French Poetry

Thomas D. Le


This selective collection of French poetry features the best loved and most anthologized poems of French literature. Hardly any students of French literature can ignore these gems without missing the essence of the French language and the genius of French poetry. The variety and richness of this collection speaks for itself.

Each author is introduced with a brief bibliography to provide the historical context and information necessary to appreciate the poet's contribution. Then follow some of his or her representative poems accompanied by Vietnamese and English translations.

More authors and works will be added over time to enrich and expand the collection. So, come back often to catch the latest additions.

Thomas D. Le
7 June 2008

Featured Authors:

Guilllaume Apollinaire
Félix Arvers
Charles Baudelaire
Gérard de Nerval
Marceline Desbordes-Valmore
Joachim du Bellay
Louise Labé
Alphonse de Lamartine
Alfred de Musset
Sully Prudhomme
Arthur Rimbaud
Pierre de Ronsard
Paul Verlaine
François Villon

Return to Featured Authors

Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869)

Born in a provincial noble family at Milly in the Mâconnais, Alphone de Lamartine became enamored early in school of poetry and literature when one of his teachers read a passage from Chateaubriand. Handsome, bright, attractive, Lamartine had many amorous adventures, which whether happy or not left their marks in his many poems.

After his studies at a Jesuit school (1803-1807), he returned to Milly, where he steeped himself in reading and his nascent poetic vocation. In a trip to Italy (1811-1812) he met a young Neapolitan girl, whom he would recall as Graziella in his autobiographical writings. After a brief stint in the army during the Restoration, years spent in forging a career, literary disillusionment and disease deepened his experience. In September 1816 during a therapeutic trip to Aix-les-Bains he met Madame Julie Charles, with whom he fell passionately in love. He found her again in Paris that winter. The following year he went to Aix, waiting in vain to see her again. She had died of tuberculosis in the winter of 1817.

The experience deeply moved Lamartine, who found it a powerful source of inspiration. During the five years in which he lived through love, suffering, mourning and hope, he wrote a series of poems that reflected these stages of his life, and a deep religious sentiment. Thus appeared the Meditations in 1820, which assured his literary reputation. From the pains of love felt before Julie Charles's death, in The Lake and Immortality (1817), through the sufferings after her passing in Isolation to the subsequent resigned calm expressed in The Valley, and Autumn, Lamartine revealed a profound poetic sensibility, heart-felt lyrical expression and a capacity to touch a generation. The Meditations came at a time when the disenchanted youth, possessed by melancholy and reverie, was looking for internal experience, a rich emotional life, exaltation and mystical aspirations. He gave it an expression in which it recognized itself and a voice, that of Romanticism.

Following his marriage to a young English woman named Elizabeth Birch, Lamartine embarked on a diplomatic career (1820-1830), which brought him to Italy. In 1823 he published the New Meditations but failed to achieve the success of the first Meditations. Then came the Harmonies Politiques et Religieuses (1830), which reflected his religious zeal and his Christian faith.

After the revolution of 1830 Lamartine entered politics, and lost his first bid to the National Assembly in 1831. But 1833 saw him elected deputy of Bergues. His political career, marked by an above-the-fray policy of not belonging to any party, lasted until 1848, the year in which for a few weeks he was in effective control of France. During this period he published among other works Jocelyn (1836), an epic poem, interspersed with personal reminiscences, that recounts the inner life of the priest Jocelyn. From his Platonic love of Laurence, the adolescent daughter of a man condemned to death, who gave Lamartine the opportunity to remember sometimes his own deceased daughter Julia, sometimes Julie Charles, to his death working among the peasants, Jocelyn embodies human aspirations to Heaven by the purifying virtue of sacrifice.

The establishment of the Second Empire saw Lamartine's political career come to an end in 1851. In his ripe years the debt-ridden and defeated Lamartine turned into a prolific writer, condemned for life to the pen, to produce the histories of France, Turkey, and Russia, several novels, autobiographical sketches, and a literature text, all in a vain effort to escape penury. He was forced to sell his native home at Milly and to accept a lifetime pension from the Emperor. Thus ended his life in solitude and exhaustion in 1869.

The poem Autumn (1819) evokes the somber mood of a man who looks for consolation and hope as he mourns in the gloom of autumn the passing of a friend. Lonesome wanderer in the woods he laments the extinction of hope yet keeps hoping. Perhaps when life denies him its blessings, there may still be a soul out there that will find his, a drop of honey in the bittersweet cup of life he was drinking. But his doubts set in. The fallen flower rendered its fragrance as its parting message, and he, Lamartine, will too depart. But lover of beauty that he is, this romantic soul cannot fade without embellishing the world with the sad and melodious sound of his last breath.

L'automne
Lamartine

Salut! bois couronnés d'un reste de verdure!
Feuillages jaunissants sur les gazons épars!
Salut, dernier beaux jours! le deuil de la nature
Convient à la douleur et plat à mes regards!

Je suis d'un pas rêveur le sentier solitaire,
J'aime à revoir encor, pour la dernière fois,
Ce soleil pâlissant, dont la faible lumière
Perce à peine à mes pieds l'obscurité des bois!

Oui, dans ces jours d'automne où la nature expire,
A ses regards voilés je trouve plus d'attraits,
C'est l'adieu d'un ami, c'est le dernier sourire
Des lèvres que la mort va fermer pour jamais!

Ainsi prêt à quitter l'horizon de la vie,
Pleurant de mes longs jours l'espoir évanoui,
Je me retourne encore, et d'un regard d'envi
Je contemple ses biens dont je n'ai pas joui!

Terre, soleil, vallons, belle et douce nature,
Je vous dois une larme, aux bords de mon tombeau;
L'air est si parfumé! La lumière est si pure!
Aux regards d'un mourant le soleil est si beau!

Je voudrais maintenant vider jusqu'à la lie
Ce calice mêlé de nectar et de fiel!
Au fond de cette coupe où je buvais la vie,
Peut-être restait-il une goutte de miel?

Peut-être l'avenir me gardait-il encore
Un retour de bonheur dont l'espoir est perdu?
Peut-être dans la foule, une âme que j'ignore
Aurait compris mon âme et m'aurait répondu?

La fleur tombe en livrant ses parfums au zéphyr,
A la vie, au soleil, ce sont là ses adieux;
Moi, je meurs; et mon âme, au moment qu'elle expire,
S'exhale comme un son triste et mélodieux.

Ma thu lịm chết

Hởi rừng thu, ta cho cnh xanh cuối
L vng rơi rụng trn buội cỏ thưa
Ngy đẹp đi, ma tang tc tiễn đưa
Cảnh đẹp mắt sao lòng nghe đau đớn

Theo lối mòn mình ti đi thơ thẩn
Nắng vng xuyn kẻ l gợn lung linh
Trn bước đi qua bng tối cy xanh
Nhìn giọt nắng lịm trn chn lần cuối

Đy l buổi thu tn như hấp hối
Mắt đ nhòa, lời bạn trối cuối cng
Đi mi no h nụ lc lm chung
Đy ci chết đ khp rồi mi mi

Nay ti sắp lìa cỏi đời ngang tri
Khc ngy di hy vọng đ phai tn
Đoi nhìn xem cảnh sắc đẹp mơ mng
Còn nuối tiếc sao lòng khng vui sống

Đồi soi nắng đẹp xinh m như mộng
Lệ tiếc thương ti nhỏ nấm mồ ti
Hương ta đầy tia nắng dịu ngừng tri
Người sắp chết nhìn trời sao đẹp lạ

Ti muốn cạn ly đời đau đớn qu
Nỗi đắng cay pha cả mật ngọt ngo
Chỉ ước mong khi cạn chn ngy no
Một giọt mật hy còn lưu dưới đy

Cũng c thể tương lai dnh ưu i
Hạnh phc kia còn trở lại hồn hoang
Biết đu trong vạn người ở thế gian
Còn một kẻ hiểu ti hòa m điệu

Hoa rụng xuống gi đưa hương dìu dịu
Gi từ đời, gi biệt nh mặt trời
Khi ti chết hồn ti sẽ bung hơi
Như tiếng ht ru đời nghe m đạm

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, Alabama, 26 Septembre 2002

Autumn

Greetings, forests crowned with remaining green!
Yellowing foliage on the sparse grass!
Greetings, last gorgeous days! nature's mourning
Evokes my pain and gratifies my eyes!

I walk the lonely path in dreamy steps,
And want to see again, for the last time,
This waning sun and pale whose feeble light
Barely pierces the woods' dark at my feet!

Yes, in these autumn days when nature dies,
In her veiled looks I find a great allure,
A friend's farewell, and the very last smile
From the lips that death will forever close!

Thus ready to leave the span of my life,
I mourn of my long days the dying hope,
And look back once more and with envious eyes
I mull over its blessings ne'er enjoyed!

Earth, sun, valleys, and fair and sweet nature,
I owe you tears at the edge of my tomb;
The air smells so sweet! The light is so pure!
To the dying the sun is beautiful!

Now I want to drink until the last drop
This chalice that mixes nectar and bile!
At the bottom of life's cup that I drank,
Perhaps there was a drop of honey mild?

The future may well hold for me in store
A return of happiness, forlorn hope?
Perhaps among the crowd one soul ignored
Would understand my soul and would respond?

The flower falls and yields its perfume to the wind,
To life, and to the sun, saying its last farewell;
I'll die; and my soul at the moment it expires
Will sound a quite mournful and melodious death knell.

Translated by Thomas D. Le


Le lac

Lamartine

Ainsi, toujours poussés vers de nouveaux rivages,
Dans la nuit éternelle emportés sans retour,
Ne pourrons-nous jamais sur l'océan des âges
     Jeter l'ancre un seul jour?

O lac! l'année à peine a fini sa carrière
Et près des flots chéris qu'elle devait revoir,
Regarde! je viens seul m'asseoir sur cette pierre
     Où tu la vis s'asseoir.

Tu mugissais ainsi sous ces roches profondes;
Ainsi tu te brisais sur leurs flancs déchirés;
Ainsi le vent jetait l'écume de tes ondes
     Sur ses pieds adorés.

Un soir, t'en souvient-il? nous voguions en silence;
On n'entendait au loin, sur l'onde et sous les cieux,
Que le bruit des rameurs qui frappaient en cadence
     Tes flots harmonieux.

Tout à coup des accents inconnus à la terre
Du rivage charmé frappèrent tes échos,
Le flot fut attentif, et la voix qui m'est chère
     Laisse tomber ces mots:

"O temps, suspends ton vol! et vous, heures propices,
Suspendez votre cours!
Laissez-nous savourer les rapides délices
     Des plus beaux de nos jours!

"Assez de malheureux ici-bas vous implorent:
Coulez, coulez pour eux;
Prenez avec les jours les soins qui les dévorent,
     Oubliez les heureux.

"Mais je demande en vain quelques moments encore,
Le temps m'échappe et fuit;
Je dis à cette nuit:"Sois plus lente"; et l'aurore
     Va dissiper la nuit.

"Aimons donc, aimons donc! de l'heure fugitive,
Hâtons-nous, jouissons;
L'homme n'a point de port, le temps n'a point de rive;
     Il coule, et nous passons!"

Temps jaloux, se peut-it que ces moments d'ivresse,
Où l'amour à longs flots nous verse le bonheur,
S'envolent loin de nous de la même vitesse
     Que les jours de malheur?

Hé quoi! n'en pourrons-nous au moins fixer la trace?
Quoi! passés pour jamais? quoi! tout entier perdus?
Ce temps qui les donna, ce temps qui les efface,
     Ne nous les rendra plus?

Eternité, néant, passé, sombres abîmes,
Que faites-vous des jours que vous engloutissez?
Parlez: nous rendez-vous ces extases sublimes
     Que vous nous ravissez?

O lac! rochers muets! grottes! forêt obscure!
Vous que le temps épargne ou qu'il peut rajeunir,
Gardez de cette nuit, gardez belle nature,
     Au moins le souvenir!

Qu'il soit dans ton repos, qu'il soit dans tes orages,
Beau lac, et dans l'aspect de tes riants coteaux,
Et dans ces noirs sapins, et dans ces rocs sauvages,
     Qui pendent sur tes eaux!

Qu'il soit dans le zéphyr qui frémit et qui passe,
Dans les bruits de tes bords par tes bords répétés,
Dans l'astre au front d'argent qui blanchit ta surface
     De ses molles clartés!

Que le vent qui gémit, le roseau qui soupire,
Que les parfums légers de ton air embaumé,
Que tout ce qu'on entend, l'on voit ou l'on respire,
     Tout dise: "ils ont aimé".

Hồ i n

Mi miết tri no biết đu bờ bến
Trong đm di v tận cuốn min man
C thể no trn biển c thời gian
Neo thuyền lại chỉ một ngy thi nhỉ ?

Nầy hồ đ! năm sắp tn, Đng ch
Nng hẹn ta ngồi nghỉ phiến đ nầy
Sng n tình còn đợi dấu chn gầy
Sao chỉ c mình ta ngồi một bng

Nghe m hưỡng duới lòng su thạch động
chập chồng ln sng bạc đẩy x
Bọt nước tri theo gi cuốn nhấp nh
Sng do dạt trn chn nng trìu mến

Còn nhớ chăng khi thuyền ta tch bến
Bầu trời chiều yn lặng vẳng mơ hồ
Tiếng mi cho theo nhịp nhẹ nhẹ khua
Sng lch tch nước la như điệu nhạc

Chợt c tiếng ngn vang nghe lạ khc
Dội bn bờ sng dạt giữa trời thơ
Giọng ni người yu dấu tựa trong mơ
Ứng khẩu mấy lời nầy còn ghi tạc :

Thời gian hởi ! Hy ngừng bay cnh vạc
Giờ i n hạnh phc hy ngừng tri
Hy để ta trọn hưởng những giờ vui
Của tình i đẹp tươi ngy hoa mộng

Kẻ khổ đau dưới trần còn hy vọng
Gi ờ tri qua, qua chng hết buồn đau
Hy ban n kẻ khổ đở ngy no
Xin qun hẳn những ai đang hạnh phc

Ti tha thiết khẫn cầu thm giy pht
Nhưng thời gian bay ht đ biệt tăm
Xin đm đen chậm lại bước m thầm
Bình minh hy xua đm vo bng tối

Hy yu nhau, yu mi như ngy mới
Giờ qua mau, đừng đợi, hy yu nhau
Đời khng bến, thời gian c bờ đu
Giờ tri mất, đời ta rồi cũng mất

Thời gian như ght hờn ai hạnh phc
Khi suối tình trn ngập sng i n
Nhưng yu đương hay đau khổ chẳng phn
Thời gian ấy cũng bay nhanh biền biệt

i ! chỉ còn lại trong ta nuối tiếc
Đ mất rồi, vĩnh biệt cuộc tình qua
Thời gian cho, thời gian cũng xa nhòa
Đu hon lại cho ta ngy đầm ấm

Thin thu với hư v, i ! vực thẩm
Ngy xưa đi qu khứ đ vi su
i ! pht giy hoan lạc c còn đu
Ai trả lại cho ta giờ n i

Kia hồ, động đ im, rừng u tối
Thời gian khng biến đổi, chỉ thay mầu
Hởi thin nhin cảnh đẹp c khi no
Xin giữ hộ một đm đầy kỹ niệm

Hồ xinh đẹp, đồi xanh như t điểm
Lc lặng im, hay mưa bo cuồn phong
Rặng thng gi tịch mịch đ chập chồng
Cnh thng rũ l đ trn sng nuớc

Khi xun tới, gi xun m nhẹ luớt
Rc rch nghe tiếng sng vỗ bn bờ
Vầng trăng soi trắng bạc mặt hồ thơ
Lung linh sng sng mềm lơi lả gợn

Gi than thở, lau thì thầm mơn trớn
Hương đm về nhẹ tỏa khắp khng gian
Cảnh vật quanh đy cm xc mơ mng
Đều ln tiếng : Họ đ yu ngy đ !

Traduit par Lý lng Nhn
Madison, Alabama, 16 Septembre 2002

The Lake

And thus forever pushed to a newer shore,
In the darkness eternal carried ne'er to return,
Will we ever in the ocean of the ages
    Cast anchor for one day more?

Oh lake! The year has scarcely ended
Than near the cherished waves she was to revisit,
Behold, on this stone I came alone to linger
    Where you have seen her sit.

As you roared beneath these deep rocks,
Smashed your waters against their torn sides,
So the wind threw the foams of your billows
    Onto her feet beloved.

One night, remember? As we cruised along silently,
One heard from afar on the waves under these skies,
Only the noises of rowers who struck in rhythm
    Your harmonious waters.

Suddenly of the tones unknown to the earth
Of the charmed shore struck your echoes;
The waves grew attentive, and the voice to me dear
    Thus spoke these very words:

"Oh time, suspend your flight! and you, blessed hours,
Delay your course!
Let us savor the fleeting delights
    Of the happiest days of ours.

"Enough unhappy souls in this world implore you:
Flow on, and for them flow on;
Remove the days with the cares which consume them
    And spare the happy ones.

"But in vain I ask for a few moments more,
Time evades me, and takes flight.
I say to this night, "Tarry." But the dawn
    Will dissipate the night.

"So let us love, let us love; and the transient hour
Let's enjoy in a hurry;
Man has no harbor, time no shores;
    It flows, we fade merely!"

Jealous time, can it be that these drunken moments
When love fills us with bliss to overflow
Fly from us at the same speed
    As do our days of woe?

Alas, could we at least freeze their traces?
Why, gone forevermore? Why, lost forevermore?
This time that gave them, this time that kills them,
    To yield them nevermore?

Eternity, void, past, gloomy abyss,
What have you done with the days you buried?
Speak; will you surrender the sublime ecstasies
    From us you had ravished?

Oh lake, mute stones, grottoes, forests obscure!
You that time spares and rejuvenates,
Will you keep of this night, fair nature,
    At least its memory pure?

Let it abide in your repose or your storms,
Beautiful lake, in the face of your smiling hills,
And in these dark firs, and these wild rocks
    Which hang o'er your waters still!

Let it be in the zephyr that shudders in passing,
In the sounds of your shores and by them repeated,
In the silver-faced star that whitens your expanse
    With its softened brightness!

Let the wind that groans and the reeds that sigh
The gentle perfume of your balmy air,
Let all that is heard or seen or breathed
    All say: "In love they were."

Translated by Thomas D. Le


Lisolement

Lamartine

Souvent, sur la montagne, lombre du vieux chne,
Au coucher du soleil, tristement je massieds ;
Je promne au hazard mes regards sur la plaine,
Dont le tableau changeant se droule mes pieds.

Ici gronde le fleuve aux vagues cumantes ;
Il serpente et senfonce en un lointain obscur ;
L, le lac immobile tend ses eaux dormantes
O ltoile du soir se lve dans lazur.

Au sommet de ces monts coronns de bois sombres,
Le crpuscule encor jette un dernier rayon ;
Et le char vaporeux de la reine des ombres
Monte, et blanchit dj les bords de lhorizon.

Cependant, slanant de la flche gothique,
Un son religieux se rpand dans les airs !
Le voyageur sarrte, et la cloche rustique
Aux derniers bruits du jour mle de saints concerts.

Mais à ces doux tableaux mon me indiffrente
Nprouve devant eux ni charme ni transports ;
Je contemple la terre ainsi quune ombre errante :
Le soleil des vivants nchauffe plus les morts.

De colline en colline en vain portant ma vue,
Du sud à laquilon, de laurore au couchant,
Je parcours tous les points de limmense tendue
Et je dis : Nulle part le bonheur ne mattend.

