Monday, March 30, 2009

Paul Verlaine: What Is It That You Want

Paul Verlaine

Today is the anniversary of the birthday of French poet, Paul Verlaine, famed for his own work and his friendship and encouragement of Arthur Rimbaud. Here are two of Verlaine's poems that appeal to me very much:

Clair De Lune

Your soul is as moonlit landscape fair,
---Peopled with maskers delicate and dim,
That play on lutes and dance and have an air
---Of being sad in their fantastic trim.

That while they celebrate in minor strain
---Triumphant love, effective enterprise,
The have an air of knowing all is vain, —
---And through the quiet moonlight their songs rise,

The melancholy moonlight, sweet and lone,
---That makes to dream the birds upon the tree,
And in their polished basins of white stone
---The fountains tall to sob with ecstasy.
Paul Verlaine

-----son joyeux, importun, d'un clavecin sonore
-------------------------------------------Pétrus Borel.
The keyboard, over which two slim hands float,
Shines vaguely in the twilight pink and gray,
Whilst with a sound like wings, note after note
Takes flight to form a pensive little lay
That strays, discreet and charming, faint, remote
About the room where perfumes Her stray.

What is this sudden quiet cradling me
To that dim ditty's dreamy rise and fall?
What do you want with me, pale melody?
What is it that you want, ghost musical
That fade toward the window waveringly
A little open on the garden small?
Paul Verlaine

The second poem is untitled, its epigraph roughly translating as "Joyful, troubling sound of a resonant keyboard." We've all experienced the feeling Verlaine characterizes here, a certain undefinable haunting by a melody or piece of music. The feel he evokes is for me reminiscent of Proust's sensitivity to music and it appropriately ends with a question.

The poems are translated in an early English edition of Verlaine by Gertrude Hall and, though they do suffer the occasional strain of inverted syntax for the sake of rhyme, seem to carry the most sense for me of editions I've seen. I must hasten to add that I haven't seen many editions and so would welcome any suggestions in this area.

Here's the opening ten minutes of the movie Total Eclipse (and if it works like it did on my computer, the whole movie will play in sequential parts), about the relationship between Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud.


Today is also the birthday of the original Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson (as opposed to the better known Rice Miller "Sonny Boy Williamson," who co-opted the name). Here's the first part of a short biographical tribute (13 minutes total, in 2 parts).

Here's part II.



Charles Gramlich said...

I just downloaded a bunch of classic poetry for my Kindle yesterday and have started with The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Oh Caire de la Lune
moon faced beauty queen
come back to me soon.