appear in the reviews. from 1910. He unearthed a publisher in Marseilles whose main trade was in pawn tickets, of all things, and persuaded him to publish a series of five volumes, by Carco, Derème, Toulet, Pellerin and Claudien respectively. In the event only Carco: Au vent crispé du matin; and Derème: La Flûte fleurie appeared. The lack of return made Aurélien de Coulanges drop the project, and he even refused to return Toulet’s painstaking manuscript – does it still exist in some poky, dusty Marseilles attic? Quel trésor!
The Contrerimes appeared only after Toulet’s death in 1920. Carco never even met him – Toulet had left Paris in 1912.

This poem by Jean-Marc Bernard is not typical of the fantasist school; but it is one of his most celebrated, and one cannot read it without thinking of Wilfred Owen.
The translation is mine.

Du plus profond de la tranchée
Nous élevons les mains vers vous
Seigneur : Ayez pitié de nous
Et de notre âme desséchée !

Car plus encor que notre chair
Notre âme est lasse et sans courage.
Sur nous s'est abattu l'orage
Des eaux, de la flamme et du fer,

Vous nous voyez couverts de boue
Déchirés, hâves et rendus...
Mais nos cœurs, les avez-vous vus ?
Et faut-il, mon Dieu, qu'on l'avoue,

Nous sommes si privés d'espoir
La paix est toujours si lointaine
Que parfois nous savons à peine
Où se trouve notre devoir.

Éclairez-nous dans ce marasme
Réconfortez-nous et chassez
L'angoisse des cœurs harassés
Ah ! rendez-nous l'enthousiasme !

Mais aux morts, qui ont tous été
Couchés dans la glaise et le sable
Donnez le repos ineffable,
Seigneur ! ils l'ont bien mérité.

From the depths of this hellhole
we raise up our hands
to you Lord: have mercy on us and
on our shrivelled soul!

For even more than our flesh
our soul is weary and without form.
We have been battered by a storm
of rain and steel and ash,

You see us caked with shit
ripped, haggard, obscene…
But oh our hearts, have you seen?
Yet, my God, one must admit,

we are so bereft of hope,
peace seems so far away
we cannot know from day
to day if we will cope.

Enlighten us in this quagmire,
encourage us and banish
our chafed hearts’ anguish.
Ah! Give us back our fire!

But to the dead whose bitter grave
lies here unmarked in sand and clay
give them eternal rest this day,
You know O Lord, all, all were brave.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Contrerime VI

I have skipped Contrerimes IV and V as I have yet to succeed in putting them into a reasonable verse format. While verse in translation should keep as faithful as possible to the original metrical structure, I don't believe that it is possible to emulate Toulet's strict format in English for every poem. The contrerime verse consists of four lines, long line / short line / long line / short line, rhyming the "wrong way" - ABBA, not ABAB as you would expect, hence the contrerime. The long line consists of eight syllables, the short of six. I have not attempted to maintain the syllabic length, but I do strive to keep the long/short, long/short format, and the ABBA rhyme-scheme - but I do succumb to ABAB when I'm at my wit's end!

Il pleuvait. Les tristes étoiles
Semblaient pleurer d' ennui.
Comme une épée, à la minuit,
Tu sautas hors des toiles.

- Minuit ! Trouverai-je une auto,
Par ce temps ? Et le pire,
C' est mon mari. Que va-t-il dire,
Lui qui rentre si tôt ?

- Et s' il vous voyait sans chemise,
Vous, toute sa moitié ?
- Ne jouez donc pas la pitié.
- Pourquoi ? ... doublons la mise.


It was raining. The stars, in a word
Seemed bored to tears.
At midnight, you leaped like a sword,
Enveloped in fears.

Midnight! Will I find a taxi
At this hour? There'll be a row
With my husband, faced with the facts he
Can’t deny now?

- And seeing his better half naked,
There in her skin?
- Don't pretend pity or fake it.
- Why not? Let’s do it again!

Daniel Aranjo has written a two-volume work on Toulet, in which he comments extensively ( and very deeply) on some of the Contrerimes. This is what he has to say about Contrerime VI:

Des conversations entières vont pouvoir nous apparaître peu à peu comme toutes diffèrentes de ce qu’elles semblaient d’abord . Ainsi ce sont des pans entiers de banalité, de réalité quotidienne, qui, transfigurés par la lumière des formes fortes, vont luire d’une phosphorescence inattendue.