Que me font ces vallons, ces palais, ces chaumières,
Vains objects dont pour moi le charme est envol ?
Fleuves, rochers, forts, solitude si chres,
Un seul tre vous manque, et tout est dpeupl !

Que le tour du soleil ou commence ou sachve,
Dun oeil indiffrent je le suis dans son cours ;
En un ciel sombre ou pur quil se couche ou se lve,
Quimporte le soleil ? je nattends rien des jours.

Quand je pourrais le suivre en sa vaste carrire,
Mes yeux verraient partout le vide et les dserts ;
Je ne dsire rien de tout ce quil claire ;
Je ne demande rien limmense univers.

Mais peut-tre au del des bornes de sa sphre,
Lieux o le vrai soleil claire dautres cieux,
Si je pouvais laisser ma dpouille la terre,
Ce que jai tant rv paratrait mes yeux !

L, je menivrerais la source o jaspire ;
L, je retrouverais et lespoir et lamour,
Et ce bien idal que toute me dsire
Et qui na pas de nom au terrestre sjour !

Que ne puis-je, port sur le char de lAurore,
Vague object de mes voeux, mlancer jusqu toi !
Sur la terre dexil pourquoi rest-je encore ?
Il nest rien de commun entre la terre et moi.

Quand la feuille des bois tombe dans la prairie,
Le vent du soir se lve et larrache aux vallons ;
Et moi, je suis semblable la feuille fltrie
Emportez-moi comme elle, orageux aquilons !

C đơn

Trn ni đ, dưới bng cy cỗ thụ
Ti ngồi buồn chiều bung rũ quanh đy
Cảnh vật nhìn như tranh vẽ đổi thay
Dưới chn tri đồng xanh di bt ngt.

Đy sng su uốn lượn qua ghềnh thc
Giòng nước xui tri mất đến phương no
Mặt hồ kia im bng lặng lờ su
Trăng mới mọc trn nền trời xanh thẩm.

Đy đồi ni, rừng cy tranh tối sẫm
Chiều chưa đi tia nắng cuối hong hn
Kìa gương nga bng sng chiếu chập chờn
Chn trời đ nhuộm bạc mầu trăng dọi.

Bổng từ đỉnh thp chung cao vòi vọi
Tiếng chung ngn vang dội khắp khng gian
Lữ khch dừng chn đứng lại bn đng
Lắng nghe khc nguyện cầu kinh buổi tối.

Cảnh vật dẫu đẹp xinh như tranh mới
Sao hồn ti vẫn hờ hững chẳng mng
Trần thế ơi ! sao hư o, hoang mang
Mặt trời ấm khng sưởi lòng kẻ chết.

Chập chng dẫy đồi non kia nối tiếp
Tri từ Nam ch Bắc đến Đng Ty
Mắt ti tìm hết cả điểm quanh đy
Chẳng nhìn thấy nơi no l hạnh phc.

Kìa thung lũng với nh tranh vch đất
Nọ lu đi sang c chẳng còn duyn
Sng ni kia, rừng tịch mịch c min
Một người vắng tất cả đều hoang vắng.

Vầng thi dương lc rạng đng hay tắt nắng
Ti hững hờ cm lặng dõi theo chừng
Trn bầu trời trong vắt hoặc mịt mng
Ti chẳng đợi một ngy no sng lạng.

Cũng c lc khi mặt trời soi sng
Ti thấy ton sa mạc với khoảng khng
Khng ước mơ gì cả dưới trời hồng
M cũng chẳng mong gì trong vũ trụ.

Cũng c thể ngoi vòng cương tõa cũ
Vầng Thi dương sng dội ci trời no
Khi ti lìa thn xc dưới đất su
Ti sẽ thấy những gì ti mộng ước.

Nơi đ suối tình xưa tìm lại được
Hy vọng trn bể i ngập nguồn n
Nơi ngọt ngo t tưởng của tình thn
Miền hạnh phc hồng trần khng tiếng gọi.

Xin được nu nh bình minh sng chi
Vượt ngn trng bay tới để tìm em
Sống lưu đi trần thế được gì thm ?
Còn chi nữa giữa ti v đất lạnh.

Khi chiếc l lìa cnh rơi mỏi cnh
Gi chiều ln xoy cuốn l bay đi
Hồn ti như chiếc l ho sầu bi
Gi bấc thổi bay vo theo mun hướng.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân
16 mai 2004

Solitude

Often on the mountain in the old oak's shadow
In the gathering sundown I sit in sorrow,
And cast a random look around over the plain
Whose changing face unfolds below its scenic pane.

Here growls a river bubbling its white heads,
Snaking a deep path into the far spreads;
There still waters lie in a rustic lake;
The evening star rises, night in its wake.

On those high peaks that bear the somber woods
The last dusky light casts its gloomy moods.
And the misty charriot of Darkness Queen
Rises to blanch the world in its white sheen.

From a Gothic flche there spreads everywhere
The peel of bells that wafts over the air.
As the traveler stops, the rustic bell tower
Mingles its holy sounds with day's last hour.

To those peaceful tableaux my soul deadens
And feels no joy or bliss or elation.
To this wide world I'm just a lost shadow.
The sun will never wake the dead below.

My eyes in vain scan round the hills beyond
From south to northerly, from dusk to dawn.
I look throughout in this immensity,
And say, "There is no happiness for me."

What good are they, thatch hut, palace and dells,
Empty places from which no charm still dwells?
Rivers, forests, stones and solitude rare,
Just one person missing leaves the world bare.

Whether the sun begins or ends its course,
It leaves me cold and impassive perforce,
Be it somber or pure, rising or setting.
Who cares about the sun? I expect nothing.

Perhaps beyond the bourne of its true sphere
The sun shines bright in the other skies clear.
If I could leave my body free of care
Then I would find among the dreams my share.

So far as I can see, the whole wide earth
Leaves me but emptiness and void desert;
I want nothing of all the world and clime,
Nothing at all until the end of time.

There where I could drink up the source of bliss,
That's where I'd find my love and happiness.
And that's the ideal good my soul desires,
Nameless on earth, to which my heart aspires.

Would that the god of Sun take me to where
You dwell, object of love with you I share.
Why should I tarry in earthly exile?
Nothing to share on this my desert isle.

And when the leaves fall down on the prairies
To be flown off the vale by evening breeze,
Just as a wilted leaf I'll be forlorn.
O, northerly, take me with you, windborne.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
3 July 2005



Return to Featured Authors

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859)

One of the most gifted poetesses of the Romantic period, Mme Marceline Desbordes-Valmore found in her poetry a solace from a life buffeted by misfortunes.

Born in the northern French town of Douai on 20 June 1786, in the midst of a textile-dependent economy in crisis, Marceline-Félicité-Joseph was the youngest daughter of Antoine-Felix Desbordes, a painter of armories and church ornaments and Catherine-Cécile Lucas both descendants of Swiss immigrants. The Revolution ruined the family fortune, forcing the barely adolescent Marceline and her mother to take a trip to Guadeloupe in search of relief with a successful cousin. Marceline was chosen from among her parents' four children.to accompany her mother. To earn the fare for the trip, Marceline had to join a theater in Lille, then in Rochefort and Bordeaux, learning the cruelty of life along the way. Finally, in 1801, three years after leaving Douai, they began the perilous journey during a time when England and France were at war on the seas. When they arrived, Guadeloupe was convulsed by a violent revolt of the slaves against the French colons. The cousin, having lost his property and his wife during the uprising, had fled (Pougin 45)1. Shortly afterwards her mother died of yellow fever. Thanks to the compassion of strangers, she was finally returned at Dunkirk, now sixteen, destitute, and with her physical safety barely intact. Back to Douai, she plunged headlong into a career of acting and singing first in Rouen, then at the Opra Comique (in 1805), where she gained the protection of the famed composer Grétry, with whom she maintained a steady correspondance after she left Paris. In 1813 she appeared in Paris again, this time at l'Odéon. It is in this town that she met in 1808 Henri de Latouche, her first true love, which lasts thirty years according to one account, whose identity she never revealed, except as "Olivier" in her poems. From this union a child was born who did not survive. Though very successful as an actress, Desbordes-Valmore left the Opra Comique to return to the theater in Rouen, and from there in 1815 she left for a role of Rosine in Rossini's Barber of Sville at the Thtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. Here she married in 1817 a second-rate actor, Prosper Lanchantin also called Valmore, from whom she had two daughters and a son. The first legitimate child died within a few weeks. Of the next three childen, two girls and one boy, the first-born, Ines, died during adolescence; Ondine died as a young woman, after she herself had seen her own daughter die in childhood. Only Hippolyte survived both his parents; he served twenty years in the army, seven of which in captivity by the Spaniards and then by the English..

In spite of the numerous personal tragedies Desbordes-Valmore started to write, prolifically, as a girl, a sister, a friend, a woman, and a mother, producing 25,000 verses, thousands of pages of prose, more than 3,000 letters not intended for publication. Written sometimes out of pecuniary necessity, sometimes for her own therapeutic purposes, the healing or palliating of a love life rent by heartaches, sometimes as a weapon with which to defend the weak against the powerful, her poetry easily retains the values and qualities which move her contemporaries and the modern reader to appreciate her as a significant voice among the Romantics. For twenty years, she and her husband would travel from city to city to earn a living, which hovered on the brink of indigence, until she finally gave up the theater in 1832 to devote full time to literature. Marceline Desbordes-Valmore died in Paris on 28 February 1859, at last finding peace from a tormented and painful life..

Her collections of Élgies, Marie et Romances (1819), Élgies et Romances nouvelles (New Elegies and Romances, 1825), Posies (1830), Les Pleurs (Tears, 1833), Pauvres Fleurs (Poor Flowers, 1839), Bouquets et Prires (Bouquets and Prayers, 1843) charmed the habitus of the salons of her days. She also wrote children's and family-oriented books: Contes en vers pour les Enfants (Tales in Verse for Children, 1840), Contes en prose (1840), Livre des Mres et des Enfants (Book for Mothers and Children, 1840), Anges de la Famille (1849), Jeunes Ttes et Jeunes Coeurs (Young Heads and Young Hearts, 1855). Among posthumous works are Posies indites (Unpublished Poems, 1860), Posies de l'Enfance (Poems of Childhood, 1868), Contes et Scnes de la Vie de Famille (Tales and Scenes of Family Life, 1865), Posies en Patois (1896). The novels include Une Raillerie de l'Amour (The Mocking of Love, 1833) L'Atelier d'un Peintre (The Workshop of a Painter, 1833) Violette (1839), and the novellas Salon de Lady Betty (1836), Domenica (1843), Huit Femmes (Eight Wives, 1845)

Her poetry, very much a spontaneous and lyrical effusion of a tender heart touching upon the elegiac and the epic, brims with female emotions and anxieties of love, the joys of motherhood, social concerns, political concerns, and religious fervor. Her pesonal lyricism evinces beauty, sincerity, and spontaneity that reach a sublime intensity. Woven with a soft texture, her verse delights the ear with the euphonious sounds that herald the musicality of Verlaine. The musicality of her verse must have benefited from the sense of musical rhythm she developed as a singer. Her style and rhythm, the odd number of syllables in verse (she introduced the eleven-syllable verse before Verlaine), her melancholy, her doleful passion, her pains and miseries form an amalgam that is strikingly original and modern. Detractors were outnumbered by admirers, among whom great men of letters such as Lamartine, Branger, Alfred de Vigny, Victor Hugo, Rimbaud, Verlaine, even Baudelaire. As if in recognition of a kindred soul, André Breton says of her, "Desbordes-Valmore is surrealist in love." Findng in her a soulmate for her love pains and politics, Louis Aragon, too, joins the encomium and is largely responsible for thrusting Deabordes-Valmore, who incorporates in her verse the major movements of the 19th century, into the modern consciousness. Her inspirations encompass the elegiac elements of a Lamartine and Alfred de Musset, the epic of a Victor Hugo, the symbolist of a Stéphane Mallarmé and Baudelaire, even the socio-political, and the humanist, not to mention the not so hidden feminist. Partly due to her lack of an academic background and any intellectual orientation, she is an independent, free-thinker who ranges across a wide spectrum of themes, anything that touches her heart, her conscience, her sensibility as a woman, a sister, a friend, a wife, a mother, a struggling artist who experienced first-hand the inequities and deceptions of life.

Considered a minor poet partly because of her status as a woman writer (She even wrote, "Women, I know, should not write; however, I write."), Desbordes-Valmore has elicited a new burst of interest among modern critics. Her ability to deal with personal sufferings, an unforturnate love (with Henri de Latouche? with Dr. Alibert of the Opra Comique?), loss of her children and friends, and an existence vitiated by near-poverty strikes the modern reader as admirable strength and fortitude. Although this renewed interest was fueled in no small part by feminist criticism, Desbordes-Valmore's works proffers fertile ground for investigating other themes such as those abounding in the social and political arenas. Her poems capture the essence of love with tenderness and precision; the distresses and dreams of a woman in search of identity; the compassion for and defense of the children, the poor, the poor children, the women, the prisoners; in short, the downtrodden and vulnerable. Another dimension of this long-suffering soul is her spirituality. In spite of all the trials and vicissitudes she never loses faith in God2.

Charles Baudelaire, the eminent critic Sainte-Beuve, Paul Verlaine, Alexandre Dumas, Théodore de Banville, among a host of others, wrote critically of Desbordes-Valmore, paying tribute to her exquisite poetry and to "the modern Sappho," as the great Paganini called her, who was "born for love, suffering, and poetry," as Arthur Pougin (7) put it in La Jeunesse de Mme Desbordes-Valmore (The Youth of Mrs. Desbordes-Valmore). Pougin characterizes Desbordes-Valmore thus, "If Marceline has so far arranged her rhymes, if she has tried to express her feelings and sensations in verses more or less sonorous, more or less harmonious, it is the sole torture of her heart that draws from it the accents of a vibrant, pathetic, ardent poetry, always impregnated with intense emotions, which were later to elicit admiration and earn her an imperishable reputation." (Pougin 82)

In his Les Poètes maudits3 (The Accursed Poets), Verlaine reviews six poets, including himself as Pauvre Lelian (anagram of Paul Verlaine), whom he calls Poètes absolus, absolute in imagination, absolute in expression. There is no definition, just an assertion, of the term maudit. After dwelling at length on the merits of Desbordes-Valmore's verse with copious examples, Verlaine concludes, with hyperbolic flourish, "being powerless to further dissect such an angel." (76) Then in a memorable finale, "And, pedant as is our pitiable métier, we must proclaim with a loud and intelligible voice that Marceline Desbordes-Valmore is simply -- along with George Sand, who is so different, so hard, yet not without charming graces, great sense, and of proud and rather masculine disposition -- the only woman of genius and talent of this century and of all centuries alongside Sappho, perhaps, and St. Theresa." (76)

If by "poète maudit" is meant a poet of talent, who has difficulty fitting in, and is thus forced to live on the fringe by circumstances, rejecting the values of or being rejected by society, and sometimes engaging in asocial, provoking, dangerous, or self-destructive behavior (such as drug and alcohol abuse), possibly paying the price of early death for it or receiving only belated or incommensurate recognition, then Desbordes-Valmore does not exactly fit the mold. Yet, this romantic notion, pushed to an extreme, has a curious appeal, and by its measure some of Desbordes-Valmore's admirers, namely Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, certainly would qualify. If to the designation is attached such descriptive terms as incomprehensible, hermetic, misunderstood, over the top, then one could add Stéphane Mallarmé for his impenetrable poems (Jules Renard calls Mallarmé, intraduisible, même en français, untranslatable, even in French), Lautréamont for his potentially blasphemous depiction of evil, Lautréamont, who died young at 24.

Desbordes-Valmore's two most famous poems are highlighted here, Les Roses de Saadi and Les Séparés, the latter having been set to music by Julien Leclerc.in his album "Julien" published in 1997.

1Pougin, Arthur. La Jeunesse de Mme Desbordes-Valmore. Paris:Calman-Levy, 1898.

2Le Poème d'une vie. Le site officiel de Marceline Desbordes-Valmore. 7 Jul 2007
http://www.desbordes-valmore.net/poeme.html

3Verlaine, Paul. Les Poètes maudits. Paris: Léon Vanier, 1888.

7 July 2007

Les Roses de Saadi

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

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 en est toute embaumée.
Respires-en sur moi l'odorant souvenir.

Hoa Hồng Saadi

Sáng nay hái hoa hồng, anh yêu dấu!
Hoa quá nhiều giây áo buộc đứt hai
Theo gió cuốn nụ hồng lả tả bay
Sóng biển dạt hoa trôi không trở lại.

Sóng sắc đỏ màu hoa như lửa rực
Áo chiều nay em sực nức mùi hồng
Trên da thơm anh hãy thở hương nồng
Để mãi nhớ hương tình đầy kỷ niệm.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân
4 août 2002

The Roses of Saadi

I wanted you to have roses this morn,
And stuffed a lot of them in my snug dress,
In my tight belt I could not all shoehorn.

The knots gave way, and threw them all around,
To wind and sea they were all gone forlorn
To flow with water, never will come round.

The waves were crimson red as if on fire.
This eve my dress is drenched in their fragrance,
Breathe it and keep it to your heart's desire.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
12 August 2002


Les Séparés

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

N'cris pas - Je suis triste, et je voudrais m'teindre
Les beaux ts sans toi, c'est la nuit sans flambeau
J'ai referm mes bras qui ne peuvent t'atteindre,
Et frapper mon coeur, c'est frapper au tombeau
N'cris pas !

N'cris pas - N'apprenons qu' mourir nous-mmes
Ne demande qu' Dieu ... qu' toi, si je t'aimais !
Au fond de ton silence couter que tu m'aimes,
C'est entendre le ciel sans y monter jamais
N'cris pas !

N'cris pas - Je te crains; j'ai peur de ma mmoire;
Elle a gard ta voix qui m'appelle souvent
Ne montre pas l'eau vive qui ne peut la boire
Une chre criture est un portrait vivant
N'cris pas !

N'cris pas ces mots doux que je n'ose plus lire :
Il semble que ta voix les rpand sur mon coeur;
Et que je les vois brler travers ton sourire;
Il semble qu'un baiser les empreint sur mon coeur
N'cris pas !

Những Kẻ Xa Nhau

Đừng viết nữa! Em buồn, em muốn chết
Hè đẹp xinh, anh vắng, chỉ đêm đen
Vòng tay em quàng lại chằng tới anh,
Tay đấm ngực, như đấm mồ hoang lạnh
Đừng viết nữa!

Đừng viết nữa! Biết rằng cho đến chết
Ôi, hỡi Trời… hỡi anh biết, em yêu!
Dù vắng anh, em vẫn hiểu anh yêu
Như cảm thấy trời cao chưa vói tới
Đừng viết nữa!

Đừng viết nữa! Em sợ trong tiềm thức
Giọng nói quen anh vẫn gọi tên em
Suối nguồn kia đâu uống được hở anh!
Cho nét chữ thành dáng người sống động
Đừng viết nữa!

Đừng viết lời ngọt ngào không dám đọc
Như tiếng anh vương vãi khắp tim em
Lời anh như lửa bỏng, nụ cười êm
Chiếc hôn đó đốt hằn tim em cháy
Đừng viết nữa!

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân
Madison, AL, 2 juillet, 2007

Asunder

Do not write - I am sad and just wish to expire.
Lovely summers without you are but a dark night.
I have closed up my arms, which can no more reach you,
And to strike at my heart is to strike at the grave.
Do not write!

Do not write - Let us learn for ourselves how to die.
Ask only God... and to yourself if I loved you!
In your absence's depth to hear that you love me
Is to hear heaven without ever getting there.
Do not write!

