2:59 PM Posted by James Owens


Parfois, je suis triste. Et, soudain, je pense à elle.
Alors, je suis joyeux. Mais je redeviens triste
de ce que je ne sais pas combien elle m’aime.
Elle est la jeune fille à l’âme toute claire,
et qui, dedans son cœur, garde avec jalousie
l’unique passion que l’on donne à un seul.
Elle est partie avant que s’ouvrent les tilleuls,
et, comme ils ont fleuri depuis qu’elle est partie,
je me suis etonné de voir, ô mes amis,
des branches de tilleuls qui n’avaient pas de fleurs.

At times, I am sad. Then, suddenly, I think of her
and joy fills me. But I become sad again,
not knowing how well she loves me.
She is a girl with a luminous soul,
and she jealously guards her essence,
the passion only one lover might free.
She left before there were flowers on the lime trees.
Now they have bloomed in her absence,
and, friends, I am stunned by absence---
some lime tree boughs that have no flowers.

Francis Jammes
from Tristesses
(my translation)


Well... I had to object to "essence" the first ten times I went through this, and I'm still not really persuaded.... It does pull nicely against "absence," and I will not translate "cœur" with "heart" unless we're talking about anatomy.... We will see....

People used to translate "tilleul" as "lime tree" -- I'm as certain as I can be without taking the energetic step of looking it up that Wallace Fowlie does so in his version of Rimbaud's poem "Romance" --and I clearly remember "lime trees" which are not tropical limes in The Swiss Family Robinson -- so I claim the right to translate it that way here. (A note later in the day -- I guess SFR is actually a German book, so the translation of "tilleul" is no more than almost relevant.... I'm still quite sure there are lime trees in that book in the translation I read as a child, and that botanically, if not linguistically (the Swiss family's trees would be lindens, I concede), they are relevant.) (What a tiresome digression! (This is the sort of thing I think is funny (which is why I'm not invited to parties.)))

This short poem is part of a much longer sequence about the departure and absence of the beloved. Jammes is an interesting figure who isn't, I believe, read much in France today. He was active at the same time as people like Apollonaire and Breton, but Jammes kept his distance from the Paris literary scene and wrote purposely rough-worked, popular-ish poems that are often more subtle than they seem at first....



Sorlil said...

The lime trees did throw me a little on the first read but I didn't trip over essence at all. It's a lovely wee poem.

Roxana said...

I object to essence! :-) because, as you know, it modifies entirely the meaning of the french line. I am not sure about the way you repeat 'absence' either. the last part of the poem is based on repetitions, yes, but I think they work so well in french because they are simple yet subtle, echoing each other "avec douceur". to have 'absence' as the last word in two following lines seems to me a little brutal, or rough, or "trop decisif", I don't know. but it bothers me.

I didn't know that 'lime trees' would be a problem. Do you know Mihai Eminescu? he is called 'the national poet' because he shaped the poetical language in the same way Goethe did it for german, but one should read him in romanian (because in translations I don't like him at all, he sounds like a kind of Lamartine). and he is obsessed with lime trees, and I have always found this word in the english translations that I read from him.

I will show you one of them (it sounds so lovely in romanian, one day we will read it together :-)

Come to the forest spring where wavelets
Trembling o'er the pebbles glide
And the drooping willow branches
Its secluded threshold hide.

Eagerly your arms outstretching,
Hurry dear to my embrace,
That the breeze your hair will gather
And uplift it from your face.

On my knees will you be seated
Just we two alone, alone,
While upon your curls disordered
Are the lime-tree's blossoms strewn.

Forehead pale and tresses golden
On my shoulder you incline,
And your lip's delicious plunder
Raise up willingly to mine.

We will dream a dream of fairies
Rocked by secret lullaby,
Which the lovely spring is chanting
And the winds that wander by.

Midst that harmony thus sleeping
Woodland tales our thoughts enthral,
And upon our bodies softly
Do the lime-tree petals fall.

ps. and I think also that this is funny
:-) I won't tell you the story of my investigations regarding what kind of trees are actually those of the 'cherry orchard', and why the difference in the translations (in romanian being 'sour cherry', which is a different tree and fruit than the 'cherry', well, they resemble of course, but still they are different, and we have two completely different words for them).