Admirable neutre du langage courant: le pire (ce qu’il y a de pire/ « C’est mon mari », que Toulet souligne pour mieux en prolonger l’inquiétude, et l’accent (et la rime) ; pour mieux en laisser vibrer l’ironie – affecteuse ironie, opérée complicement avec le lecteur, aux dépens de cette oublieuse et volupteuse compagne. Ironie grammaticale de cette disparate entre le neutre, et l’imprévu masculin (et lequel !) dont ce neutre se révèle : on ne sait trop quoi ; peut-être le sujet réel, peut-être l’attribut par anticipation. …Le poème-conversation peut donc supposer beaucoup d’art : et beaucoup d’attention aux plus délicieuses surprises, même syntaxiques, du langage courant.

(Daniel Aranjo: Paul-Jean Toulet. La Vie - L'Oeuvre - L'Esthétique. Two Vols, Marrimpouey, Pau, 1980 - still available from the author, or search

Contrerime III

Iris, à son brillant mouchoir,
De sept feux illumine
La molle averse qui chemine,
Harmonieuse à choir.

Ah, sur les roses de l' été,
Sois la mouvante robe,
Molle averse, qui me dérobe
Leur aride beauté

Et vous, dont le rire joyeux
M' a caché tant d' alarmes,
Puissé-je voir enfin des larmes
Monter jusqu' à vos yeux.

Iris, with her brilliant pall
Lights with seven fires dancing
The gentle rain, advancing,

Ah, on the summer roses
Drape the shimmering train,
And veil, soft rain,
Their arid poses.

And you, whose joyous cries
Concealed such fears
May I at last see tears
Fill your eyes

In Greek mythology, Iris is the personification of the rainbow and messenger of the gods. She also watered the clouds with her pitcher, obtaining the water from the sea.

Horace, Ode 4.7

Horace's Ode 4.7 Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis arboribusque comae (The snows have fled, now grasses return to the fields and leaves to the trees), although it begins in hope and rebirth, within a few lines turns and bites: Immortalia ne speres, monet annus et almum quae rapit hora diem (The circling year and the hour which removes the kindly day warn you not to hope for everlasting things). Horace address Torqautus thus: non, Torquate, genus, non te facundia, non te restituet pietas(neither your high birth, Torquatus, nor your eloquence,nor your righteousness will bring you back). As Toulet put it, Prends garde à la douceur des choses. This happens to be the title of the most recent biography of Toulet, by Frederic Martin, and very readable it is. Martin subtitles it une vie en morceaux, which might apply equally to Toulet's life or to the structure of the book - it consists in the main of a series of brief chapters, like sound-bites. (Read-bites? Eye-bites?).

There are a few lines in this ode that encourage self-indulgence: Cuncta manus avidas fugient heredis, amico quae dederis animo (Every gift which you give to your own dear self will escape an heir's greedy hands).

Here it is in its entirety.

Horace, Ode 4.7

Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis
arboribus comae;
mutat terra vices et decrescentia ripas
flumina praetereunt;
Gratia cum Nymphis geminisque sororibus audet
ducere nuda chorus.
Inmortalia ne speres, monet annus et almum
quae rapit hora diem.
Frigora mitescunt Zephyris, ver proterit aestas,
interitura simul
pomifer autumnus fruges effuderit, et mox
bruma recurrit iners.
Damna tamen celeres reparant caelestia lunae:
non ubi decidimus
quo pater Aeneas, quo dives Tullus et Ancus,
pulvis et umbra sumus.
Quis scit an adiciant hodiernae crastina summae
tempora di superi?
Cuncta manus avidas fugient heredis, amico
quae dederis animo.
Cum semel occideris et de te splendida Minos
fecerit arbitria,
non, Torquate, genus, non te facundia, non te
restituet pietas;
infernis neque enim tenebris Diana pudicum
liberat Hippolytum,
nec Lethaea valet Theseus abrumpere caro
vincula Pirithoo.

And here is a translation by A.E. Housman. Housman is a poet that reminds me a little of Toulet, not because of his themes or content, but because of his consummate mastery of verse structure, and the jewel-like quality of his poems.

The snows are fled away, leaves on the shaws
And grasses in the mead renew their birth,
The river to the river-bed withdraws,
And altered is the fashion of the earth.

The Nymphs and Graces three put off their fear
And unapparelled in the woodland play.
The swift hour and the brief prime of the year
Say to the soul, Thou wast not born for aye.

Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring
Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers
Comes autumn with his apples scattering;
Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.