Do not write - I fear you, and too my memory;
It keeps the voice that calls often to me.
Do not show one running water who cannot drink.
A dear handwritten word is like a live portrait.
Do not write!

Do not write me sweet words I no longer dare read.
It seems your voice spreads them upon my heart
And that I see them searing through your smile,
It seems a kiss imprints them on my heart.
Do not write!

Translated by Thomas D. Le
30 June 2007


L'Amour

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

Vous demandez si l'amour rend heureuse;
Il le promet, croyez-le, fût-ce un jour.
Ah! pour un jour d'existence amoureuse,
Qui ne mourrait? la vie est dans l'amour.

Quand je vivais tendre et craintive amante,
Avec ses feux je peignais ses douleurs:
Sur son portrait j'ai versé tant de pleurs,
Que cette image en paraît moins charmante.

Si le sourire, éclair inattendu,
Brille parfois au milieu de mes larmes,
C'était l'amour; c'était lui, mais sans armes;
C'était le ciel. . . qu'avec lui j'ai perdu.

Sans lui, le cœur est un foyer sans flamme;
Il brûle tout, ce doux empoisonneur.
J'ai dit bien vrai comme il déchire une âme:
Demandez-donc s'il donne le bonheur!

Vous le saurez: oui, quoi qu'il en puisse être,
De gré, de force, amour sera le maître;
Et, dans sa fièvre alors lente à guérir,
Vous souffrirez, ou vous ferez souffrir.

Dès qu'on l'a vu, son absence est affreuse;
Dès qu'il revient, on tremble nuit et jour;
Souvent enfin la mort est dans l'amour
Et cependant….oui, l’amour rend heureuse!

Tình Yêu

Tình đem hạnh phúc tới không?
Tình mang lời hứa dù trong một ngày
Một ngày đã biết yêu ai
Dẫu ta có thác, cuộc đời đã yêu

Tình em tha thiết đã nhiều
Lửa tâm thiêu đốt một chiều đớn đau
Hình ai em trút lệ sầu
Đã nhòa nét mực sắc mầu cũng phai

Nụ cười ai lóe trên môi
Qua bao nước mắt còn ngời ánh sao
Tình nghe sắc bén không dao
Một trời tôi đã lạc vào biệt tăm

Tình không: tim vắng lửa hồng
Êm như độc dược mà lòng cháy thiêu
Hồn tôi rách nát đã nhiều
Xin ai đừng hỏi tình yêu nhiệm mầu?

Người ơi, biết trước hay sau:
Tình là chủ tể có cầu hay chăng
Để trong cơn sốt lâu lành
Ta gieo nỗi khổ, hay giành thương đau

Tình xa khơi động mạch sầu
Tình về run rẫy giọt châu đêm ngày
Nhiều khi tình chết trong tay
Thế mà hạnh phúc từ ngày yêu anh

Traduit par David Lý Lãng Nhân
Madison, 13 July, 2007

Love

You asked if love makes one happy.
His promise's yes, be it for a day.
Ah, who wouldn't want to live one day for love
Then die? For life does live in love.

As lover full of gentleness and fear,
With his fires I painted his suffering,
On his portrait I shed so many tears
That his image became much less charming.

If smile, that unexpected gleam,
Broke out sometimes amidst my tears,
It was love, unarmed, it was him,
And heaven with him disappears.

Deprived of love, the heart's icy.
Yet he burns all, and poisons all.
He sure knows how to rend a soul.
Ask him if he makes one happy!

You'll know, whatever may occur,
That love will win by force or grace;
And in the slow-healing fever he made
You will suffer and make others suffer.

Once found, his absence is torture,
And when he's back, one shakes every hour.
Often it's death that lives in love.
And yet, love does make one happy.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
13 July 2007




Return to Featured Authors

Sully-Prudhomme (1839-1907)
Winner of 1901 Nobel Prize for Literature

Reacting against the excesses of Romanticism, a new poetry movement, the Parnasse, propounded art for art's sake, lifted poetry to Parnasse, the abode of the Muses, and restored art to its former purity and dignity, from which Lamartine had dragged it down. Three reviews contributed to the Parnassian movement, La Revue fantaisiste (1861), founded by Catulle Mends, who defamed romantic declamation and rehabilitated virtuosity, La Revue du progrs (1863-64), founded by Xavier de Ricard, who extolled scientific poetry, and L'Art (1865-66), dominated by the influence of Leconte de Lisle. The first collection of Parnassian poetry, Le Paranasse contemporain was edited in 1866 by Lemerre, who assembled works from thirty-seven poets, including Thophile Gautier, Baudelaire, Leconte de Lisle, Thodore de Banville, Francois Coppe, Catulle Mends, Jos-Maria de Heredia, Verlaine, Mallarm. This collection was succeeded by two others that were published in 1871 and 1876. All Parnassians shared the cult of formal perfection.

Sully-Prudhomme, by his attention to the precise form and style, belongs in the Parnassian movement. However, his inspiration runs counter to the movement; he sings of his intimate feelings, the dictates of his moral conscience, and the troubles of his thoughts. His lyrical works, Stances et Pomes (Stanzas and Poems 1865), Les preuves (The Trials, 1866), Les Solitudes (1869), Les Vaines Tendresses (Vain Tenderness 1875), are followed by philosophical poems, La Justice (1878) and Le Bonheur (Happiness, 1888). Certain of his poems have a melancholy and delicate charm.

Le vase brisé

Sully Prudhomme

Le vase où meurt cette vervaine
D'un coup d'éventail fut fêlé ;
Le coup dut effleurer à peine,
Aucun bruit ne l'a révélé.

Mais la plus légère meurtrissure,
Mordant le cristal chaque jour,
D'une marche invisible et sûre
En a fait lentement le tour.

Son eau fraîche a fui goutte à goutte,
Le suc des fleurs s'est épuisé ;
Personne encore ne s'en doute,
N'y touchez pas, il est brisé.

Souvent aussi la main qu'on aime,
Effleurant le coeur, le meurtrit ;
Puis le coeur se fend de lui-même,
La fleur de son amour périt ;

Toujours intact aux yeux du monde,
Il sent croître et pleurer tout bas
Sa blessure fine et profonde ;
Il est brisé, n'y touchez pas.

Chiếc Bình Rạn Nứt

Hoa héo chết trong bình nước cạn
Ai có ngờ tai nạn bất tường
Quạt kia vừa khẻ chạm nhẹ nhàng
Không tiếng động mà bình đã rạn.

Vết nứt dẫu nhẹ nhàng nông cạn
Ngày lại ngày thanh thản sâu thêm
Tuy vô hình tàn phá lạng êm
Pha lê đã trọn vòng nứt rạn.

Từng giọt nước lần hồi tiêu tán
Hoa héo dần nhựa cạn hao mòn
Chưa ai ngờ sự thể vẫn còn
Đừng chạm nhé! Bình hoa đã vở.

Thương như thế bàn tay yêu đó
Chạm tim mình dẫu có nhẹ nhàng
Rôi tim kia sẽ tự vở tan
Hoa tình ái thôi đành liệm chết.

Nhưng thế giới bên ngoài ai biết
Khóc âm thầm cho vết thương đau
Nghe trong tâm nứt rạn thâm sâu
Bình đã vỡ, xin đừng chạm nhé.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân
19 Août 2002

The Fissured Vase

This vase wherein the vervain dies
A fan's light touch left a crack fine.
Soft blow it was to all the eyes,
And made no noise one would divine.

Yet slight as is the little bruise,
It gnaws at its crystal each day.
Unseen but sure in its slow cruise
Around the vase it makes its way.

Fresh water leaves in dribs and aught,
The flowers' soul will expire soon.
Though none has yet to suspect naught,
Touch not the vase for it's in ruin.

Thus often when the hand you love
Strokes light the heart yet breaks it so,
The heart shatters on its blest love,
The flower dies of its love's woe.

It looks whole to the world outside,
Yet feels the growth, and softly cries,
Of its wound deep and fine inside.
It is injured, touch not the vase.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
12 August 2002


Les yeux

Sully-Prudhomme

Bleus ou noirs, tous aimés, tous beaux,
Des yeux sans nombre ont vu l'aurore ;
Ils dorment au fond des tombeaux,
Et le soleil se lève encore.

Les nuits plus douces que les jours,
Ont enchanté des yeux sans nombre ;
Les étoiles brillent toujours,
Et les yeux se sont remplis d'ombre.

Oh ! qu'ils aient perdu le regard,
Non, non, cela n'est pas possible
Ils se sont tournés quelque part,
Vers ce qu'on nomme l'invisible.

Et comme les astres penchants
Nous quittent, mais au ciel demeurent,
Les prunelles ont leurs couchants,
Mais il n'est pas vrai qu'elles meurent :

Bleus ou noirs, tous aimés, tous beaux,
Ouverts à quelque immense aurore,
De l'autre côté des tombeaux
Les yeux qu'on ferme voient encore.

Đôi Mắt

Mắt nhung huyền hay mắt xanh hồ thủy
Đẹp như tình chung thủy buổi bình minh
Biết bao người yên nghỉ dưới mồ xanh
Mặt trời vẫn vô tình soi sáng tỏ.

Đêm lắng dịu như đẹp lng mắt dó
Ngày trôi mau đã có vạn người qua
Ánh sao đêm cn lấp lánh cỏi trời xa
Sao mắt ấy đã ngập tràn bóng tối.

Hay mắt đã không nhìn thấy lối
Nhưng không, không! Điều vô lý làm sao!
Mắt kia chỉ quay về một phía nào
Ấy là chốn vô hình ta vẫn gọi.

Như sao lạc chỉ vài giây sáng chói
Dẫu xa ta còn mãi cõi trời xanh
Đôi đồng tử dù đã hết long lanh
Đâu có nghĩa là mắt kia đã chết.

Mắt huyền đẹp hay mắt xanh yêu dấu
Mắt mở tròn soi thấu cõi bình minh
Bên bờ kia ngoài dẫy nấm mồ xanh
Mắt tuy khép vẫn cn trông thấy mãi.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân
24 Août 2002

The Eyes

Blue or black, all adored and fair,
The countless eyes that saw the dawn!
Now rest in peace deep in their lair
While the sun still rises beyon'.

The nights than days are sweeter still
Have delighted the eyes countless.
The stars will always shine at will
And yet the eyes filled with darkness.

O that they have all lost their sight!
But no, no! That just cannot be.
They simply must have turned aside
Towards a place no one can see.

And though the stars will sure decline
In yonder sky they still remain.
The eyeballs fall in sleep supine
Yet always will their life regain.

Blue, black, all beautiful and loved,
And open to some dawn behold,
Beyond the grave the eyes beloved
That death has closed will never fold.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
13 August 2002




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Paul Verlaine (1844-1896)

An only child, spoiled and turbulent, Verlaine was placed in a boarding school. After graduation from high school he attempted law, quickly became bored, quit, and drifted from a job with an insurance company to one with the City of Paris. Soon he took to the bohemian lifestyle and alcohol, frequented cabarets and the literary circles. His Poèmes Saturniens, written at age 16 while still at the Lycée, were published in 1866 in Paris, to the critical acclaim of Anatole France et Mallarmé. But his addiction to absinthe caused one scandal after another. In 1870, the year of the publication of Les Fêtes Galantes, he married 17-year-old Mathilde Mauté, settled down, and even got involved in political events. During the Commune he joined the insurgents.

In September 1871, he met Arthur Rimbaud, who had sent him his poems, and now had come from Charleville to join him. Falling in love with the youth, he reverted to his cabaret ways. During bouts of drunkenness, he would quarrel with Mathilde or beat her. When the couple's son arrived in October, Rimbaud went back to Charleville. Verlaine's family enjoyed a period of relative calm. Before long Rimbaud and Verlaine got back together, and they fled to Belgium, where Mathilde failed to beg him to come back, then to London, where his mother tried in vain to bring him around.

With Rimbaud he drank, quarreled, and fought, until Rimbaud finally grew tired and left for Charleville, where Verlaine could not persuade him to resume their wanderings. In July 1873, for having shot Rimbaud in the arm Verlaine served a two-year sentence in Brussels, during which time he rediscovered the Christian faith of his childhood. Out of prison Verlaine went to London to teach French and drawing. Back in Paris in 1882, he returned to absinthe, forsaken by his wife, who finally divorced him. He tried to publish Rimbaud's work, wrote for magazines, and published his own poems, Jadis et Naguère (1884), and Parallèllement (1889). Refusing to belong to any literary schools and romantic that he was, he lived in bars surrounded by young women admirers.

He spent the income from his poems and articles on drinks. His friends pooled their resources to help him out with a monthly stipend. Afflicted by rheumatism and leg ulcers, he spent extended periods in the hospital, where he found a measure of tranquillity. Always a maverick, he submitted his candidacy to the Académie Franaise, but received no votes.

However, in 1894, he was elected "Prince of Poets" by his peers to succeed Leconte de Lisle. The only other accolade was bestowed at his funeral one day after his death on January 9, 1896. The Latin Quarter, whose every single bar and tavern he had patronized, became thick with mourners, who formed an honor guard all the way to the Clichy cemetery, to pay tribute to the inveterate drunkard who incarnates Poetry and has joined the ranks of the accursed poets.

Verlaine's art resides in the music of his poetry. It is this inebriating quality, combined with the finely wrought melancholy, the sadness of love and unattained happiness, the delicate and sentimental touch, that set him apart as a magician of the word.

In the short mood poem Chanson d'automne, which encapsulates his Weltschmerz, taken from the Poèmes Saturniens, Verlaine at an early age sees his spirit sink to its nadir. The star-crossed poet, whose tormented life he was to live on the brink of perdition, lets autumn fill his soul with leaden sadness. The languorous sobs of the violin rend his heart. He cries about the past, and faces the future with the vulnerability of an autumn leaf at the mercy of the evil wind. With just a few words in each verse in three six-line stanzas, he creates a haunting lament that clings tenaciously to the psyche. Let the musique verlainienne then begin. To submerge and transport us to an autumn of melancholic heartbreak.

Chanson d'automne

Verlaine

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'autonne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffoquant
Et blême quand
Sonne l'heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure.

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
Deçà, delà
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

Thu ca

Vĩ cầm khc thu buồn
Nghe nức nở sầu tun
Xé tim ti no nuột
Như điệu ht chn chường.

Nghẹn ngo giờ chung đổ
Nhớ tới những ngy xưa
i, khc mấy cho vừa.

Ti sẽ ra đi mi
Mặc gi cuốn bay xa
Đy đ biết đu l
Như l vng rụng chết.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân
14 Octobre 2002

Song of Autumn

The prolonged sobs
Of the violin
In the autumn
Tear up my heart
With languishing
Monotone.

Suffocating
And listless when
The dread hour strikes
I remember
The days of yore
And I cry.

And I wander
In evil wind
Which carries me
Hither, thither
Like a dead leaf
I would be.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
30 June 2001

Il pleure dans mon coeur

Verlaine

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur ?

Ô bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits !
Pour un coeur qui s'ennuie
Ô le chant de la pluie !

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s'écoeure.
Quoi ! nulle trahison?
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C'est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi
Sans amour et sans haine
Mon coeur a tant de peine !

Khóc Thầm

Sướt mướt tim tôi khóc
Như mưa trn phố phường.
Vì sao sầu héo hắt
Xuyn thấu cả tâm cang?

Tiếng mưa rơi m ả
Trn đất, trn mái nhà
Thm não lng, buồn dạ
Tiếng mưa, ôi thiết tha!

Sụt sùi không duyn cớ
Tim nầy vẫn nghẹn ngào;
Duyn tình không phản bội
Sao lại thảm th gào.

Khổ tâm nầy ai thấu
Nào biết lý do đâu
Không yu, không tủi hận
Sao tim quá sầu đau?

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân
24 Août 2002

The Cry in My Heart

The cry that's in my heart is like
The rain that pours onto the town.
What is this languor sad to strike
And weigh my heavy heart low down?

O rain whose sound that is so sweet
Upon the roofs and on the grounds!
It fills my heart with grief replete.
O rain whose song that so resounds!

For no known reason it cries so
In my sad heart filled with distress.
What, no real treason can I know?
This mournful mood is meaningless.

What can be worse than this deep pain
That kills, and yet I know not why.
No love nor hate, only this bane
That wounds my heart and lets it cry.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
29 August 2002


Nevermore

Verlaine

Souvenir, souvenir, que me veux-tu ? Lautomne
Faisait voler la grive travers lair atone,
Et le soleil dardait un rayon monotone
Sur le bois jaunissant o la bise dtonne.

Nous tions seul seule et marchions en rvant,
Elle et moi, les cheveux et la pense au vent.
Soudain, tournant vers moi son regard mouvant :
Quel fut ton plus beau jour? fit sa voix dor vivant,

Sa voix douce et sonore, au frais timbre anglique.
Un sourire discret lui donna la rplique,
Et je baisai sa main blanche, devotement.

- Ah! Les premires fleurs, quelles sont parfumes!
Et quil bruit avec un murmure charmant
Le premier oui qui sort de lvres bien-aimes!

Còn chi hơn nữa

i kỹ niệm, ma thu no c nhớ ?
Chim họa mi vỗ cnh cảnh thu buồn
Tia mặt trời sng dọi những cnh sương
Rừng phong đã nhuộm vng trong gi lạnh

Nng với ti hai người đi thơ thẫn
Tc my bay hồn mộng cũng chơi vơi
Mắt say sưa nng bổng chợt hỏi ti :
Ngy đẹp nhất trong đời anh sao nhỉ ?

Nghe giọng ni yu kiều thm thy mị
Ti mỉm cười vừa cầm lấy tay nng
Đặt nụ hn tay ng ấy nồng nn

Ti khẻ bảo : Hoa đầu tin thơm qu !
Thoảng nghe tiếng nng thì thầm m
Tiếng đầu tin Vng ạ ! thot mi yu.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân
29 Août 2002

Nevermore

Memory, O memory, what wilt thou of me?
The autumn sent the thrush cross lifeless sky
While the sun shot its dull arrows of light
On the yellow wood where the north wind howled.

We were alone dreaming away in lonely walk,
She and I, our hair and thoughts flying in the breeze.
Then suddenly she turned to me her moving look
What was your best day? in lively golden voice,

A sweet and clear voice with angelic tone.
With discreet smile I gave her my reply,
Then kissed her white hand with devoted love.

Ah! How so fragrant are the first flowers!
What a sound uttered in charming murmur
That first sweet Yes from those lips I love!

Translated by Thomas D. Le
2 December 2004


Mon rve familier
(Pomes saturniens)

Verlaine

Je fais souvent ce rve trange et pntrant
Dune femme inconnue, et que jaime, et qui maime
Et qui nest chaque fois, ni tout fait la mme,
Ni tout fait une autre, et maime et me comprend.

Car elle me comprend, et mon coeur transparent
Pour elle seule, hlas! cesse dtre un problme;
Pour elle seule, et les moiteurs de mon front blme,
Elle seule les sait rafraichir, en pleurant.

Est-elle brune, blonde ou rousse? Je lignore.
Son nom? Je me souviens quil est doux et sonore
Comme ceux des aims que la vie exila.

Son regard est pareil au regard des statues;
Et pour sa voix, lointaine et calme, et grave, elle a
Linflexion des voix chres qui se sont tues.

Giấc mơ quen

Giấc mơ thường đến lạ lng
Người khng quen biết m cng yu nhau
Mổi lần tuy c khc sao
Hiểu ti, em đ hiến bao nhiu tình.

Tim anh trong suốt thủy tinh
Bởi em đ hiểu mối tình đớn đau
Vì em trn hết buồn mau
Lệ em rưới mt tm sầu năm xưa.

