Sunday, May 07, 2006

L'amour s'en va

Am nearing the 100th post (this is the 99th), which seems a random sort of benchmark. I'm not sure what the import is. But it has an aura of significance. Should the 100th post just be like the others? Should it have some kind of specialness attached? Should the subject matter be something different? Who knows? And who knows which day this week it will post? Back to work tomorrow.

For today, I want to post a poem I knew years ago, which I have recently rediscovered (and its translation). I've been translating 15th century French poetry this semester--or, rather, making 'versions' which is a poet's sort of translation. I tried to look closely at the original French (courtly love/troubadour tradition) and figure out what was making it unique, what it had to add. I then built on that by using the significant words, which were the rhyming words, plus the sense of the original and my own sense for the English 15th/16th century 'translations' of those courtly concepts to compose what is largely my own poem, although 'based on' the original.

I was translating Christine de Pizan--which is fun, because her Ballads of a lover and his lady have not been translated at all, excepting some creaky ones by Renata Blumenfeld-Kosinski.

But that is not what I'm writing about. In the process of revisiting French (and here's the strain--Old French is based on Vulgar Latin and is some amalgam between the two) which was a stretch, I also revisted modern French. And I came across a book I'd lost years ago, "The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry," edited by Paul Auster. I had this book in college. And I misplaced it sometime during or shortly after grad school--I have this feeling I lent it to one of my cousins--I definitely lent it to someone who didn't return it. But it was this joy to find it again and buy it.

One of my favorites in the book is "Le Pont Mirabeau", or "Mirabeau Bridge," by Apollinaire. Richard Wilbur did the translation, which reminds me of how good a real translation can actually be, can actually aspire to. He captures just about everything significant about the poem, I think. Here is the original, translation to follow (apologies--I cannot figure out how to do the accent marks with blogger):

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours apres la peine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Les mains dans les mains restons face a face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des eternels 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'Esperance est violente

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passe
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure


And now the English translation:

Under Mirabeau Bridge there flows the Seine
Must I recall
Our loves recall how then
After each sorrow joy came back again

Let night come on bells end the day
The days go by me still I stay

Hands joined and face to face let's stay just so
While underneath
The bridge of our arms shall go
Weary of endless looks the river's flow

Let night come on bells end the day
The days go by me still I stay

All love goes by as water to the sea
All love goes by
How slow life seems to me
How violent the hope of love can be

Let night come on bells end the day
The days go by me still I stay

The days the weeks pass by beyond our ken
Neither time past
Nor love comes back again
Under the Mirabeau Bridge there flows the Seine

Let night come on bells end the day
The days go by me still I stay


The French is, of course, sexier--but isn't that generally true? The only misstep I mark is in the last stanza before the last refrain, the third line should read, I think, "Nor our loves come back again."

[N.B.: Blogger will not let me indent the lines of the poem--both the original and the translation have a serpentine shape--you should really look up the original if you like this poem.]

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