But oh, whate'er the sky-led seasons mar,
Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams;
Come we where Tullus and where Ancus are
And good Aeneas, we are dust and dreams.

Torquatus, if the gods in heaven shall add
The morrow to the day, what tongue has told?
Feast then thy heart, for what thy heart has had
The fingers of no heir will ever hold.

When thou descendest once the shades among,
The stern assize and equal judgment o'er,
Not thy long lineage nor thy golden tongue,
No, nor thy righteousness, shall friend thee more.

Night holds Hippolytus the pure of stain,
Diana steads him nothing, he must stay;
And Theseus leaves Pirithous in the chain
The love of comrades cannot take away.

Samuel Johnson translated this ode shortly before his death. As this is not a Horace blog, I'll refer you to Michael Gilleland's blog.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Contrerime II

In Tristan Derème's book En rêvant à P.-J. Toulet, Derème opines: C’est toujours le même poète mal accordé avec son univers, mal accordé avec la vie. C’est toujours lui ; et que, pour fuir le désenchantement de ses pensées, il joue avec les images de ses épîtres ou que, dans ses poèmes, il verse le poison des rêves et peigne d’imaginaires décors ou les paysages lumineux de son adolescence, c’est vainement, car, parmi ces songeries même, il ne cesse de remuer les images moroses de son propre destin ; et n’a-t-il, enfin, laissé entendre que ni l’amour, ni les rives lointaines, ni les végétaux inconnus ne valent la fleur de la terre natale :
Ne valent la brúlante rose
Que midi fait plier ?

Il en venait à préférer sa province à tout autre pays…

The poem from which Derème quotes is the second of the contrerimes, first published in La Grande Revue under the title La Reine du jardin. The île voilée is of course Mauritius, where Toulet lolled from December 1885 to October 1888, chasing girls, gaming, and ganja. The violier in verse three is a gilly-flower or carnation. Toulet’s journal.12.1.1905 reads : « Ainsi à Bilhère, contre une des fenètres de grand-mère …il y avait une giroflée, de celles que l-on appelle, je crois, violier… »

Toi qu' empourprait l' âtre d' hiver
Comme une rouge nue
Où déjà te dessinait nue
L' arôme de ta chair ;

Ni vous, dont l' image ancienne
Captive encor mon coeur,
Île voilée, ombres en fleurs,
Nuit océanienne ;

Non plus ton parfum, violier
Sous la main qui t' arrose,
Ne valent la brûlante rose
Que midi fait plier.

Nor you whom the winter’s blaze
Scorches like a red cloud,
Whom already the scent of your proud
Body lays bare, betrays;

Nor you, veiled isle, whose memory
Still tugs at my heart,
Your flowery shade a garth,
Your nights at sea;

Nor yet your perfume, carnation
Restored by the hose,
Comes close to the burning rose
That folds in the noon sun.

Peter Cogman comments: I think Toulet's more interested in the pattern, leading up to the most fragile/evanescent thing - underlining inevitable loss, flight of time etc etc. There's the same pattern of what I think of as negative continuation + final touch in Du Bellay 'Heureux qui comme Ulysse...', or Horace, the ode with 'Non Torquate genus...'.

Here's Du Bellay:

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,
Ou comme cestuy-là qui conquit la toison,
Et puis est retourné, plein d'usage et raison,
Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son âge !

Quand reverrai-je, hélas, de mon petit village
Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison
Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,
Qui m'est une province, et beaucoup davantage ?

Plus me plaît le séjour qu'ont bâti mes aïeux,
Que des palais Romains le front audacieux,
Plus que le marbre dur me plaît l'ardoise fine :

Plus mon Loir gaulois, que le Tibre latin,
Plus mon petit Liré, que le mont Palatin,
Et plus que l'air marin la doulceur angevine

Now this is a theme that has great resonance in France. The great Georges Brassens composed his own version. The refrain goes thus:

Heureux, qui, comme Ulysse,
A fait un beau voyage ;
Heureux, qui, comme Ulysse,
A vu cent paysages ;
Et puis a retrouvé,
Après mainte traversées,
Le pays des vertes années.

Happily, someone has posted Brassens singing this on YouTube. This is the link.
(Horace can wait)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Contrerime I

This is the first of Toulet's contrerimes and already one can read a subtle eroticism into the text. (If it seems a bit early to see this, I assure you that it can be less dissembled in other poems. But Toulet was never earthy or crude - wit and elegance were more his style.) It does seems a bit odd though posting this poem in November.