Tc vng, hay thẩm, đong đưa ?
Tn em anh nhớ tiếng vừa m tai
Người yu, đời đ lưu đi.

Mắt em, tượng đ như ngy dại buồn
Tiếng em, xa vẳng trầm vương
Giọng người yu đ tắt nguồn từ lu.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân
9 December 2002

My Familiar Dream

Ive often this strange and impressive dream
Of an unknown girl I love and loves me,
And who each time is neither the same deemed
Nor different who loves and understands me.

For she knows me, and my crystal-clear heart
For her only is not a puzzling part.
For she alone of my pale sweaty brow
To freshen up with tears she does know how.

Is she brunette, blond, or red? I know not
Her name? I recall it sweet, and nice-sounding
Like those of the belovd that lifes banished.

Her look is so much like that of statues;
And her voice thats far off and calm and grave
Sounds like those that are loved and fallen still.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
26 October 2004



Green

Verlaine

Voici des fruits, des fleurs, des feuilles et des branches
Et puis voici mon coeur, qui ne bat que pour vous.
Ne le dchirez pas avec vos deux mains blanches
Et qu vos yeux si beaux lhumble prsent soit doux.

Jarrive tout couvert encore de rose
Que le vent du matin vient glacer mon front.
Souffrez que ma fatigue, vos pieds repose,
Rve des chers instants qui la dlasseront.

Sur votre jeune sein laissez rouler ma tte
Toute sonore encor de vos derniers baisers ;
Laissez-la sapaiser de la bonne tempte,
Et que je dorme un peu puisque vous reposez.

Xanh

Nầy l hoa, l cnh v cy tri
Đy tim nầy chỉ đập mãi cho em
Tay ng xin chớ x nt tim anh
i mắt đẹp! Nhận cht tình khim tốn.

Anh đến đy khi sương dầy khắp chốn
Gi mai lm băng gi trn anh đầy
Thầm mơ khi ngồi dưới gt chn gầy
Bao mệt mỏi biến thnh giy khoan khoi

Ngực em trẻ tựa mi đầu thoải mi
Tiếng em hn còn vang mãi bn tai
Trận cuồn phong đ lắng dịu trng khơi
Cho anh ngủ trong tay em yn giấc

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, Alabama, 4 Octobre 2002

Green

Herere the fruit, the flowrs, the leaves, and limbs
And heres my heart, which beats for you only.
Let you not tear it up with your white hands
As humble gift its for your eyes lovely.

I came all bathed in morning dew
That on my brow the wind had froze.
Let me tired at your feet repose
Dream of dear times that me renew.

On your young breast let my head squeeze
Full of the sounds of your last kiss.
Let it find calm from the tempest
And me to find sleep while you rest.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
4 December 2004




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Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918)

Guillaume Apollinaire, born Wilhelm Apollinaire de Kostrowitzki in Rome on August 26, 1880, of an expatriate Polish mother and an Italian father, received a good education at the College of Saint-Charles de Monaco. Two years after moving to Paris, Guillaume Apollinaire took in 1901 the position of tutor to Miss Gabrielle de Milhau, whose maternal grandmother owned properties in the Rheinland. Following his pupil's family to the Westwald, he lived in Neu-Glück then in Munich. He traveled all across Germany and Austria, then on to Bohemia. Some of his early poems evoke the "firs with pointed caps" of the Rheinish landscape. He fell in love with a young English governess of the Milhaus, Annie Playden, whom he followed to London. The rebuff of her parents and her subsequent departure to America left him so deeply hurt that he wrote the Chansons du mal-aim (Songs of the Unloved) in 1903.

Back in Paris, Guillaume Apollinaire got frenetically involved in literary activities, joining a small band of poets (among whom Andr Salmon and Alfred Jarry) who met in the basement of the Soleil d'Or on Quai Saint-Michel, and another group headed by Paul Fort and Moras at the Closerie des Lilas before leading as editor-in-chief the short-lived review Le Festin d'Esope. He made friends with the young modernist painters Vlaminck, Derain, and finally Picasso, who introduced him to the poet Max Jacob, and with whom he later formulated the cubist esthetics. Guillaume Apollinaire joined all avant-garde movements, witnessed the advent of fauvism, and introduced the public to the naive art of the Customs officer Henri Rousseau. Published in 1908 his first volume, L'Enchanteur pourrissant (The Rotting Wizard), illustrated by Derain, recounted in strange poetic prose the dialogue between Merlin and the fairy Viviane. The following year appeared a collection of short stories, l'Hrsiarque et Cie, which were told with energetic verve. In 1911 the refined poems of the Bestiaire revealed the boldness of his symbolism and the delicacy of his taste. But it was another wider and more varied collection published in 1913 entitled, Alcools, that confirmed his poetic talent, and his lust for an intense life.

In the fall of 1914 he was infatuated with a flirtatious young woman he met at Nice named Lou, who was to cause him untold suffering. Soon after enlistment in Nîmes Guillaume Apollinaire served in an artillery unit. At his request, he was sent to the front line in April 1915. In March 1916 now a second lieutenant in the infantry, he received a head wound from an incoming shell while in a trench. After surgery he went back to Paris, where he published Les Mamelles de Tersias (Teresa's Breasts), a "surrealist drama" of repopulation. In Le Pote assassin (The Murdered Poet), he recounted with somber humor the symbolic history of a misunderstood genie, Croniamantal, who was stoned to death by a mob, victim of an ingrate mistress and an absurd century. In the manifesto L'Esprit nouveau (The New Spirit) he laid down the canon of the modern art. His Calligrammes, published in 1918, poems on the war and his passion for Lou, contained some in which the words were arranged in the shape of a drawing that suggested the visual image of the object whose theme was being treated. Thus, the poem titled Il pleut (It rains) spread from the top to the bottom of the page in parallel oblique lines reminiscent of a driving rain. His esthetic experimentations were cut short by the relapse of his wound. A Spanish flu epidemic took him away just two days before the war's end. His remaining poems for Lou were collected in the 1947 volume Ombre de mon amour (Shadow of my Love), and the rest appeared in Le Guetteur mlancolique (The Melancholic Sentry) in 1952.

Guillaume Apollinaire, heir to the romantic tradition, revealed in his intimate verse the secret torment of his suffering soul, the melancholy of an ill-understood solitude from which he was unable to escape, a nostalgic lament expressed with mysterious harmony and purity. Innovator in the realm of poetic expression, he not only invented the calligrammes, but also, as in the first poem of Alcools entitled Zone, experimented with the esthetics of cubism by a chaotic juxtaposition of disparate motifs. Throwing together themes heard from the cafs and other public places with disarming spontaneity and intentional confusion, he deliberately created bold associations and astounding images that shocked the reader into a sense of bewilderment and wonder. By his very boldness Guillaume Apollinaire was a trailblazer who fought the battle between tradition and invention to the bitter end, proclaiming the primacy of the spirit of adventure over the sterility of well-worn ways.

The audacity of his ideas and his bold experimentations with form and content helped to point the way for French poetry to discover hitherto unexplored potentialities.

Le pont Mirabeau

Guillaume Apollinaire

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine
Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure.

Les mains dans les mains restons face-à-face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l'onde si lasse
Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure.

L'amour s'en va comme cette eau courante
L'amour s'en va
Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l'espérance est violente
Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure.

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passé
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure.

Cầu Mỵ La

Cầu Mỵ-La sông Sen nước chảy
Dĩ vãng như tình chẳng trở về
Nhắc chi nữa cũng thừa lệ ước
Ngày vui đâu đến trước thương đau.
Đêm đã tới, điểm giờ chuông đổ
Tháng ngày đi tôi ở phương nầy.

Cầu nối nhịp vòng tay áp mặt
Thiên thu làn sóng mắt mõi mòn.
Đêm đã tới, điểm giờ chuông đổ
Tháng ngày đi tôi ở phương nầy.

Tình đã trôi xuôi theo nước cuốn
Giòng đời sao quá chậm ai ôi.
Tình đã xa rồi, thôi vĩnh biệt
Hy vọng còn cuồng nhiệt trong tôi.
Đêm đã tới, điểm giờ chuông đổ
Tháng ngày đi tôi ở phương nầy.

Ngày đi, tuần đến, trôi trôi mãi
Dĩ vãng như tình chẳng trở về
Cầu Mỵ-La sông Sen nước chảy
Tình ta đành mãi mãi phôi pha.
Đêm đã tới, điểm giờ chuông đổ
Tháng ngày đi tôi ở phương nầy.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân
6 Mai 2002

The Mirabeau Bridge

Below Mirabeau Bridge flows River Seine
Just like our loves.
Must one recall it to my mind that when
Pain went away then joy would always come.
And when the night arrives and sounds its bell,
The days are gone, but here I surely dwell.

Let us hold hands and keep us face to face
While that moment
Below the bridge of our clasp'd arms there race
Eternal eyes in flows that are so tired.
And when the night arrives and sounds its bell,
The days are gone, but here I surely dwell.

Love passes on just like this water flow
Love passes on.
How slowly life does travel, how so slow
And how is hope so full of violence.
And when the night arrives and sounds its bell,
The days are gone, but here I surely dwell.

The days and weeks also keep moving on.
Neither times past
Nor our past loves return from the beyon'.
Below Mirabeau Bridge flows River Seine.
And when the night arrives and sounds its bell,
The days are gone, but here I surely dwell.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
18 August 2002




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Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

Orphaned at age six, when his father a defrocked priest turned civil servant died in his sixties, Charles Baudelaire took an aversion to his stepfather Aupick, an officer who was later promoted to general in command of the Paris area, that his mother married shortly after his father's death. Bored at the boarding school he dreamed of becoming sometimes a pope, sometimes a comedian.

After completion of high school he rejected a diplomatic career, which his stepfather supported. He frequented the literary youth of the Latin Quarter, and wanted to be a writer. A family council under General Aupick's pressure decided to send him to India in 1841. Baudelaire, having no taste for foreign adventure, jumped ship at the Isle of Reunion, and in time returned to Paris, where now a major he claimed his part of his father's estate.

He became involved with the actress Jeanne Duval, and through thick and thin remained her lover and support for the rest of his life. With his friends Théophile Gautier, Théodore de Banville, Sainte-Beuve et Gérard de Nerval, he plunged headlong into the Romantic movement. He led a dandy's life, and incurred heavy debts. His family was forced to put him under Court's supervision to rein in his eccentric high living.

Destitute and humiliated, Baudelaire was constantly moving to keep one step ahead of his creditors, hiding among his mistresses, and writing furiously for a living while working on his poems.

After a blotched suicide attempt he temporarily reconciled with his mother. In 1846 he discovered this other accursed and misunderstood kindred soul across the Atlantic, Edgar Allen Poe, and for the next seventeen years undertook to translate and reveal his works.

In the wake of the 1848 Revolution he worked as a journalist and critic. The publication of Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) in 1857, which was quickly judged obscene, forced him to pay a heavy fine. In spite of the support of Victor Hugo, Sainte-Beuve, Théophile Gautier and other young admiring poets Baudelaire isolated himself in bitterness.

His health began to deteriorate. To alleviate the pain caused by gastric problems, and the recurrence of syphilis after ten years, he smoked opium. In his self-imposed exile, he received the homage of two as yet unknown poets, Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine. During his stay in Belgium in 1866 a stroke left him paralyzed and nearly speechless. For a year he hung on tenuously to life while his friends came to his bedside to play him Wagner to relieve his sufferings. In 1867 at age 46, Baudelaire expired in his mother's arms.

With just one book, Baudelaire blazed a trail for modern poetry, by the melody of his verse, the depth of his emotions, his response to the universality of evil, which his proud spirit transcends.

In his song of autumn, Baudelaire reveals a gloomy mood jaundiced by a presentiment of an impending departure from the world. The long bright summer days are gone, yielding to the ominous steps of the winter's death inexorably coming ever closer by the moment. He can hear it in the echo on the paving of the courtyard. He can feel it entering his being with all the force of anger, hatred, horrors to reduce his heart to an insensate block of ice.

His spirit is crumbling under the relentless assault of the battering ram of evil, and the monotonous blows seem like a hasty pounding of the nails into someone's coffin signifying a voyage of no return.

Baudelaire desperately clings to the love of a woman, to the fast disappearance of the summer sun, to the glorious but declining fall, even to the setting sun because they are his only hope of salvation in the bitter present that is slipping from his grasp. The end looms, and he wants to savor the modest pleasure of resting for just a fleeting moment on the sweet remaining rays of autumn.

Poignant lugubrious thoughts for a man who had ten years or so to live!

Chant d'Automne

Baudelaire

i

Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres;
Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts!
J'entends déjà tomber avec des chocs funèbres
Le bois retentissant sur le pavé des cours.

Tout l'hiver va rentrer dans mon être: colère,
Haine, frissons, horreur, labeur dur et forcé,
Et comme le soleil dans son enfer polaire,
Mon coeur ne sera plus qu'un bloc rouge et glacé.

J'écoute en frémissant chaque bche qui tombe;
L'échafaud qu'on bâtit n'a pas d'écho plus sourd.
Mon esprit est pareil à la tour qui succombe
Sous les coups du bélier infatigable et lourd.

Il me semble, bercé sur ce choc monotone,
Qu'on cloue en grande hâte un cercueil quelque part,
Pour qui ?-- C'était hier l'été; voici l'automne !
Ce bruit mystérieux sonne comme un départ.

ii

J'aime de vos longs yeux la lumière verdâtre,
Douce beauté, mais tout aujourd'hui est amer,
Et rien, ni votre amour, ni le bourdoir, ni l'âtre,
Ne me vaut le soleil rayonnant sur la mer.

Et pourtant, aimez-moi, tendre coeur ! soyez mère,
Même pour un ingrat, même pour un méchant;
Amante ou soeur, soyez la douceur éphémère
D'un glorieux automne ou d'un soleil couchant.

Courte tâche ! La tombe attend; elle est avide !
Ah ! laissez-moi, mon front posé sur vos genoux,
Goter, en regrettant l'été blanche et torride,
De l'arrière-saison le rayon jaune et doux.

Autumn Song

   

i

Soon we will sink in the frigid darkness
Good-bye, brightness of our too short summers!
I already hear the fall in distress
Of the wood falling in the paved courtyard.

Winter will invade my being: anger,
Hatred, chills, horror, hard and forced labor,
And, like the sun in its iced inferno,
My heart is but a red and frozen floe.

I hear with shudders each weak limb that falls.
The scaffold will have no louder echo.
My spirit is like a tower that yields
Under the tireless and heavy ram blow.

It seems, lulled by this monotonous sound,
Somewhere a coffin is hastily nailed,
For whom? Summer yesterday, autumn now!
This mysterious noise sounds like a farewell.

ii

I love the greenish light of your long eyes,
Sweet beauty, but all is bitter today.
Nothing, not love, the boudoir or the hearth
Is dearer than the sunshine on the sea.

Still love me, tender heart! Be a mother
Even to the ingrate, to the wicked,
Lover, sister, ephemeral sweetness
Of fall's glory or of the setting sun.

Short-lived task! The tomb awaits, merciless.
Ah! Let me, my head resting on your knees,
Savor, regretting the white hot summer,
The autumn's last rays yellow and tender.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
30 June 2001


Le balcon

Charles Baudelaire

Mre des souvenirs, matresse des matresses,
toi, tous mes plaisirs! toi, tous mes devoirs
Tu te rappelleras la beaut des caresses,
La douceur du foyer et le charme des soirs,
Mre des souvenirs, matresse des matresses !

Les soirs illumins par lardeur du charbon,
Et les soirs au balcon, voils de vapeurs roses,
Que ton sein mtait doux! que ton coeur mtait bon !
Nous avons dit souvent dimperissable choses
Les soirs illumins par lardeur du charbon.

Que les soleils sont beaux dans les chaudes soires !
Que lespace est profond ! que le coeur est puissant !
En me penchant vers toi, reine des adores,
Je croyais respirer le parfum de ton sang.
Que les soleils sont beaux dans les chaudes soires!

La nuit spaississait ainsi quune cloison,
Et mes yeux dans le noir devinaient tes prunelles,
Et je buvais ton souffle, douceur! poison !
Et tes pieds sendormaient dans mes mains fraternelles.
La nuit spaississait ainsi quun cloison.

Je sais lart dvoquer les minutes heureuses !
Et revis mon pass blotti dans tes genoux.
Car quoi bon chercher tes beauts langoureuses
Ailleurs quen ton cher corps et quen ton coeur si doux ?
Je sais lart dvoquer les minutes heureuses !

Ces serments! ces parfums! ces baisers infinis,
Renatront-ils dun gouffre interdit nos sondes
Comme montent au ciel les soleils rajeunis
Aprs stre lavs au fond des mers profondes ?
serments! parfums! baisers infinis!

Bao lơn tình i

Kỹ niệm tuyệt vời! Người yu lý tưởng!
Đam m đầy tận hưởng pht lạc hoan
Đẹp lm sao tay mơn trớn dịu dng
Chiều m ả lửa bếp hồng uốn lượn
Kỹ niệm tuyệt vời! Người yu lý tưởng!

Những buổi chiều than lửa hồng nồng đượm
V những chiều bao lơn ướm khi hồng
Ngực em mềm, tim em ấp hương nồng
Lời vĩnh cữu trao nhau tình đ chớm
Những buổi chiều than lửa hồng nồng đượm

Mặt trời đẹp v cng, đm nng bỏng
i khng gian su thẵm tri tim hồng
Cuối xuống em, Hong hậu của tình nồng
Anh ngỡ thở hương say mi mu nng
Mặt trời đẹp v cng, đm nng bỏng

Đm tịch mịch đen dầy như vch đng
Trong bng đm anh đon thấy mắt em
Hơi thở em như độc dược dịu m
Chn em ngủ trong tay anh sưởi nng
Đm tịch mịch đen dầy như vch đng

Anh gợi lại trong tm giờ hạnh phc
Của ngy qua khi ngồi phục dưới chn em
Tìm nữa chi tim em qu dịu m
Thn ng ngọc ru hồn anh chất ngất
Anh gợi lại trong tm giờ hạnh phc

Hương thề với nụ hn di bất tận
Biết bao giờ còn trở lại vực su
Như mặt trời vừa ln khởi biển su
Nhờ tắm gội nn trẻ trung xinh xắn
Hương thề với nụ hn di bất tận

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, Alabama, 29 Septembre 2002

The Balcony

Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses,
O you who are my joys! O you all my duties.
You will recall the beauty of your caresses,
The sweetness of hearth, and the charm of eventides.
Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses.

Those eves that are lighted by the glowing embers.
Those evens on the balcony that pink mists shroud.
How sweet your breast to me! How wonderful your heart!
Amid our frequent talks of things that never die.
Those eves that are lighted by the glowing embers.

How beautiful are radiant suns in hot sundowns!
How deep is space and how the heart power-endowed!
When I was leaning to your side, queen of the beloved,
Id swear I smelled all of your bloods fragrance.
How beautiful are radiant suns in hot sundowns!

The night thickened into a tight-sealed wall.
My eyes could still espy your pupils in the dark.
And I drank up your breath. O sweetness! O poison!
And your feet lie asleep in my brotherly hands.
The night thickened into a tight-sealed wall.

I know the art of evoking blissful moments!
And I relived my past nestled between your knees.
For why look I elsewhere for your languorous charms
Than in your body dear and in your lovely heart?
I know the art of evoking blissful moments!

Those vows! Those perfumes! Those endless kisses!
Will they be borne again from their bottomless gulf
Such as the renewed sun that rises in the sky
From its baths submerged in the ocean depths?
O vows! O perfumes! O endless kisses!

