Unrequited Love
David V. Lee

Have you been madly in love before? Especially when the person you fell in love with did not even notice it because of the odd circumstance you were in, or simply because you were too shy to say it.

Félix Arvers (1806 - 1850)

One hundred and seventy years ago, in Paris, a shy French poet and playwright named Félix Arvers was madly in love with Marie Nodier, the wife of his friend and protector. Finding no way to open up his soul and mitigate his distress, he confided his desperate heartache in a sonnet. The poem was so touching and struck such a responsive chord with its powerful romantic imagery and profound emotions among the habitués of the Paris literary salons that it was fondly circulated for recitation among them for years before becoming a classic of French romantic poetry after his death in 1850.

Since this was the only well-known poem in his oeuvre titled Mes heures perdues, Félix Arvers was referred to in French literature as "The Poet of a unique poem."

The sonnet known around the world as the "Sonnet d'Arvers" speaks of the torments and tribulations of love, the loneliness and pain from frustrated desire, the anguish and forlorn hope of a proximity ignored. His are cries of despair that go unheard, the bleeding of a heart and the rending of a soul that elicit no response, and the utter loneliness that tears at every fiber of his being. Because he dares not speak or ask, he receives nothing.

The verses in which he confides the turbulence of his inner self, even if read by the woman he secretly loves, devoted, faithful angel of indifference that she is, will only puzzle her and not be understood. There simply is no hope.

L'amour caché

Félix Arvers

Mon âme a son secret, ma vie a son mystère
Un amour éternel en un moment conçu:
Le mal est sans espoir, aussi j'ai dû le taire,
Et celle qui l'a fait n'en a jamais rien su.

Hélas! j'aurai passé près d'elle inaperçu,
Toujours à ses côtés et pourtant solitaire;
Et j'aurai jusqu'au bout fait mon temps sur la terre,
N'osant rien demander et n'ayant rien reçu.

Pour elle, quoique Dieu l'ait faite douce et tendre,
Elle suit son chemin, distraite et sans entendre
Ce murmure d'amour élevé sur ses pas.

A l'austère devoir pieusement fidèle,
Elle dira, lisant ces vers tout remplis d'elle:
"Quelle est donc cette femme ?" Et ne comprendra pas!

Hidden Love

Félix Arvers

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

Dã Thao

In 1990 in Paris, exactly 159 years after the Sonnet d'Arvers was written, a Vietnamese poet by the name Dã Thao (Wild Grass) published an anthology in which she entrusted her secret feelings of love and despair. One particular poem titled An Interminable Day evokes the same strong emotion of hopelessness that the Sonnet d'Arvers captures: a desperate, unrequited love. Hers, however, explores the consuming passion and its physical and psychological effects on the hapless lover. The inner feelings manifest themselves in behavioral patterns that are described in detail with startling realism and accuracy.

The feverish aimless flurry of floor pacing, the surge of longing that lasts through the eternal day, a thinly veiled unconsummated sensuality, the bitterness of defeat, the retrenchment of the heart, and finally the profound solitude.

Furthermore, it is an all-revealing confession of a woman secretly, madly in love, a rather uncommon case in the annals of Poetry.

Just as what Montaigne refers to as le fond humain (human nature) is unchanging, love-sick feelings are universal and transcend cultures. But in Dã Thao's poem the intensity of her pain and suffering are more real to her readers and especially to me. Her sincerity and candor touch me. The poetic pictures she evokes are breathtakingly beautiful and the rhythm of her verses completely enthralls me.

Yes, I feel exactly what Dã Thao describes, because I was madly in love once before. And I remember that touch of innocence. That rush of blood. The sighs. An uncontrollable feeling in my guts. The endless days of waiting. And a lonely pain that lasts a lifetime.

I will now let the voice of this talented contemporary Vietnamese poet, a Parisian by choice, speak for itself.

Một Ngày Dài Chờ Đợi

Dã Thảo

Đi ra rồi lại đi vào
Bồi hồi trong dạ cồn cào không yên
Nhớ mong, mong nhớ đão điên
Ngày dài thăm thẳm, ưu phiền ruột gan
Thẫn thờ chợt nghĩ miên man
Hoá ra ta đã yêu chàng từ lâu

Bao giờ trời hết mưa ngâu
Để con bướm trắng bay vào tìm hoa
Vườn lòng ta đã khép qua
Giã từ ong bướm, mặn mà chẳng thôi
Tương tư cay đắng bờ môi
Ta về ôm lấy đơn côi một mình

May 1988

An Interminable Day

Dã Thảo

How long have I been walking aimlessly
And hearing my unquiet heart flutter?
I feel a deep and maddening longing
Wrenching my guts on this an endless day.
I keep mulling thoughts in my fevered head,
Not knowing that he has stolen my heart.

When will the rain stop its steady showers
To let the butterfly find its nectar?
My bleeding heart has closed its shutters tight,
And said good-bye to all feelings of love.
With bitterness on my dull love-lorn lips
I grasp this loneliness to be my life.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
22 July 2001

In keeping with an ancient oriental literary tradition, a praised poem calls for the introducer to respond with a creation of his own to express his personal feelings on the subject. In that way, the original author will feel more appreciated, and the audience will also have the opportunity to enjoy the extra literary activity.

One early morning some time ago, my reminiscences took me back to a misty past, and suddenly those feelings of a distant lost love came flooding in to my consciousness. The bittersweet memory of those days that I thought had been forever buried deep in my unconscious came back to life as if they happened only yesterday. Overcome by the surge of emotions, I set them down in 4-verse heptameter.

To honor Dã Thao and in recognition of her remarkable poem, here is my Dewdrop in the Rose.

Giọt Sương Trong Nhụy Hồng

Nụ hồng hé nhụy đón xuân phong
Một giọt sương sa giữa đáy lòng
Ấp ủ tình riêng xuân mấy độ
Hững hờ chiếc lá lượn ngoài song.

20 July 2001


A Dewdrop in the Rose

Behold the rose in bloom amid spring breeze
That blows the dewdrop tumbling in my heart.
For long years have I kept my love in peace
Till autumn leaves fly past the pane and part.

Translated by Thomas D. Le
27 July 2001

Une goutte de rosée dans la rose

Comme la rose s'éclore à la brise de printemps
Je sens une goutte de rosée tomber dans mon coeur.
Je garde mon amour secret des années durant
Telles les feuilles mortes d'automne flottant dans la cour.

Traduit par Thomas D. Le
27 juillet 2001

Back to Paris after her summer journey to the Far East, the peripatetic Dã Thao responds to my encomium with a graceful stanza to "lessen the solitude of your rose," as she puts it. In it she invokes the joyful spring season that inspires love, and beautifies it as if with delicate embroidery. She extols the refreshing virtue of its breezes and the caresses that they bestow on the roses of love. In its evocative splendor, Dã Thao's Spring Roses

Cánh Hồng Mùa Xuân

Gió xuân ve vãn những cánh hồng
Lòng người mát rượi bởi tình không
Màu xuân thêu gấm tình đôi lứa
Chan chứa một trời nỗi nhớ mong.

Spring Roses

The spring breeze gently caresses the rose,
And refreshes one's heart with tender love.
Spring colors embroider the lovers' hearts
Filling them with longing the sky imparts.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

Les roses au printemps

La brise de printemps caresse les roses.
Et rafraîchit mon coeur d'un amour tendre.
Les couleurs printanières brodent les coeurs pieux.
Et causent des soupirs immenses comme les cieux.

Traduit par Thomas D. Le

27 July 2001

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