Avril, dont l' odeur nous augure
Le renaissant plaisir,
Tu découvres de mon désir
La secrète figure.

Ah, verse le myrte à Myrtil,
L' iris à Desdémone :
Pour moi d' une rose anémone
S' ouvre le noir pistil.

And my translation:

April, whose scents precede
A reborn pleasure,
You discern the furtive measure
Of my need.

Ah, strew the myrtle for Myrtil,
The iris for Desdémone:
For me a pink anemone
Flaunts its dark pistil.

The critic Charles Dantzig wrote of this poem in Figaro magazine, 4 October 2008, "Il n’a pas eu la chance que cette allusion sexuelle fasse scandale"
Peter Cogman, whose erudition is past the plunge of plummet, suggests that Dantzig is thinking of the scandal aroused (in those who saw a sexual allusion in it) by Baudelaire's quatrain on Manet's painting of Lola de Valence:

Entre tant de beautés que partout on peut voir,
Je contemple bien, amis, que le désir balance;
Mais on voit scintiller en Lola de Valence
Le charme inattendu d'un bijou rose et noir

Translated thus by William Aggeler:

Among such beauties as one can see everywhere
I understand, my friends, that desire hesitates;
But one sees sparkling in Lola of Valencia
The unexpected charm of a black and rose jewel.

Somewhere in Lorca there is a line: "her belly's bluish rose". Does anyone know the original in Spanish?
P.S. I found it. The poem is Preciosa y el aire and the lines are self-explanatory:

Niña, deja que levante
tu vestido para verte.
Abre en mi dedos antiguos
la rosa azul de tu vientre.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

About the doves

Toulet used doves and tombs together elsewhere in his writing. He had a description in his Mauritius Journal, dated 28th September 1888, of the casuarina trees: Ils sont généralement pleins de roucoulements ; et de l’éternel bruissement des branches, sans que ces bruits, grâce à la continuité même, éloignent l’idée d’un silence très doux. Aujourd’hui les tourterelles se taisaient.

And in this Cople LXXII
Il n’est plus, ce jour bleu – ni ses blanches colombes
Ce jour brûlant, où tu m’aimas parmi les tombes

I've added Gauguin's vision of Les Alyscamps

Je me presente

The title of this blog is a translation of the French contrerimes - a verse form invented by the poet and novelist Paul-Jean Toulet (1867-1920) and also the title of his single and singular collection of poems. In this work there are 70 contrerimes proper, 14 Chansons,12 Dixaines, and 109 Coples (not, I assure you, couplets.) This blog will present them from time to time, in no particular order, with an attempt to render them into English with as much attention to the inherent poetry as I can achieve. I hope some readers will suggest improvements and alternatives.
To start, I am posting perhaps his best-known poem, the first of the chansons, and the first of four ROMANCES SANS MUSIQUE. It is En Arles.

Dans Arle, où sont les Aliscams,
Quand l’ombre est rouge, sous les roses,
Et clair le temps,

Prend garde à la douceur des choses,
Lorsque tu sens battres sans cause
Ton cœur trop lourd ;

Et que se taisent les colombes :
Parle tout bas, si c’est d’amour,
Au bord des tombes.

Les Alyscamps is a long avenue bordered by cypress and poplar trees, and lined with numerous Roman marble sarcophagi. It was once part of a vast cemetery complex surrounding the town, and believed to be the largest collection in Western Europe outside Rome. The first bishops of Arles were buried here. Some of the sarcophagi have been removed and are housed in museums and churches in Arles. Both Van Gogh and Gaugin were inspired by the beauty and atmosphere of Les Alyscamps. The church of Saint-Honorat lies at the end of the avenue. It was originally the site of a priory built in 1040, which was replaced a century later by the Romanesque church.

Les Alyscamps is of course basically Champs Elysée backwards. The cemetery was painted both by Van Gogh and Gauguin. Van Gogh painted it at least four times - this version, in the Goulandris collection, was completed in 1888, and shows a view down the Allee des Tombeaux, the poplar-flanked path between rows of ancient sarcophagi, in which Vincent van Gogh portrayed two lovers taking a stroll.

The woman in Les Alyscamps wears the distinctive local costume, while the man's uniform identifies him as a Zouave whose regiment was temporarily billeted in Arles. This adds a poignant note to Vincent van Gogh's's favorite motif of companionship. Soon the soldier would move on, and the relationship would end.