Translated by Thomas D. Le
29 October 2004


Harmonie du soir

Charles Baudelaire

Voici venir le temps où vibrant sur sa tige
Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir ;
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir ;
Valse melancolique et langoureux vertige !

Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir ;
Le violon frémit come un coeur qu’on afflige ;
Valse melancolique et langoureux vertige !
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir.

Le violon frémit come un coeur qu’on afflige,
Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir !
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir ;
Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige.

Un coeur tendre qui hait le néant vaste et noir,
Du passé lumineux recueille tout vestige !
Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige…
Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir !

Hòa âm buổi chiều

Đây là lúc trên cành hoa run rẩy
Cánh hoa tan thành khói tợ bình hương
Hương hoa quyện tiếng hát chiều sương
Nhạc luân vũ trầm buồn hồn ngây ngất

Như bình hương hoa tan thành khói mất
Tiếng vĩ cầm rung động trái tim đau
Luân vũ buồn hồn đã ngất ngây sầu
Trời buồn đẹp như trang thờ vĩ đại

Tiếng vĩ cầm rung động tim tê tái
Tim non hờn khoảng không vắng tối đen
Trời đẹp buồn : trang thờ lớn vô biên
Mặt trời chết trong máu đào băng đọng

Tim non hờn khoảng không đen tối vắng
Quá khứ đi còn hằn vết lung linh
Mặt trời chết trong máu đọng thành bǎng
Kỹ niệm cũ trong tôi còn sáng chói

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân
Madison, Alabama, 15 Octobre 2002

Evening Harmony

Here comes the time when shaking on its stem
Each flower evaporates like a censer.
The sounds and perfumes through the night air whir.
Melancholy waltzing and dizzily grim!

Each flower evaporates like a censer.
Like an afflicted heart shudders the violin.
Melancholy waltzing and dizzily grim!
The sky is as lovely and sad as an altar.

Like an afflicted heart shudders the violin.
It hates the vast, dark void, that heart tender.
The sky is as lovely and sad as an altar.
The sun drowns in its own blood that won't run.

It hates the vast, dark void, that heart tender.
From the brilliant past it keeps all souvenirs fond.
The sun drowns in its own blood that won't run.
Your memory shines like a sacred bread holder!

Translated by Thomas D. Le
7 June 2009




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Grard de Nerval (1808-1855)

Born Grard Labrunie in the Valois, Grard de Nerval spent his early years roaming the forests and listening to local folklore, which imbued him with the propensity toward reverie. He adapted nimbly to life in Paris, where he studied with Thophile Gautier at the collge Charlemagne. He was a very likable fellow, and as a dandy led a life filled with fun, balls, parties. His early works reflected this carefree period.

Well versed in German culture, Grard de Nerval translated Goethe's Faust in 1828. Enamored of Hoffman's fantasies, he wrote a tale, La Main de gloire (The Hand of Glory) in 1832, in which magic and humor dominate. His poetry showed delicate taste. In one of his early poems, a dame dressed in antique garb was conjured up, whom he seemed to have known from a previous life, a fantasy that was to become the dominant theme of his later works.

In 1836, Grard de Nerval fell in love with the singer-comedienne Jenny Colon, who was touched by his advances, but who sacrificed romantic love to a prosaic but more rational union with an Opera-Comique flutist. Though the painful experience entailed no immediate consequences, its effects worked subliminally inside him. No longer within his ken, Jenny still remained the feminine ideal in his memory. After reading the Second Faust, he was further confirmed in his mystical delusion. Like Faust, he believed himself in love with the eternal feminine figure, who was incarnated in human form as Jenny. This psychotic delusion led to his being institutionalized in 1841.

During his brief remission, Grard de Nerval learned of Jenny Colon's death. In place of the fading memory of her, a more brilliant image of a heavenly being emerged. In his 1843 travels to the Orient, he studied the region's mythologies, including the Greek Venus and the Egyptian Isis, who represented to him the paragon of feminine perfection. Back from his travels, he immersed himself in esoteric research. A new crisis in 1851 required him to enter an asylum for a time. With the premonition of impending madness Grard de Nerval wrote furiously, and produced La Bohme galante (The Loose Bohemian), Lorely, Les Nuits d'octobre (October Nights) in 1852.

From 1853 until his death, he alternated between periods of relative calm and periods of delirium. He entered Dr. Emile Blanche's health clinic until May 1854. After his release, he travelled in Germany, but had to be readmitted on his return until October 1854. On 25 January 1855 he was found hanging in an alley of Paris ending an existence of excruciating mental suffering.

His Voyages en Orient (Travels in the Orient) appeared in 1851, in which he related for the first time the hauntings in his soul amidst details of customs he observed. His recurring thought, however, was a familiar dream of equating the ephemeral charm of a beloved woman with the eternal perfection of a virgin.

Among his most moving works, Sylvie (1853) stood as the best of novellas he assembled in one volume titled Les Filles du feu (The Daughters of Fire). He wrote Sylvie during a time when he genuinely sought to escape from his torments by evoking memories of his early life, in his misty Valois, where his mysticism germinated during adolescence.

Les Chimres, a collection of sonnets also published in 1853, depicted Gerard's early experiences and bookish reminiscences. The sonnet Artmis exalted the female figure he named Aurlia, whom he glorified during the dark days of madness. In the tale Aurlia he recounted the history of his internal life from his breakup with Jenny Colon, with faithful details of his delirious dreams. In his final tale of Pandora (1853-1854), he opposed the myth of Aurlia the deified female to the myth of Pandora the root of human sufferings.

At the end of his life Grard de Nerval had become disillusioned with the feminine ideal and reached intellectual and emotional collapse. He had used poetry as a means to capture the images of his dreams.

Une alle du Luxembourg

Grard de Nerval

Elle a pass, la jeune fille,
Vive et preste comme un oiseau :
la main une fleur qui brille,
la bouche un refrain nouveau.

Cest peut-tre la seule au monde
Dont le coeur au mien rpondrait,
Qui, venant dans ma nuit profonde
Dun seul regard lclaircirait !

Mais non, ma jeunesse est finie
Adieu, doux rayon qui mas lui,
Parfum, jeune fille, harmonie
Le bonheur passait, il a fui !

Con đường phố Lục-Xm

Người con gi đ đi qua đường nhỏ
Bước gọn gn, nhanh nhẹn tợ chim non
Tay nng cầm cnh hoa sắc xinh dòn
V miệng ht v von bi ca mới

C thể nng l người ti vẫn đợi
Vì tim nng sẽ hòa nhip với tim ti
Để đm dầy su thẩm của đời ti
Nhờ nh mắt của nng soi sng tỏ

Nhưng khng! Tuổi hoa nin ti đ bỏ
Vĩnh biệt rồi, tia sng dịu m no
Mi hương thơm, tình thanh nữ ngọt ngo
V hạnh phc đ bay đi mất ht!

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, Alabama, 12 Novembre 2002

The Luxembourg Path

She has just passed, the dear young girl,
Alive and sharp just like a bird
Holding a flower in her hand,
And at her mouth a new refrain.

Perhaps she is alone on earth
Whose heart reached out to touch my own
Who came to me in midst of night
With just one look she brightened mine.

But no, my youth has reached its end.
Goodbye, sweet ray that shone on me,
Perfume, young girl, and harmony.
Happiness gone, forever spent.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
30 October 2004




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Flix Arvers (1806-1850)

Poet and playwright, a friend of Alfred de Musset's, Flix Arvers became famous for a moving sonnet dedicated to Marie Nodier, daughter of the writer Charles Nodier. This piece appeared in his Mes heures perdues (My Lost Hours), for which Thodore de Banville wrote a preface.

At 30 Arvers abandoned his legal career to embrace drama, reaping recognition with his tragedy La Mort de Franois 1er (Death of Francis I), and his comedy Plus de peur que de mal (More of Fear than of Pain) as well as some vaudevilles.

But it is to A Secret that Arvers owes his fame. The sonnet was wildly popular among literary salons, of which he was an habitu.

Un secret

Flix Arvers

Mon me a son secret, ma vie a son mystre;
Un amour ternel en un moment conu;
Le mal est sans espoir, aussi jai dû le taire,
Et celle qui la fait nen a jamais rien su.

Hlas! Jaurais pass prs delle inaperu,
Toujours ses cts, et pourtant solitaire,
Et jaurais jusquau bout fait mon temps sur la terre,
Nosant rien demander et nayant rien reu.

Pour elle, quoique Dieu lait fait douce et tendre,
Elle ira son chemin, distraite, et sans entendre
Ce murmur damour lev sur ses pas;

A laustre devoir pieusement fidle,
Elle dira, lisant ces vers tout remplis delle:
Quelle est donc cette femme? et ne comprends pas.

Yu thầm

Hồn ti dấu kn mối tình
Tình tuy bất diệt một mình ti hay
Tình v vọng, tỏ cng ai
Người trong cuộc ấy c hay bao giờ

m thầm l bước ngẩn ngơ
Cch nhau gang tấc thẫn thờ lẻ loi
D ti sống trọn cuộc đời
No đu dm tỏ một lời yu đương

Nng d xinh đẹp dịu dng
Đường đời lơ đng nhẹ nhng bước qua
Đu nghe vẳng tiếng xt xa
Mối tình tuyệt vọng mặn m dưới chn

Thn nhin nhẹ bước phong trần
Thũy chung chỉ biết giữ phần chnh chuyn
Đọc thơ chẳng cht ưu phiền
Hỏi: Người gieo khổ cuộc tình l ai ?

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, Alabama, 25 July 2001

Secret Love

My soul nurtures a secret, my heart a mystery,
A lasting love I conceived in a brief moment.
I bear without a word its hopeless pain's torment
And the one who caused it will know of it hardly.

Alas, I would walk near her, yet be unnoticed,
Always at her side and always will be lonely.
Thus will I pass my time on this earth so weary
Daring to ask for nothing, nothing to receive.

She, whom God has made so sweet and tender,
Goes her absent-minded way hearing nothing
Of this murmur of love raised in her steps.

Piously dutiful, unswervingly faithful,
She will say, reading these verses so filled with her,
"Who is this woman?", and will never understand!

Translated by Thomas D. Le
25 July 2001




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Alfred de Musset (1810-1857)

Elegant, witty, and worldly-wise, admitted at barely age eighteen to the literary group Le Cnacle de la rue de Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Alfred de Musset found his early verse wildly acclaimed, and himself termed a wunderkind. He faced a future bright with promises. During these early years, he published his first verse collection, Contes d'Espagne et d'Italie (The Tales of Spain and Italy, 1830), in which he depicted these countries, which he never knew, with fictitious characters. The harsh land of Spain came to life with its violent hidalgo character, and the love capital of Venice hosted an impassioned Byronic hero, whose murderous hands wrought innocent death. It is a work in which his rowdy romanticism did not sit well with the politicized romanticism of his contemporaries. His independence soon led him, in 1831, to break free from the tutelage of Victor Hugo, whose virtuosity he emulated, and with the Cenacle along with Alfred de Vigny, Nodier, and the others. Now he extolled Greece as the mother of the arts as well as Renaissance Italy, both giving him inspiration for his romantic musings and the eternal classical spirit.

Twelve years later, the broken, disillusioned, love-lorn maverick Musset had been through it all. He had written plays, some unsuccessful such as La Nuit vnitienne (A Venitian Night, 1830), others becoming chefs-d'oeuvre. In the work entitled Les Caprices de Marianne, Musset played the dual role of the passionate romantic and of the romantic libertine. Fantasio's protagonist sparkled with an admixture of frivolity, imagination, and melancholy. The tragic On ne badine pas avec l'amour (Don't Trifle with Love, 1834), where a love triangle of one man and two women led to death, took the audience from the light-heartedness of flirtation, through the pathos of a darkening plot, to the tragic demise of a trusting female. Just as one should not trifle with love, so should one never trifle with debauchery, as the prose drama Lorenzaccio (1834) reminds us.

Musset had written poetry, a semiautobiographical La Confession d'un enfant du sicle (The Confession of a Child of the Century, 1836), where the libertine hero disillusioned with pleasure, which he equated with happiness, finally reconciled to a loveless life. Then came the four most celebrated of his poems, Les Nuits (The Nights, 1835-1837) stretching over thirty months: the Night of May, the Night of December, the Night of August, and the Night of October are dialogues of the poet with his Muse or his own alter ego in which he lost all inspiration in May, lived with solitude in December, regained the illusions of bliss in love in August, and finally purged of the suffering of the past, indulged in the earthly pleasure of living.

The crisis of Musset's life occurred during the years 1833-1837. Musset and his mistress George Sand took a trip to Genoa and Pisa, where the first signs of trouble had begun to appear. But it was at Venice that they broke up; George Sand being disillusioned with his flightiness left him for the doctor Pagello. After he got back in Paris in 1834, Musset kept in touch with George Sand, and the two erstwhile lovers continued their relationship through ardent letters until their final rupture in March 1835. Although Musset tried to rebuild his life through worldly pursuits and further creations, he had been forever broken by his Venice experience.

The remaining twenty years was marked by a steady decline in health and outlook. He deliberately plunged into a dissolute existence. At the age of thirty, the former "enfant terrible" became a spent force, tired, and exhausted. His inspiration, resurgent on occasions, was heading toward extinction. A few more successes graced his waning years: sonnets, tales in prose, L'Espoir en Dieu (Hope in God, 1838), Souvenir (1841) evoking his love adventure with George Sand, success of the Caprice in Russia and Paris, and finally admission to the French Academy in 1852. A premature death overtook him at forty-six.

Musset's poetic sensibility, imagination and inspiration manifest themselves with verve in acrobatics of rhyme and rhythm, at least at the beginning of his career. Just as Musset is capable of capricious musings and light-hearted bantering, he is equally moving in his poignant effusions that reflect the struggle, the joys, the feelings, the tribulations and the torments of his life. Through the success of his plays, which are just as lyrical as his poetry, Musset has invested drama, hitherto considered rather frivolous, with an aura of credibility and even glory.

Nuit dAoût

Alfred de Musset (1810-1857)

O Muse! que mimporte ou la mort ou la vie ?
Jaime, et je veux plir; jaime et je veux souffrir ;
Jaime, et pour un baiser je donne mon gnie ;
Jaime, et je veux sentir sur ma joue amaigrie
Ruisseler une source impossible tarir.

Jaime, et je veux chanter la joie et la paresse,
Ma folle experience et mes soucis dun jour,
Et je veux raconter et rpter sans cesse
Quaprs avoir jur de vivre sans matresse,
Jai fait serment de vivre et de mourir damour.

Dpouille devant tous lorgueil qui te dvore,
Coeur gonfl damertume et qui tes cru ferm.
Aime, et tu renatras; fais-toi fleur pour clore.
Aprs avoir souffert, il faut souffrir encore ;
Il faut aimer sans cesse, aprs avoir aim.

Đm thng tm

Hồn Thơ hởi ! Ti đu cần sống chết
Ti yu, v ti muốn dệt khổ đau
Một nụ hn xin đổi với ti cao
Ti chỉ muốn trn m gầy giọt lệ
Chy tun trn mi để khc cho tình

Ti muốn ht niềm vui v lười biếng
Những ngng cuồng, những lo lắng một ngy
Ti muốn kể đi, kể lại, hoi hoi
Rằng ti đ quyết khng yu ai hết
Để rồi ti thề sống chết với tình

Hình hi đ dầy vò vì kiu hãnh
Tri tim no cay đắng ngỡ trn đầy
Hãy yu, hãy sống như đa hoa khai
Khổ đau kia chưa đủ, cần đau nữa
Phải yu hoi, yu nữa, mãi khng thi

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, Alabama, 29 Aot 2002

August Night

O Muse! What does it matter, life or death?
I love, and want pallor, I love and want the pain;
I love, my genius for a kiss I wont disdain;
I love, and want to feel on my cheek wan
That stream from endless spring forever drawn.

I love, and want to sing of joy and laziness
Of my crazed life and cares of just one day.
I want to tell and say forever and ceaseless
That once vowing to live without mistress,
Only of love I vow to live and die.

Renounce to all your pride thats killing you
The bitter-filled heart that you thought was closed.
Love and revive; to blossom be a flower.
Having suffered, even more you must suffer,
And keep loving, after having so loved.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
19 November 2004




Return to Featured Authors

Louise Lab (1524-1566)

Je vis, je meurs : je me brûle et me noie – I live, I die; I burn, I drown. (Sonnet VIII)

Does this Petrarchan verse aptly summarize the life and death of Louise Labé, fictitious personage created by Maurice Scève and the Lyon humanists in his entourage? Or is Louise, whoever she is (a courtesan, a bourgeoise, a poetess, an impostor, a paper invention), the most celebrated feminist in French literature? Poor Louise, the experts do not agree. And why should they? In vain does she turn in her real or imagined grave, the world of literature will spill countless amount of ink before the dust settles, if ever.

To believe Mireille Huchon1, professor of French at the Sorbonne-Paris IV and eminent scholar of the 16th century, and her supporters, Louise Labé never existed as the author of Euvres de Louïze Labé Lionnoize. In her much-admired book published by Droz in 2006, Louise Labé, une créature de papier, Mireille Huchon revived an old thesis that the Belle Cordière (the beautiful rope maker as Labé is also called) was no more a flesh-and-blood poetess than Petrarch's Laura or Medusa was a person, with whom Louise Labé was associated and who figured in a portrait made of her by Pierre Woeiriot in 1555.

This explosive debunking of the myth of the “French Sappho” with the erudition of a seiziémiste of Mireille Huchon's caliber creates an uproar among the French academic establishment, especially after Louise Labé was placed in the program for the competitive examination of Concours d'agrégation de lettres modernes for the first time in 2005, four centuries and a half after the Euvres' publication.

The reaction did not take long to crystallize, ranging from the incredulous “how dared she?” to the dismissive non-Parisian (who else?) who asserts that when Paris sneezes, France is not obligated to catch a cold, as well as from serious academic apologists and detractors.

Fueling the debate is the enigma surrounding the sudden rise of Louise Labé, a bourgeoise with presumably a good education in languages, literature, humanism, equestrian art, music, and even the handling of arms, when her first and only work, Euvres de Louïze Labé Lionnoize, was published in 1555 by the celebrated Lyon printer/publisher Jean de Tournes. This one-hundred-and-seventy-eight-page book consists of a dedicatory epistle to Mademoiselle Clémence de Bourges Lyonnoise (a prominent aristocrat who died young), three elegies, the Débat de Folie and d'Amour, and twenty-four sonnets. About one third of the tome, written in Greek, Latin, Italian, and French, contains the Escriz de divers Poëtes, à la louenge de Louïze Labé Lionnoize, laudatory poems by the School of Lyon poets: Maurice Scève, Olivier de Magny, Claude de Taillemont, Pontus de Tyard (also a member of the Pleiades). These writings should be nothing more than éloge paradoxal (tongue-in-cheek praise). This is a program done, according to Mireille Huchon, to heed Clement Marot's urging to louer Louise2 (praise Louise), a phrase that echoes Petrarch's laudare Laura, even though both beauties are likely to be pure literary invention, i.e., scriptae puellae (written demoiselles, paper demoiselles). These imaginary females are not uncommon creations among the Greek and Latin elegiac poets, who make them out of whole cloth as an excuse to sing their loves.

So mysterious is Louise Labé's sudden eclipse after the second edition the following year, leaving behind no traces and no further mention in the literature, that the one plausible explanation might be that the hoax, once perpetrated, has served its purpose and there is no longer need for a sequel.

Using internal analysis of texts, exegesis, comparison as well as external comparison and analysis of period sources, Mireille Huchon argues that the Louise Labé oeuvres are the result of the collective work of the Lyon poets who congregated around their chef de file Maurice Scève. Many of Olivier de Magny's sonnets have been attributed to Louise Labé. The two quatrains of her Sonnet II are identical to those of Sonnet LV in his Soupirs. Maurice Scève is the supposed author of the Debat, Claude de Taillemont that of the Epistle, and Olivier de Magny of the elegies and sonnets. How such a collective work done in jest, or worse as a fraud, got a royal privilege (permission) to publish is anybody's guess.

Mireille Huchon's hypothesis spawned fierce debate among the literati, who align themselves among three camps: the supporters, the skeptics, and the fence-sitters. Finding M. Huchon's proof irrefutable, historian and academician Marc Fumaroli pronounces the final scene of the final act of the Louise Labé drama by announcing, “Exit Louise Labé.”3 He further applauds M. Huchon for having buried exegetes and biographers, who in general do not question the existence of the poetess Louise Labé. Already there is evidence that those supposed to be eight feet under ground not only refuse to play dead, but fight back. Among the fence-sitters there is a spectrum of opinions. Emmanuel Buron4, of Université Renne 2, agrees with some of M. Huchon's analyses, but remains unconvinced by her conclusions. Buron found in his own research that some poems in the Escriz, written independently of Louise Labé by Jean-Antoine de Baif, Pontus de Tyard, and Maurice Scève, were reused in Euvres. Did Scève write the Debat, as alleged by M. Huchon? Buron does not think so. My thought is that at a time when borrowings, imitations, and even forgeries were commonplace, it is almost pointless to pinpoint original authorship, since it does not prove or disprove current authorship. Great authors have borrowed without much hindrance and will continue to do so. Shakespeare, Corneille, Racine, Molière, to name just a few, were not above pilfering from older sources without in any way diminishing their own artistry or literary quality. Back to Euvres, Maurice Scève, reputed to be the Mallarmé of the 16th century, is not exactly easy to decipher. Did the Debat attributed to him evince any of the style, quality, and thoughts for which Scève is known to possess as his hallmark?

Professor François Rigolot5, of Princeton University, straddles the debate with a concession that Euvres carries the signs of collective work. After all, from Rabelais to Ronsard, authors routinely borrowed, consulted, and imitated, from Petrarch to neoplatonism. But the age reeks of Petrarchism and neoplatonism, especially in Lyon, which was among the first French cities to be invaded by the Italian Renaissance. In the sixteenth-century Lyon was the French Renaissance center. From the learned to the bourgeoisie, it would be improbable to find anyone with an education who is not aware of the intellectual movement or the modus operandi of the writers of the day.

Daniel Martin6, of Université de Provence, also questions the attribution of Euvres as alleged by M. Huchon. While conceding that there are some borrowings from existing authors, the conclusion that Louise Labé was not the author of the work to him lacks convincing support. To M. Huchon there is a bundle of converging indices, signs that should lead to the inescapable conclusion she advocates. Martin can only concede that at most it is a question mark, but certainly not a definitive proof.

And so the debate continues. To provide a forum for this ongoing controversy, the Société Internationale pour l'Étude des Femmes de l'Ancien Régime7 (SIEFAR, International Society for the Study of Women in the Ancien Regime) calls for contributions to the topic at its site.

There remains the question of how to associate Louise Labé the courtesan with Louise Labé the poetess or the impostor. Her contemporaries were already vilifying her. A beautiful woman who writes sensual poetry and argues for women the right to education and science invites controversy. The historian-magistrate-public prosecutor Claude de Rubys, on whom one of M. Huchon's major arguments rests, calls her the most notorious of courtesans. Jean Calvin, founder of a reformed church, in his Pamphlet contre Gabriel de Sconay, précenteur de l'Église de Lyon8 (1560) characterizes her as

« [...] plebeia meretrix, quam partim a propria venustate, partim ab opificio mariti, Bellam Cordieram vocabant. » [cette prostituée de bas étage que l'on nommait, en partie à cause de sa beauté, en partie à cause du métier de son mari, La Belle Cordière. This lowly prostitute called in part for her beauty, in part for the occupation of her husband, La Belle Cordière].

Why would these eminent personages stoop to decry a plebeian prostitute, unless she was someone with the intelligence and the achievement that command respect? And in fine why should they waste their time on a paper poetess? If the erudite humanists were using the real but much-maligned Belle Cordière to play their pranks, a trick which was supposedly so evident to their contemporaries, does not such an act redound on them for abusing a vulnerable human being? The purported perpetrators of the hoax are not ordinary men in the street. Maurice Scève, the leader, is an échevin (magistrate); all are members of the intellectual elite of their city. Again there are unanswered questions.

Let us now leave the controversy to present and future specialists and concentrate on Louise Labé, the poetess.

Rediscovered after three centuries of obscurity by the Romantics, Louise Labé emerges as a thoroughly modern poet, with a lyricism and a sensuality that rival those of any poets since her time, when she made a great deal of stir among her contemporaries. "The sweetest pleasure after love itself is to talk about it." And Labé has the gift of doing just that. Her sensual poetry resonates with an authenticity, a delicateness, and a sensibility that endear and charm. Marceline Desbordes-Valmore found in this "nymph on the banks of the Rhône" a soul not unlike her own.

Louise Labé was born between 1516 and 1524, on rue de L'Arbre-sec St., Lyon, the daughter of a rich rope maker from Lyon, Pierre Charly and of Etiennette Roybet. The surname Labé came from an earlier marriage of her father with a widow whose husband's name was Jacques Humbert, alias Labé (or L'Abbé, l'Abé, Labbé).

She seems to have received an excellent Italian-style education. By the liberty of her behavior, she could rank among the feminists of our days. At 25, between 1543-1545, she married Ennemond Perrin, a merchant of ropes twenty-five years her senior, hence her nickname "la Belle Cordière" (the pretty rope maker).

Her daring, lewd sonnets and amorous adventures earned her the aspersions and ill-will of her scandalized and unsympathetic contemporaries. We have seen above that Jean Calvin called her plebeia meretrix (common whore). Whether Louise Labé is a courtesan remains problematic as there is a historical figure by that name who was a courtesan, according to a contemporary historian, Claude de Rubys. The story of how a courtesan is assimilated to a poet, the Belle Cordière, is a complex one for the researchers, who ineluctably come to no consensus. Therein also lies one thorny issue in the ongoing debate over the existence of Louise Labé as a poet.

[As a brief digression, this debate recalls one that centers on the great 18th-century Vietnamese poetess Ho Xuan Huong, whose daring poetry laced with not-so-hidden sexual innuendos written in a language redolent of double entendre raised questions about her very own existence. How could a Confucian society, with its strictures on male-female relationship and constraints on female expression of any kind, give rise to a thoroughly emancipated poet, a “Vietnamese Sappho,” if you will? Surely there must be some male pranksters who took on female identity to titillate an audience who was always ready to relish incursions into the taboo world of sex in literature with perfect anonymity and impunity. Although many uncertainties surround the biography and work of Ho Xuan Huong, there seems to be consensus among scholars that such a personality did exist, as well as her 49 or so poems written in the demotic script called Chu Nom.]

In spite of the brouhaha surrounding Louis Labé's identity and her undeserved stigma, she presided over a refined society, and held court in her salon whose habitués included among others the very same Lyon poets that M. Huchon claims wrote all her works. Extolling joie de vivre and singing of the torments of love, Labé possessed a sure grasp of the verse rivaling the best of the poets in the Pleiades, and showed remarkable vivacity in her Euvres. This work went through a second edition in Lyon in 1556 and the fifth edition appeared in 1762. But it was not until the 19th century that the romantics rediscovered it.

She bequeathed her fortune to various individuals and liberally to the poor at her premature death probably in 1566. In her testament, she wanted a simple funeral:

 “veult estre enterrée sans pompe ni superstitions, à sçavoir de nuict, à la lanterne, accompagnée de quatre prestres, outre les porteurs de son corps” (to be interred without pomp and superstition, namely at night, in lantern light, accompanied by four priests besides the pallbearers.)

Notes:

1. Mireille Huchon. Louise Labé, une créature de papier..

2. Clement Marot (1496-1544).Académie de Lyon.

3. Marc Fumaroli. Louise Labé, une géniale imposture.

4. Emmanuel Buron. Claude de Taillemont et les Escriz de divers Poëtes à la louenge de Louïze Labé Lionnoize: Discussion critique de Louise Labé, une créature de papier de Mireille Huchon.

5. Edouard Launet. Louise Labé, femme trompeuse. Section Instrument de mystification.

6. Daniel Martin, Louise Labé est-elle « une créature de papier » ?

7. LouiseLabé attaquée!

8. Rumeurs à propos des moeurs de Louise.

Bibliography

Angard, Laurent. «Louer Louise» ou l’énigme Louise Labé. Fabula – La recherche en littérature. 4 August 2007.
.<http://www.fabula.org/revue/document1316.php>

Buron, Emmanuel. Claude de Taillemont et les Escrizde divers Poëtes à la louenge de Louïze Labé Lionnoize: Discussion critique de Louise Labé, une créature de papier de Mireille Huchon. L'Information littéraire 2, 2006, p. 38-46. 30 July 2007.
<http://www.siefar.org/RessourcesEtudes/Buron-Louise-Labe.pdf>

Fumaroli, Marc. Louise Labé, une géniale imposture. Le Monde, 12 Mai 2006. 30 July 2007.
<http://www.siefar.org/ActuSIEFAR-Labe.html#ancre%20Fumaroli>

Huchon, Mireille. Louise Labé, une créature de papier, Geneva: Editions de La librairie Droz, 2006.

Launet, Edouard. Lousie Labé, femme trompeuse. Libération, 16 June 2006, p. 38-46. 30 July 2007. .
<http://profshistoirelcl.canalblog.com/archives/2006/06/15/2130425.html >

La vie de Louise Labé. Académie de Lyon. 4 August 2007.
< http://www2.ac-lyon.fr/enseigne/lettres/louise/lyon/biolab.html>

Louise Labé a-t-elle vraiment existé ? (2007-02-27 12:21:15). Lyoncapitale.fr. 4 August 2007.
<http://www.lyoncapitale.fr/index.php?menu=04&article=272>

Louise Labé attaquée! Société Internationale pour l'Étude des Femmes de l'Ancien Régime. 30 July 2007.
<http://www.siefar.org/ActuSIEFAR-Labe.html >

Louise Labé, Une créature de papier ? Lectura. 4 August 2007.
<http://www.lectura.fr/fr/actualites/fiche.cfm?mois=2&annee=2007&idac=68>

Marot, Clement (1496-1544). Académie de Lyon. 8 August 2007.
<http://www2.ac-lyon.fr/enseigne/lettres/louise/lyon/marot.html >

Martin, Daniel. Louise Labé, est-elle « une créature de papier » ? RHR (Réforme, Humanisme, Renaissance) 63, déc. 2006, p. 7-37. 30 July 2007.
<http://www.siefar.org/RessourcesEtudes/Martin-Louise-Labe.pdf >

Paoli, Angèle. Carte Blanche à Angèle Paoli : le mystère Louise Labé. 4 August 2007.
<http://poezibao.typepad.com/poezibao/2006/05/carte_blanche_a_1.html >

Résumé- Oeuvres - Choix bibliographique - Jugements. Société Internationale pour l'Étude des Femmes de l'Ancien Régime. 30 July 2007.
<http://www.siefar.org/DictionnaireSIEFAR/SFLabe.html>

Rumeurs à propos des moeurs de Louise. Académie de Lyon. 4 August 2007.
<http://www2.ac-lyon.fr/enseigne/lettres/louise/lyon/legende.html >

11 August 2007

Baise mencor'

Louise Lab (1526-1566)

Baise mencor, rebaise-moi et baise :
Donne-men un de tes plus savoureux ,
Donne men un de tes plus amoureux ;
Je ten rendrai quatre plus chauds que braise.

Las, te plains-tu ? a, que ce mal japaise
En ten donnant dix autres doucereux
Ainsi mlant nos baisers tant heureux ,
Jouissons-nous lun de lautre notre aise.

Lors, double vie chacun en suivra,
Chacun en soi et son ami vivra
Permets mAmour penser quelque folie ;

Toujours suis mal, vivant discrtement
Et ne puis donner contentement,
Si hors de moi ne fais quelque saillie.

Hn em nữa đi anh

Hn em nữa đi anh, rồi hn nữa
Hn cho em một nụ thật bng hong
Hn cho em một nụ rất nồng nn
Để em trả bốn nụ hn nng bỏng

Thi, anh chớ than phiền chưa thấm giọng
Để em hn mười hn nữa ngọt ngo
Ta đổi trao mi mọng ướt bn nhau
Cng tận hưởng i n hoan lạc đ

Rồi mai đến đường đời chia hai ngỏ
Bạn xa rồi tan vở mộng lứa đi
C khi no chạnh nghĩ đến tình ti

Tình thầm kn trong tim ci ray rức
Nghe khao kht lòng còn như rạo rực
Mối tình si đi lc thẩn thơ hồn

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn

Hãy hn anh nữa đi em

Hãy hn anh, hn nữa đi em
Cho anh tất cả ngọt ngo m
Cho anh tất cả tình say đắm
Để rồi anh thưởng bốn hn thm

Than thở lm chi hỡi diễm kiều
Cho anh nựng nịu mười hn yu
Để mình hn nhau trong hạnh phc
Dìu nhau trn thảm gấm hoa thu

D đời đi ngả đi đường
D mình hai đứa hai phương khng cng
Thả say theo mối tình cuồng

Anh còn sầu mi cối lòng ring mang
Nhất lòng tình chỉ trao nng
Bao giờ toại nguyện thin đng mình anh.

Written by Song Viet upon reading Labe's "Baise mencor'."
4 December 2004

Kiss Me More

Kiss me, kiss me more and still more,
Give me that scrumptious kiss of yours,
Give me that kiss thats tenderest,
Ill give you four that are hottest.

Sigh! You gripe? Let me soothe your pain
With ten kisses that are sweetest
To mix with ours in bliss greatest.
Enjoy each other e'er again.

Though we each have our private life
To live and let the other do likewise,
Let me insane for our love's sake.

In discreet life Id suffer pain
If I could not give myself fain
To you madly for you to take.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
2 December 2004

Sonnet VIII

Louise Lab

(interprtation de l'Ode l'Aime de Sappho)

Je vis, je meurs : je me brule et me noye.
J'ay chaut estreme en endurant froidure :
La vie m'est et trop molle et trop dure.
J'ai grands ennuis entremeslez de joyes :

Tout un coup je ris et je larmoye,
Et en plaisir maint grief tourment j'endure :
Mon bien s'en va, et jamais il dure :
Tout en un coup je seiche et je verdoye.

Ainsi amour inconstamment me meine :
Et quand je pense avoir plus de douleur,
Sans y penser je me treuve hors de peine.

Puis quand je croy en ma joye estre certeine,
Et estre au haut de mon dsir heur,
Il me remet en mon premier malheur.

Bài Thơ Sonnet số VIII

Sống thiêu đốt rồi chết trong ngụp lặn
Sốt vô cùng và lạnh cũng thấu xương
Đời tôi đầy êm ả lẫn thê lương
Lắm buồn khổ lẫn xen niềm vui sướng

Khi bất chợt tôi khóc, cười ngã ngớn
Lúc vui chơi sao tâm trí não nề
Hạnh phúc đã ra đi mãi chẳng về
Trong phút chốc khô tàn thân cây lá

Và như thế tình tôi thay đổi lạ
Khi lòng đau chất ngất ngỡ không nguôi
Thì khổ đau bổng chốc lại rời tôi

Để khi tôi nắm chặt lấy niềm vui
Và tin tưởng đỉnh cao giờ hạnh phúc
Lại là khi tai họa đến đầu tiên

Traduit par David Lý Lãng Nhân
Madison, 18 July 2007

Sonnet VIII

I live, I die: I burn, I drown,
Amidst the cold, heat strikes me down
Too soft and too hard my life is to me
My great sorrows are mixed with glee.

All at once I laugh and I cry
And I endure great torment in pleasure.
My happiness flees, but lasts forever.
All at once I wilt and I thrive.

Thus inconstant love torments me.
Just as I think my pain has worsened
Without thinking so I am trouble-free.

Then when I believe my joy is certain
With happiness I so craved it fills me,
And sets me back to my first misfortune.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
20 July 2007

Sonnet XIV

Louise Lab

Tant que mes yeux pourront larmes pandre
A l'heur pass avec toi regretter,
Et qu'aux sanglots et soupirs rsister
Pourra ma voix, et un peu faire entendre;

Tant que ma main pourra les cordes tendre
Du mignard luth, pour tes grces chanter;
Tant que l'esprit se voudra contenter
De ne vouloir rien fors que toi comprendre;

Je ne souhaite encore point mourir.
Mais, quand mes yeux je sentirai tarir,
Ma voix casse, et ma main impuissante,

Et mon esprit en ce mortel sjour
Ne pouvant plus montrer signe d'amante,
Prierai la mort noircir mon plus clair jour.

Bài Thơ Sonnet số XIV

Bao lâu mà mắt em còn nhỏ lệ
Vì tiếc thương ngày mình kế bên nhau
Nén thở dài ngưng thổn thức nghẹn ngào
Để thỏ thẻ tai anh lời tâm sự

Cho tiếng đàn gieo nức nỡ bên anh
Bao lâu hồn trỉu nặng mộng xuân tình
Em chỉ cần anh hiểu em là đủ

Em chẳng ước Tử Thần chờ trước cửa
Chỉ khi nào nước mắt đã cạn khô
Khi tay run giọng nói đã mơ hồ

Không còn sức tỏ tình yêu anh nữa
Em nguyện cầu khi tới giờ qui tử
Xin xóa đen ngày sáng nhất đời em

Traduit par David Lý Lãng Nhân
Madison, 21 October 2002

Sonnet XIV

So long as tears gush from my eyes,
Regret the past and happy days with you,
My voice will rise, be heard anew,
And will resist the sobs and sighs;

So long as this my hand can tune the lute's
Chords that will praise your native grace,
And so long as my mind can still embrace
The thought to be one mind with you,

I will not wish at all to die.
But when my eyes have become dry,
My voice broken, my hand feeble,

And my spirit in this abode mortal
No longer gives you signs of love,
I pray that death darken my brightest day.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
9 June 2007




Return to Featured Authors

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)

Around mid-sixteenth century French poetry rejoined the humanistic tradition, and a number of ambitious young men congregated to form the Pleiades, consisting of seven members: Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay, Remy Belleau, Antoine de Baf, Jodelle, Pontus de Tyard, and the great humanist Dorat, principal of the Parisian college of Coqueret, who taught Ronsard, Baf and du Bellay greco-latin poetry as well as the cultures and thoughts of greco-latin antiquity. The group's manifesto, Dfense et illustration de la langue franaise, drafted by du Bellay, is a program for the apology of the French language and its enrichment with the thoughts, styles, forms of great masterpieces of ancient Greece and Rome. Before long Ronsard, the most erudite of the pupils, emerged as the leader of the group.

Born into a noble family in the chateau of La Possoniere in the Vendomois, Ronsard was destined for a courtly life, and a military or diplomatic career. Thwarted in his ambitions by an illness that left him deaf, Ronsard turned to poetry. Following the proclamations of the Dfense, Ronsard started out with a servile imitation of the Greek lyrical poet Pindar, and the Roman lyrical poet Horace. His Pindaric odes (1550), too affected and artificial for modern ears, have fallen into oblivion. But through his Horatian odes, published 1553-1556, Ronsard showed an easy expression for his genius, an Epicurean outlook, a carpe diem preoccupation.

Probably his most enduring legacy came from the sonnets of his Les Amours. He dedicated Les Amours de Cassandre (1552) to a barely nubile daughter of an Italian banker he had met during a Court fte at Blois. In these sonnets, he expressed a genuine passion for Cassandra through the rhythm and harmony of language though the overall effect was marred by artificiality and over-refinement. In contrast, the sonnets of Les Amours de Marie (1555) dedicated to the young peasant Marie Dupin sparkled, in spite of its Catullian imitation, with inspiring imagery of nature, and references to such nature's cheery aspects as the rose and beautiful women.

An official poet at the court of King Charles IX from 1560-1574, Ronsard sang of flighty loves, and nature's charms, and attempted unsuccessfully to aspire to greatness with serious works. During the wars of religion he composed the Discours (1560-1563), in which he took a firm stand as a Catholic. However, his epic poem Franciade (1574) failed for following his model Virgil too closely.

When Charles IX died, Ronsard lost his position at the court. The new king Henri III had his own poet. Now in the autumn of his years and struck with illness, Ronsard nevertheless continued to publish his poems. He lived with reminiscences of Marie, a country gentleman occupied with details of rustic life and thoughts of impending demise. A belated love for the young Hlne de Surgres was tinged with melancholy, and inspired his sonnets Les Amours d' Hlne (1578), in which he urged the young maiden to seize the day before it is too late.

During his lifetime, Ronsard's genius earned him deserved fame throughout Europe, where his poems were avidly read and he himself was honored. Yet an ironic twist of fate relegated him to obscurity during the seventeenth century, the age of classicism, inspite of his profound influence on French poets of his days. For three hundred years Ronsard lay forgotten. Then the Romantics came along, rehabilitated this prince of poets and proclaimed him a precursor. They found in Ronsard the voice of the heart, a modern attitude toward love, and an inner life enriched by exalted feelings and passion. The Parnassians, who advocated a return to the ancients, esteemed his imitations of the Greeks and Romans an illuminating service to poetry.

Prends cette rose...

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)

Prends cette rose aimable comme toi,
Qui sert de rose aux roses les plus belles,
Qui sert de fleur aux fleurs les plus nouvelles
Dont la senteur me ravit tout de moi.

Prends cette rose, et ensemble reois
Dedans ton sein mon coeur qui na point dailes :
Il est constant et cent plaies cruelles
Nont empch quil ne gardt sa foi.

La rose et moi diffrons dune chose :
Un Soleil voit natre et mourir la rose,
Mille Soleils ont vu natre mamour,

Dont laction jamais ne se repose.
Que plt Dieu que telle amour, enclose,
Comme une fleur, ne meut dur quun jour.

Hy nhận lấy nụ hồng nầy

Hãy nhận nụ hồng như em dễ mến
Hoa hồng nầy xinh đẹp đến tuyệt vời
Trong ngn hoa, hoa tươi nhất em ơi
Mi hương ngt đã lm anh ngy ngất

Hãy nhận nụ hồng nầy v dấu cất
Trong lòng em : tim anh c cnh đu
Tình yu nầy d trǎm vết thương đau
Còn giữ mi niềm tin khng biến đổi

Tình anh với hoa hồng duy khc lối
Hoa nở rồi tn dưới một mặt trời
Tình anh đy ngn nh Thi dương soi

Trong lòng kẻ yu em tình mi sống
Xin Thượng Đế ban ơn cho tình mộng
Như đa hoa chỉ sống c một ngy

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, Alabama, 11 Octobre 2002

Take This Rose...

Take this rose as lovely as you can be
Which is the rose thats prettiest
Which is the flower thats the freshest
Whose fragrance so delights all me.

Take this rose, and into your breast
Snuggle my heart, which has no wings,
And is faithful; hundred cruel hurts
Wont be able to shake its faith.

The rose and I differ in this:
The sun will see it live and die.
A thousand suns have seen my love

Which never stops nor will it rest.
May God of such love so imprest
Let it a flower live a day.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
2 December 2004


Maitresse, embrasse-moi

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)

Maitresse, embrasse-moi, baise-moi, serre-moi,
Haleine contre haleine, chauffe-moi la vie,
Mille et mille baisers donne-moi, je te prie,
Amour veut tout sans nombre, amour na point de loi.

Baise et rebaise-moi; belle bouche pourquoi
Te gardes-tu l-bas, quand tu seras blmie,
baiser (de Pluton ou la femme ou lamie),
Nayant plus ni couleur, ni rien semblable toi ?

En vivant, presse-moi de tes lvres de roses,
Bgaye, en me baisant, lvres demi-closes
Mille mots trononns, mourant entre mes bras.

Je mourai dans les tiens, puis, toi ressuscite,
Je ressusciterai, allons ainsi l-bas,
Le jour tant soit-il court vaut mieux que la nuite.

Người yu hỡi! Hãy hn ti

Hãy hn ti v ghì chặc lấy ti
Thở cng ti v sưởi ấm đời ti
Ngn nụ hn xin ban pht cho ti
Tình khng lượng, tình cũng khng c luật

Hãy hn ti, hn nữa, hn khng dứt
Giữ gìn chi, dnh chi nữa em yu
i miệng kia còn xinh đẹp mỹ miều
Hn ti nữa trước khi lìa dương thế

Trn nhựa sống, đi mi hồng em h
Hy hn ti v thỏ thẻ, thầm thì
Ngn lời yu lặn ngụp pht tình si

Vòng tay chặc chng mình say rồi tỉnh
Hãy dắt du nhau đi tìm tin cảnh
Đm đen di, ngy ngắn vẫn còn hơn

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, Alabama, 29 Septembre 2002

Kiss Me, Sweetheart...

Sweetheart, embrace me, kiss me, squeeze me tight.
Let our breath mix, let you warm up my life.
Thousand kisses, give them me, sweetheart please.
Love wants all, no bounds no rules no surcease.

Kiss me, kiss me again, pretty mouth, why
Keep way yonder, when you are just dying
To kiss (be you Pluto's girlfriend or wife)
So pale and not a whit your own self, why?

Press your lips of rose against mine for life.
With half-closed lips stammer while kissing me
Untold garbled words, dying in my arms.

I will die in yours, then once you revive
I will too revive, and we'll thither be.
Although short, better than night day still is.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
5 December 2004


Sonnet pour Hélène

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir à la chandelle
Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant
Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j'étais belle

Lors vous n'aurez servante ayant telle nouvelle
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant
Qui au bruit de Ronsard ne s'aille réveillant
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle

Je serais sous la terre, et phantôme sans os
Par les ombres myrrtheux je prendrais mon repos
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie

Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain
Vivez, si m'en croyez, n'attendez à demain
Cueillez dès aujourd'hui les roses de la vie

Thơ cho Ê-len

Khi em già duới ngọn đèn bạch lạp
Bên lửa hồng thông thả nhịp quay tơ
Chợt nhớ tới ngày xưa khi trẻ đẹp
Rong-sa chàng ca ngợi viết thành thơ.

Cn đâu nữa nàng hầu xưa ngy ngủ
Chẳng đoi hoài đang nữa giấc triền miên
Khi nghe tiếng Rong-sa tha thiết gọi,
Tạ ơn đời ca tụng mãi tên em.

Dưới lòng đất hồn ma anh lãng vãng
Bóng thông già anh thanh thản nghỉ ngơi
Em ngồi đó bên lửa tàn nuối tiếc

Vì kiêu sa nên khinh rẻ tình tôi
Hãy tin anh, hãy sống cho hôm nay
Nụ hồng đó, hoa đời sao chẳng hi?

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, Alabama, 12 June 2001

Sonnet for Hélène

When you are old, at night by candlelight
Sitting by the warm crackling fire spinning,
You will recite my verses marvelling,
Ronsard sang of me as a beauty bright.

There will hardly be any maids
Half asleep from the day's labor
Who will not awake on hearing Ronsard
Bless your name with eternal praise.

I will lie in the ground, a boneless ghost,
Reposing in the myrtle's deep shadow,
And you crouching by the hearth an old maid

Will regret my love and your proud disdain.
Heed my word, live now and not tomorrow
And gather today the roses of life.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
14 June 2001





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Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560)

A nobleman from Anjou, issued from an illustrious noble family of Lir, Joachim du Bellay nevertheless retained only a bitter memory of his tender years. Orphaned and sickly, he was robbed of the innocence of childhood under the care of an older brother. A long illness left him half-deaf, and for the rest of his life he always lived in ill health.

Near Poitiers, where he had come to pursue a law education, he met Ronsard in 1547, and followed him to Paris to study under the humanist Dorat at the College of Coqueret. He steeped himself in humanism with zeal, and soon his talent was recognized by his classmates, many of whom later founded the Pleiades. It devolved upon him to write and sign the Dfense et illustration de la langue franaise, the Pleiades' manifesto. In 1549 putting the group's doctrine to work, du Bellay wrote the sonnets of L'Olive (an anagram of Viole, the woman he adulated), where he, like other poets of the School of Lyon, made Petrarch a model of imitation. He sang of love with flowery Petrarchan language and mythological allusions, but with an artistry that hinted at a great poet.

For four years (1553-1557), he served as secretary to his cousin Cardinal Jean du Bellay in a mission to Rome, which King Henry II dispatched to secure the Pope's support. In this ancient capital, he saw its great ruins, and could now explore the grandeur that he had so admired. Though having all the opportunities for a diplomatic career, for an ecclesiastical benefice, and for an exalted place in the literary world, du Bellay soon tired of the drudgery of a mission that ended in failure. Yet it is in Rome that, battling the onset of consumption, he wrote the sonnets of Les Antiquits de Rome and Les Regrets, which were published in 1558 after his return to France. In the Antiquities, du Bellay showed an ambivalent attitude of great admiration for the achievements of Rome, and of melancholy for its fall to ruins, in a savant language laced with scholarly reminiscences. More moving and intimate are his Regrets, in which du Bellay, now seized with a nostalgic love of his native land, gave free rein to his elegiac and satirical verve. On the elegiac front, his sonnets spoke of his exile, the lassitude he felt in his body and mind, his nostalgia, his sinking into oblivion in the face of Ronsard's rise at the court of Henry II. In the satirical poems, he castigated the rapacity of the moneyed class, the vainglorious fastidiousness of the Roman courtiers, the luxury of the clerics, and in general, the pettiness and vices of contemporary Roman life.

A fit of apoplexy on 1 January 1560 took him at age thirty-seven. Du Bellay left the sonnet, of which he was a master, an instrument with the suppleness and agility to express alike deep emotions and grand themes. His Alexandrines lend themselves equally well to the amplitude of the epic in the Antiquities, and to the melancholic mood of his Regrets. Be it the rise and fall of the Romans, the ennui of the daily rut of diplomatic life, the disgust with courtly sycophancy, they all found eloquent expression in his masterly poems, which du Bellay moulded with prosodic techniques ranging from alliteration and bold caesura to antitheses and repetition. With Ronsard, du Bellay reigned as poet of King Henry II, much to the jealous annoyance of the followers of Clment Marot. Du Bellay proved that poetry was not a means of gaining favor by fawning poetasters, but a foundation on which to build the grand edifice of French poetry.

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse...

From Les Regrets, Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560)

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,
Ou comme celui-l qui conquit la Toison,
Et puis est retourn, plein dusage et raison,
Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son ge !

Quand reverrai-je, hlas, de mon petit village
Fumer la chemine, et en quelle saison
Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,
Qui mest une province et beaucoup davantage ?

Plus me plat le sjour quont bti mes aeux,
Que des palais romains le front audacieux ;
Plus que le marbre dur me plat lardoise fine,

Plus mon Loire gaulois que le Tibre latin,
Plus mon petit Lir que le mont Palatin,
Et plus que lair marin la douceur angevine.

Vui sướng như Uy-Lịch

Vui sướng như Uy-Lịch về chốn cũ
o cừu vng dũng sĩ đ đoạt rồi
Về qu xưa với kinh nghiệm đầy vơi
Bn mẹ cha sống những ngy thơ thới

i, lng cũ bao giờ ti trở lại
Khi m bay, no thấy mi nh xưa
Nh tuy ngho, ro dậu dẫu lưa thưa
Trong tm khảm còn sang hơn tỉnh lỵ

Ti vẫn mến phòng khch xưa cũ kỷ
Hơn lu đi chạm trổ kiểu R-manh
Cẩm thạch đẹp sao bằng mi ngi thanh

Yu sng Loa hơn sng Tiếp La-tin
Đồi Lý-l còn hơn ni Pha-tin
Gi biển dịu sao bằng tình qu Mẹ.

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, AL., 20 May 2004

Happy He Who, Like Ulysses...

Happy he who, like Ulysses, explored the earth,
Or he who had conquered the Golden Fleece,
And who had now come home wise of the world
To live his life among his own in bliss.

Alas, when will I see of my village again
The chimney smoke, and in what season of the year
Behold the croft of yon my humble home and dear,
To me a kingdom great and yet a great deal more?

Sweeter to me my forefathers' abode
Than great Rome's palaces' bold brassy front,
My fine slate roof than its hard granite build,

My Gallic Loire than its Tiber Latin,
My small Lir than its Palatine Hill,
My sweet Anjou than its salt air marine.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
22 December 2004




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Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)

Rimbaud, who had shown precocious gifts as a poet, had the mindset and temperament of a maverick. He was full of violent wrath: against the social order, against Emperor Napoleon III, against the Prussians, against the humiliating war with Germany (1870), against the Catholic religion . He felt deeply for the Parisian uprising and for the downtrodden, but conceived unmitigated hostility to modern society as he saw it through the smugness of those people who represented the establishment. Impatient with the confines of his small town, where he indulged in reveries and escapades, he skipped the Baccalaureate exam, then embarked on misadventures that took him briefly to Paris and Belgium, only to return to Charleville, bitter with his brief prison stint in Paris and unsuccessful job search in Belgium.

For all this experience, his poetic career, though brief and not lasting beyond 1875, was remarkably influential, made all the more remarkable for a short life that was punctuated by adventures of all sorts.

Born in Charleville in 1854, Rimbaud was early a rebel against a stern, unyielding mother. He evinced this rebelliousness in his fractious behavior, and his hatred of social conformism. Encouraged by his rhetoric professor Georges Izambard, Rimbaud manifested a mastery of the poetic art, wrote with sensuality, vivid imagination and intimacy while not being above castigating the petty bourgeoisie of his home town for its complacent obtuseness.

Like Baudelaire, he set out to discover a world of dream. With the poem in prose Le Bateau ivre (The Drunken Boat, 1871), he gave free rein to a frenetic imagination and depicted with bold, bizarre images his own self perceived as the boat navigating exotic waters. ("I have dreamed the green night with blinded snows, slowly kissing the seas, welling in its eyes the flow of astonishing sap, and the yellow and blue awakenings of singing phosphors.") It is this poem that prompted Verlaine to invite him to live together. Thus, for a few adolescent years (1871-1873), Rimbaud was the young companion of Verlaine, leading a bohemian life in Paris, in Belgium, then in England. It was in Brussels (1873) that Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the arm with a revolver in a fit of passion, and served two years for the crime.

Already into alcohol, Rimbaud sank deeper into dissoluteness and debauchery in Paris while living with Verlaine. At long last, disillusioned by the bitter experience with Verlaine, Rimbaud left him for good, and wrote Une Saison en enfer (A Season in Hell, 1873), in which the remorseful Rimbaud expressed his regrets over a wayward existence, and was now heading toward self-redemption. Gone were the days of wanderings, of rebellion, of living on the edge. When Une Saison en enfer met with an indifferent public, it was about time to turn his back on literature. And after one last attempt, Les Illuminations, another work of poetic prose, written in London in 1874, in which Rimbaud was at once illunimator and enlightened in his invention of a universe sometimes like the real one, sometimes unlike anything known, in a language moulded to express the startling revelations of his imagination, he was ready to call it quits.

After the Illustrations Rimbaud turned his back to poetry, and opened a new chapter in his life, which he filled with overseas endeavors. He traveled through Europe, enlisted in the Dutch army, ended in desertion. At age 23, he left Charleville to reappear in Africa, Cyprus, Aden, now a manager in a trading company, now an arms dealer in Ethiopia. Leading an ascetic life, he genuinely wanted to live honorably. A tumor in the knee brought him back to France for treatment. After his amputation, he wanted to return to Ethiopia, but died in Marseille in 1891.

Rimbaud's poetry distinguished itself with a dazzling virtuosity, and though emulating the romantics and the Parnassians, he soon exhausted their craft and looked beyond. In an escape from despair, he employed the resources of his genius, threw himself headlong into delirium in an attempt to make himself into a seer, and produced some of his weirdest poems. His senses escaped all constraints to be free to mingle, intersect, fuse in all sorts of impossible combinations that translated into chimerical sensations and thoughts. To express such phatasm, he invented a transcendental poetic language, by which symbolists and surrealists recognize him as a precursor. It is to this legacy that modern and contemporary poetry owes so much of its distinctive character.

Sensation

Arthur Rimbaud

Par les soirs bleus dt, jirais dans les sentiers,
Picot par les bls, fouler lherbe menue:
Rveur, jen sentirai la fracheur mes pieds.
Je laisserai le vent baigner ma tte nue.

Je ne parlerai pas, je ne penserai rien:
Mais lamour infini me montera dans lme,
Et jirai loin, bien loin, comme un bohmien,
Par la Nature, heureux comme avec une femme.

Cm gic

Chiều xanh ma hạ lối mòn
La vng nhẹ xt cỏ lòn dưới chn
Mộng hồn bay bổng lng lng
Gi la tc rối mt chn người về.

Lặng im ti chẳng nghĩ suy
Tình dng man mc hồn si ngập trời
Rồi như lng tử xa xi
Hẹn cng non nước yu đời lứa đi.

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, AL., 20 May 2004

Sensation

Of the blue summer eves, I'll walk along the paths
Slashed by the wheat blades, trampling upon the fine grass,
Dreaming, I will smell the freshness at my feet
And I will let the wind bathe my uncovered head.

I'll say nothing at all, nor will I think at all,
Yet this infinite love will rise to fill my soul.
Then I'll go so far away, like a bohemian
Amidst nature, happy as if with a woman.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
10 February 2005


Premire soire

Arthur Rimbaud

Elle tait fort dshabille
Et de grands arbres indiscrets
Aux vitres jetaient leur feuille
Malinement, tout prs, tout prs.

Assise sur ma grande chaise,
Mi-nue, elle joignait les mains,
Sur le plancher frissonnaient daise
Ses petits pieds si fins, si fins.

Je regardai, couleur de cire,
Un petit rayon buissonnier
Papillonner dans son sourire
Et sur son sein, mouche au rosier.

Je baisai ses fines chevilles.
Elle eut un doux rire brutal
Qui sgrenait en claires trilles,
Un joli rire de crystal.

Les petits pieds sous la chemise
Se sauvrent: Veux-tu finir!
La premire audace permise,
Le rire feignait de punir!

Pauvrets palpitants sous ma lvre,
Je baisai doucement ses yeux:
Elle jeta sa tte mivre
En arrire: Oh! Cest encor mieux!

Monsieur, jai deux mots te dire
Je lui jetai le reste au sein
Dans un baiser, qui la fait rire
Dun bon rire qui voulait bien

Elle tait fort dshabille
Et de grands arbres indiscrets
Aux vitres jetaient leur feuille
Malinement, tout prs, tout prs.

Đm đầu tin

o nng trể xuống ln hng
Cy cao vươn l ngoi song thầm thì
Xuyn qua khung knh nhòm chi
Bng cy sm sỡ đ ghì st nhau

Nng ngồi trn ghế dựa cao
Nữa thn để lộ biết bao nhiu tình
Hai tay khẻ chắp bn mình
Hai bn chn nhỏ hữu tình lm sao

Mầu da sp mịn ngọt ngo
Lung linh tia sng dọi vo cnh tươi
Chập chờn cnh bướm mi cuời
Trn bồng ngực đ lả lơi nụ hồng

Ti hn chn nhỏ tình nồng
Tiếng cuời nng chợt vở tung mnh tình
Tiếng cuời thnh tht xinh xinh
Thủy tinh trong vắt giọng tình vo von

Đi bn chn nhỏ thon thon
Dấu trong vạt o như còn thiết tha
Buớc đầu bạo dạn đ qua
Giọng cười như thể phạt vờ đấy thi

Đi mi chớp mở dưới mi
Ti hn đi mắt lả lơi sng tình
Ng đầu nng nũng nịu xin:
Thế ni còn thch hơn mình đ yu

Nầy anh! Thi, chẳng ni nhiều
Ngực nng chữa dứt lời yu nồng nn
Nụ hn ti đ rộn rng
Nng cười quyến rũ ngập trn i n.

o nng trể xuống ln hng
Cy cao vươn l ngoi song thầm thì
Xuyn qua khung knh nhòm chi
Bng cy sm sỡ đ ghì st nhau

Traduit par Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, AL., 20 May 2004

The First Night

She was fully undressed
And the tall indiscreet trees
Cast off their leaves against the panes
Maliciously closely, closely.

Sitting in my large chair,
Half-naked, she clasped her hands,
On the floor shivered with ease
Her little feet, so fine, so fine.

I beheld, wax-colored,
A little wayward ray
Fluttering in her smile
And on her breast, a fly in the rosebush.

Then I would kiss her fine ankles
In spite of her sweet laugh brutal
Which ticked away in its clear trills
A pretty, clear laugh of crystal.

The little feet burrowed under the shirt
Flitted away, "Will you stop now?"
The first daring step was thus allowed,
Yet the smile still feigned to avert.

Throbbing gently under my lips
Her eyes batting I softly kiss,
Throwing her delicate head
Backward, "Oh, 'tis even better!

Monsieur, let me tell you something..."
I threw all the rest to her breast
That made her laugh in just one kiss
Such a good laugh so well-meaning.

She was fully undressed
And the tall indiscreet trees
Cast off their leaves against the panes
Maliciously closely, closely.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
10 February 2005


Ophlie

Arthur Rimbaud

I

Sur l'onde calme et noire o dorment les toiles
La blanche Ophlia flotte comme un grand lys,
Flotte trs lentement, couche en ses longs voiles...
- On entend dans les bois lointains des hallalis.

Voici plus de mille ans que la triste Ophlie
Passe, fantme blanc, sur le long fleuve noir,
Voici plus de mille ans que sa douce folie
Murmure sa romance la brise du soir.

Le vent baise ses seins et dploie en corolle
Ses grands voiles bercs mollement par les eaux;
Les saules frissonnants pleurent sur son paule,
Sur son grand front rveur s'inclinent les roseaux.

Les nnuphars froisss soupirent autour d'elle;
Elle veille parfois, dans un aune qui dort,
Quelque nid, d'o s'chappe un petit frisson d'aile
- Un chant mystrieux tombe des astres d'or.

II

O ple Ophlia! belle comme la neige!
Oui tu mourus, enfant, par un fleuve emport!
- C'est que les vents tombant des grands monts de Norwge
T'avaient parl tout bas de l'pre libert;

C'est qu'un souffle, tordant ta grande chevelure,
A ton esprit rveur portait d'tranges bruits;
Que ton coeur coutait le chant de la Nature
Dans les plaintes de l'arbre et les soupirs des nuits;

C'est que la voix des mers folles, immense rle,
Brisait ton sein d'enfant, trop humain et trop doux;
C'est qu'un matin d'avril, un beau cavalier ple,
Un pauvre fou, s'assit muet tes genoux!

Ciel! Amour! Libert! Quel rve, pauvre Folle!
Tu te fondais lui comme une neige au feu:
Tes grandes visions tranglaient ta parole
- Et l'Infini terrible effara ton oeil bleu!

III

- Et le Pote dit qu'aux rayons des toiles
Tu viens chercher, la nuit, les fleurs que tu cueillis;
Et qu'il a vu sur l'eau, couche en ses longs voiles,
La blanche Ophlia flotter, comme un grand lys.

15 mai 1870.

-Ph-Ly

I

Trn sng nước huyền im sao lặng ngủ
Tri bồng bềnh hoa huệ trắng -Ph-Ly
Khăn s di che phủ dng lm ly
Nghe tiếng vọng mơ hồ rừng xa gọi

Ngn năm qua -Ph-Ly nng hỡi
Bng ma buồn lng đng nuớc sng huyền
Đy ngn năm còn ngy dại, đảo-đin
Lời n i gởi gi chiều thỏ thẻ

Hn ngực nng gi tung từng cnh nhẹ
Buờm căng phồng theo sng sẽ lắc lư
Liễu rũ buồn sướt mướt khc vai bờ
Trn trn mộng trc la-đ gục xuống

Sen thở di quanh mình nng l cuốn
Tỉnh giấc nồng đi lc dưới cội cy
Tổ chim no run cnh chập chờn bay
Tiếng ht mật từ sao vng rụng xuống

II

-Ph-Ly nng đẹp như tuyết trắng
Đ qua đời tuổi trẻ dưới giòng sng
Từ ni cao Na-y trận cuồng phong
Đ quyến rũ nng tự do siu thot

Cơn gi lốc thổi tc nng bay dạt
Vọng tiếng đồng trong cơn mộng triền min
Để tim nng nghe giọng ht Thin nhin
Đm thở di, quyện lời than cy cỏ

Biển cuồng đin tht go theo sng vỗ
Vỡ tan rồi tim trẻ dịu thơ ngy
Một sng Xun nguời dũng sĩ đẹp trai
Im lặng duới chn nng như ngy dại

Trời hỡi! Yu! Tự do! i cuồng mộng!
Yu chng như tuyết r truớc lửa hồng
Lời nghẹn ngo khi cảm xc đuợm nồng
Hư v đ mắt xanh đầy kinh dị

III

Thi sĩ bảo duới nh sao huyền b
Nguời đi tìm hoa đ hi trong đm
Đ thấy nng trn nuớc phủ khăn im
-Ph-Ly trắng bồng bềnh như hoa huệ

Traduit par David Lý Lng Nhn
Madison, 6 June 2005

Ophelia

I

Upon the dark, calm waves where sleep the stars
Fair Ophelia floats, lissome lily
Slowly drifting veiled for eternal hours
While faint howlings echo through woods moody.

Over a millenium sad Ophelia
Sleeps through ghost white upon the dark river
Over a millenium mad Ophelia
Whispers romance to the breeze's vesper.

Kissing her breasts the wind unfurls a crown
Of veils that are gently rocked by the wave.
Shivering willows weep on her shoulders down;
On her dreamy broad brow the bent reeds lave.

The bruised water lilies around her sigh;
Sometimes she wakes by the sleeping alder.
A nesting fledgling beats its wings well nigh
From golden stars the secret songs bestir.

II

O pale Ophelia! lovely as snow!
You died a child and soon was river-born,
Because the Norwegian mountain winds blow,
Tempt you with rugged freedom in their bourn.

It is a wind that teases your great hair,
Your mind of dream that sounds its strange delight
That your heart hears the song of nature fair
In yonder trees' laments, the sobs of night.

The mad seas' billows roar deep-throated howl
Shatter your child's human and tender heart.
One April morn a shining knight goes on the prowl
Silly poor guy, at your knees sits apart.

Gosh! Love! Liberty! What a dream, poor Fool!
You rush to him as snow dashing towards fire:
Your great visions stifling your wise words cool,
Boundless terror fills your blue eyes with ire.

III

And the poet said in the starlight
You came at night to seek the flower tote,
He saw her on the water in veils bright
The white Ophelia, a lily float.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
19 May 2005




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François Villon (ca. 1431 - after 1463)

A master of arts, a ruffian, a gang leader, a robber, a killer, a gallows bird, a poet.

If ever there was a highly educated man, whose life rarely rose above the most sordid layer of society, whose fortune was tied to crime and poverty, whose genius won the admiration of contempaneous poets and eminent personalities, such as the Duke of Orleans, and whose immortal fame rested on about 3000 verses of stark realism, it is this unusual man about whom we know little except through his unsavory judicial records and his own poems: François Villon.

From the meager records available, François Villon was born ca. 1431 to a poor family in Paris in one of the most turbulent periods of French history. The Black Death of the thirteenth century had decimated French population. Then came The Hundred Years War with England. which had by the time of Villon's birth dragged on for almost a hundred years. Joan of Arc, the Maid of Domremy, had delivered Orleans thereby saving the country, but was captured by the Burgundians in 1430, who sold her to the English for 10,000 livres. She was burned at the stake at Rouen for heresy, a sentence pronounced by the court of Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais the year Villon burst into the world . France was wallowing in economic and social shambles, prostrated by this fitful war of succession and economic ambition, which had another quarter century to run its course, brigandage, and lawlessness. The University of Paris was churning out graduates with degress but no jobs. Criminal behavior was rampant from the riffraff.to the nobles, and public hangings abounded..

Also known as François de Montcorbier and François des Loges, Villon took his surname from Guillaume de Villon, chanoine and chaplain of the Church of Saint-Benot-le-Btourn and professor of canon law, who sent him to the University of Paris, where he obtained the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1449 and the Master's degree in 1452. Little is known of Villon's life from this date to 1455, when he killed the priest Philippe Chermoye or Sermoise in a barroom fight, after the latter had drawn a dagger and injured him. Villon fled and was banished from Paris. In January 1456 he obtained a pardon from King Charles VII acting on exculpatory evidence that the priest Sermoise had forgiven Villon on his deathbed.

According to Pierre Jannet1, Villon got into trouble with the law for the first time after a love affair that turned bad. He fell in love with a woman of easy morals, whom he called variously Denise, Rose, Katherine de Vauzelles, who at first encouraged him then rejected him. Stung, he wrote a few biting ballads and rondeaus; she complained; and the ecclesiastical court condemned him to lashing. In the aftermath of this incident Villon decided to leave Paris, but not until after he had written in 1456 the Lais or Legs (Legacy), which became known as the Petit Testament. In this work, he facetiously bequeathed various imaginary possessions to equally imaginary friends and foes.

Then in December 1456 Villon and other members of a group of thieves known as the Coquille stole 500 gold coins from the chapel of the College of Navarre. A year later, one of the accomplices accused him of being the leader, and he was again banished from Paris. Now a wanderer, he was taken in for a period (in 1457) by the Duke of Orléans, an admirer and a poet in his own right, at his court in Chateau Blois. Here Villon wrote the ptre Marie d'Orlans to celebrate the birth of the Duke's daughter Marie d'Orléans, then disappeared from view shortly afterwards. When he next reappeared in 1461, he was in the prison of Meung for rather obscure reasons, condemned to be hanged. Thanks to a general amnesty accorded during King Louis XI's visit in company of Charles d'Orléans to this city, he was released. And after an unsuccessful attempt to regain the good graces of the Duke with Requeste au prince and to gain favor of the King with the Ballade contre les ennemis de la France (Ballad against the enemies of France), Villon went to Paris, where he composed his most important work, Le Testament. (known as Le Grand testament), which included some ballads he had written earlier.

In November 1462, Villon was again arrested for petit larceny and detained in the Chatelet. Then the old charge of the College of Navarre was revived, from which he was released for a promise of restitution. It wasn't long before Villon was again enmeshed in another street brawl involving the pontifical official Ferrebouc, who had been involved in the interrogation of Guy Tabarie, former member who.testified against La Coquille. This time recidivist Villon was incarcerated, tortured, and condemned to the gallows. He appealed the sentence, and while waiting in jail, he was believed to have written the Ballade des pendus (Ballad of the Hanged), full of touching realism about death and humanity. Finally, in January 1463, the parliament of Paris commuted his sentence to a ten-year banishment from the city. From this time on, Villon disappeared from history, feeding the emergence of the Villon legend.

Villon is the first poet to break with his medieval environment to herald the future in forms and themes not generally encountered in the courtly poetry of the day while reintroducing the realistic and personal tradition of the minstrels of the 13th century. In place of the courtly love and chivalric ideals of aristocratic poetry, his works.reflect the lives of criminals, including his own, regrets over his youthful misbehavior, the haunting of death, and remorse. Above all Villon rose beyond the abjection of his life to evince lofty sentiments such as filial piety, patriotism, human love, religious charity, all great timeless lyrical themes. Future generations, including the Romantics, recognized in him the first lyrical genius of French literature.

Yet rather than giving in to excessive sentimentality, Villon turned his irony upon himself, coloring his macabre obsession with death and his horrifying vision of the gallows. This criminal elicited sympathy by his candor, his utter humanity, and his direct appeal to our heart. His is a cri du coeur, which is at once touching and sobering in its invocation of the wretchedness of the human condition. His too is the tragic reality of a wasted youth and of a path to perdition and ruination of no return. His simple yet forceful language and the realism of his images pack a remarkable evocative power. From the brutality of the Ballad of the Hanged to the gracefulness of the Ballad of the Ladies of Yore, Villon exhibited a masterly grasp of the verse and his themes, to which later generations did not take long to render justice. Clément Marot edited his works in the 16th century; Boileau discussed Villon in his "Art Poétique" in the 17th; and the Romantics recognized Villon as their precursor. Villon is to us one of the greatest poets in French literature (Lagarde & Michard).

Note:

1. Oeuvres Complètes de François Villon, p.viii.

Bibliography

Jannet, Pierre. Oeuvres Complètes de François Villon, 3rd ed.. Paris: Alphonse Lemerre. 1873.

Lagarde & Michard. La Poésie de François Villon. 1 December 2007.
< http://www.ac-strasbourg.fr/pedago/lettres/lecture/Villonpresent.htm >

Lagarde & Michard. Posies diverses de Franois Villon : notes, 1 December 2007.
< http://www.ac-strasbourg.fr/pedago/lettres/lecture/Nvillon.htm >

Prompsault, J.H.R. (ed.) Oeuvres de Maistre François Villon, ed. Paris: Ebrard. 1835.

Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis

François Villon (ca. 1431 - after 1463)

Dictes moy ou, n'en quel pays,
Est Flora la belle Rommaine,1
Archipiades ne Thas,2
Qui fut sa cousine germaine,
Echo parlant quant bruyt on maine
Dessus riviere ou sus estan,
Qui beault ot trop plus q'humaine.
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Ou est la tres sage Hellos,3
Pour qui chastr fut et puis moyne
Pierre Esbaillart a Saint Denis?4
Pour son amour ot ceste essoyne.
Semblablement, ou est la royne5
Qui commanda que Buridan
Fust get en ung sac en Saine?
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

La royne Blanche comme lis6
Qui chantoit a voix de seraine,
Berte au grand pi, Beatris, Alis,7
Haremburgis qui tint le Maine8,
Et Jehanne la bonne Lorraine9
Qu'Englois brulerent a Rouan;
Ou sont ilz, ou, Vierge souvraine?
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Prince, n'enquerez de sepmaine
Ou elles sont, ne de cest an,
Qu'a ce reffrain ne vous remaine:
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Ca Khúc Những Vương Nữ Thời Xưa

I

Anh có biết, xứ nào đang nương náo
Nàng Flo-Ra, người mỹ nữ Rô-manh,
Á-chi-nương và nàng Thái đẹp xinh,
Nét kiều diễm hai chị em đồng họ;
Nữ thần nào than vãn bên sông đó
Sắc hương còn trội hẳn những cơn mơ.
Nhưng tìm đâu tuyết trắng của năm xưa?

II

Tìm thấy đâu, nàng Hĩ-Lộ tài hoa
Yêu tha thiết chàng Pier Ê-bay-giã
Để chàng chịu đọa đầy thân tàn tạ
Cho khối tình mãi sống suốt ngàn năm;
Như chuyện tình Hòang hậu “Mạt” đa dâm
Mưu hạ sát tình nhân Bồ-Di-Đặng,
Chàng đã thóat khỏi Sông Sen tối vắng
Nhưng tìm đâu tuyết trắng của năm xưa?

III

Bạch Nữ Hòang đẹp như hoa huệ trắng
Tiếng ca ngân thánh thót tựa Ngư nhân
Nàng Bạc-thê, Bĩ-tích với Ái-ly
Đời còn nhớ quận Maine người kế vị;
Nhớ nàng Jeanne, hiệp nữ xứ Lô-ranh
Bị hỏa thiêu đến thác tại Ru-anh
Ôi, Đức Mẹ Đồng Trinh xin chứng giám.
Nhưng tìm đâu tuyết trắng của năm xưa?

Điệp khúc

Này Hòang tử, năm nay xin chớ hỏi
Các Nũ vương tôi nào biết ở mô;
Điệp khúc nầy lòng tôi còn mãi nhớ:
Nhưng tìm đâu tuyết trắng của năm xưa?

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhn
Madison, AL., Juillet, 2007

Ballad of the Ladies of Yore

I

Tell me where, or in what country,
Is Flora, the lovely Roman,1
Archipiada or Thaïs,2
Who was her rival in beauty?
Or Echo whose voice remains
Over rivers and over ponds
With beauty beyond human reach?
But where are the snows of yesteryear?

II

Where is the learned Heloise3
For whom suffered mutilation
Pierre Esbailard at Saint Denis4
Who endured love's tribulation?
And likewise where is the Queen5
Who ordered that Buridan
Be thrown in a bag into the Seine?
But where are the snows of yesteryear?

III

The Queen as white as a lily6
Whose songs are suchlike a siren's.
Bertha the tall, Beatrix, and Alice7
Haremburgis, who held the Maine8
And Joan the maid of Lorraine9
Whom the English burned at Rouen.
Where are they, our sovereign Virgin?
But where are the snows of yesteryear?

Envoi

Prince, inquire not this very week
Where they are, nor this very year
Lest you should get this refrain here:
But where are the snows of yesteryear?

Translated by Thomas D. Le
1 December 2007

Notes:

1. Flora: a famous courtesan loved by Pompey.

2. Archipiada and Thais are equally famous courtesans. Thais arrived in Athens in the middle of the fourth century while Archipiada, likely to be Archippa, was Sophocles' mistress.

3. Heloïse (1101-1164), niece of Chanoine Fulbert, whose secret love of her tutor Abelard resulted in a child. Upon their separation she entered a convent, where she maintained a correspondance in Latin with Abelard, which was translated in 1870.

4. Pierre Esbailard or Abelard (1079-1172), philosopher and theologian, whose passion for Heloïse and resulting emasculation gained notoriety. He taught theology and logic in Paris.

5. This is Marguerite de Bourgogne, Queen of Navarre then Queen of France, first wife of Louis X Le Hutin, who ordered her death by strangulation for adultery in 1315. She would have relations with students, and would order them thrown in the Seine when they became exhausted. One of them, Buridan, escaped and fled to Vienna, where he later founded a university.

6. It could be the Queen Blanche de Bourbon, married to Peter the Cruel in 1352. This princess is as beautiful as she is intellectual. Here the word "blanche" (white) seems to serve double duty as name and as quality.

7. Berthe ou Bertrade, daughter of Caribert, the Count of Laon, married to Pepin the Short. She is the mother of Charlemagne. Beatrice of Provence was married in 1245 to Charles of France, son of Louis VIII. Alice of Champagne was married the French King Louis The Young in 1160. She died in 1206.

8. Haremburgis or Eremburges, fille and sole heir of Elie de La Fleche, Count of Maine, died in 1110.

9. Joan of Arc was born in Dom Remy, Duchy of Bar, considered as part of Lorraine.



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