Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Pensees des morts Lamartine's thoughts on the death of loved ones

This is Georges Brassens at his most serious, putting into a song six verses written by one of France’s very greatest poets, Alphonse de Lamartine, who was born in 1790 in Mâcon and died in 1869 in Paris.
Lamartine was one of the leading figures of the 19th century Romantic Movement, which brought a consciousness of nature into literature and the arts.

In my interpretation of these verses, I see an awareness not of the presence of dead people we have loved, but a strong awareness of them through the pangs of absence. This view may seem bleak, like the view of nature in the first and last stanza, but it is, perhaps, a more realistic depiction.  The great sense of emptiness and the feeling of impatience for a reunion are a positive restatement of the survival of an experience of love shared across death.

We can understand Brassens’ mood when he recorded this song in 1969. His mother had died in 1962 and his father three years later. He suffered a very great blow on the 24th October 1967, when his Jeanne died and it seemed to him that his world had fallen apart.






Voilà les feuilles sans sève
Qui tombent sur le gazon,
Voilà le vent qui s'élève
Et gémit dans le vallon,
Voilà l'errante hirondelle
Qui rase du bout de l'aile
L'eau dormante des marais,
Voilà l'enfant des chaumières
Qui glane sur les bruyères
Le bois tombé des forêts.




C'est la saison où tout tombe
Aux coups redoublés des vents ;
Un vent qui vient de la tombe
Moissonne aussi les vivants:
Ils tombent alors par mille,
Comme la plume inutile
Que l'aigle abandonne aux airs,
Lorsque des plumes nouvelles
Viennent réchauffer ses ailes
À l'approche des hivers.




C'est alors que ma paupière
Vous vit pâlir et mourir,
Tendres fruits qu'à la lumière
Dieu n'a pas laissé mûrir!
Quoique jeune sur la terre
Je suis déjà solitaire
Parmi ceux de ma saison,
Et quand je dis en moi-même :
"Où sont ceux que ton coeur aime ?"
Je regarde le gazon.




C'est un ami de l'enfance
Qu'aux jours sombres du malheur
Nous prêta la Providence
Pour appuyer notre coeur ;
Il n'est plus : notre âme est veuve(2)
Il nous suit dans notre épreuve
Et nous dit avec pitié :
"Ami si ton âme est pleine,
De ta joie ou de ta peine
Qui portera la moitié ?"



C'est une jeune fiancée
Qui, le front ceint du bandeau(3),
N'emporta qu'une pensée
De sa jeunesse au tombeau ;
Triste, hélas ! dans le ciel même,
Pour revoir celui qu'elle aime
Elle revient sur ses pas,
Et lui dit : "Ma tombe est verte !
Sur cette terre déserte
Qu'attends-tu ? Je n'y suis pas !"




C'est l'ombre pâle d'un père
Qui mourut en nous nommant ;
C'est une soeur, c'est un frère
Qui nous devance un moment,
Tous ceux enfin dont la vie
Un jour où l'autre ravie,
Emporte une part de nous,
Semblent dire sous la pierre :
"Vous qui voyez la lumière,
De nous vous souvenez vous ?"



Voilà les feuilles sans sève
Qui tombent sur le gazon,
Voilà le vent qui s'élève
Et gémit dans le vallon,
Voilà l'errante hirondelle
Qui rase du bout de l'aile
L'eau dormante des marais,
Voilà l'enfant des chaumières
Qui glane sur les bruyères
Le bois tombé des forêts.
Poem (1826) by Alphonse De Lamartine

(In Brassens album of 1969 - La religieuse)

See yonder the sapless leaves
Which fall on the grass beneath;
See too how the wind is rising
And whines soft in the valley;
See yonder the stray swallow
Which skims with its wingtip
The still water of the marshes;
See there the cottagers’ child
Who gathers up off the heath
Fallen wood from the forests.



It’s the season when all things fall
To winds gusting twice as strong;
There’s a wind comes from the tomb
That harvests the living too.
They fall then in their thousands
Just like the useless feather
Which the eagle sheds into the air
When its new-grown feathers
Come bring warmth to its wings
At the approach of winters.



It was at this time that my eyes
Watched as you grew pale and died
Tender fruits, which in the daylight
God did not leave to ripen!
Though I am young on this earth
I am already alone
Among my generation
And when I say to myself:
« Where are those whom your heart loves »
It’s to the grass that I look. 




He was a friend from my childhood
Whom providence lent to us(1)
For dark days  of misfortune
To give a lift to our hearts;
He’s no more : our souls are bereft
He follows us in our trial
And says to us with pity:
“My friend, if your soul is so filled
With your joy and with your pain
Who will be there to bear one half ?”




She was young, newly betrothed
Who, a bandage round her brow
Bore off just a thought of
Her youthfulness to the grave;
Sad alas! In heaven itself,
Again to see him she loves,
She traces back her steps
And tells him: «Green is my tomb!
What on this bleak land
Do you wait for?  I am not here! »








It’s the pale shade of a father
Who died, our names on his lips;
It’s a sister, it’s a brother
Who precedes us one brief while.
All those, at the last, whose life,
Snatched one day or another,
Takes a part of us away.
They seem to say ‘neath the stone
« You who can see the light of day
Do you remember us still ? »



See yonder the sapless leaves
Which fall on the grass beneath;
See too how the wind is rising
And whines soft in the valley;
See yonder the stray swallow
Which skims with its wingtip
The still water of the marshes;
See there the cottagers’ child
Who gathers up off the heath
Fallen wood from the forests.




TRANSLATION NOTES
1)    I have taken the liberty of transposing these two lines for the clarity of my translation!
2)    notre âme est veuve -  Collins/Robert  tells us that as well as translating “widowed” “veuf” has a literary sense of “bereft”
3)    Bandeau - Collins/Robert gives four meanings- “Headband”, Hair coil, “Head bandage”, “Blindfold”.  Perhaps a different choice in translation of one of these would suggest a different aspect to the story. ( See below)


A PERSONAL COMMENT

When I studied some poems of Lamartine for my « A » level, fifty years ago, my French teacher taught me something that I have never questioned or revised since. He said that, if you ask English people to quote a poem they know, they will recite the first verse of Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”- “I wandered lonely as a cloud…. . If you ask French people, he said, they will recite the first verse of Lamartine’s poem: “Le Lac” (1820). As I learned these verses at the age of 16, it is absolutely impossible for me to forget them. Here is the first verse:


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?


Always driven as we are to ever new shores

Into night eternal borne off with no return
Can we never ever on the ocean of time

Cast anchor for one single day?

The lake in the poem was at Aix-les-Bains. In 1816, Lamartine had gone there for convalescence and had fallen deeply in love with a fellow patient, Julie Charles. She was a married lady and was suffering from tuberculosis. They planned to meet up at Lake Bourget again, a year later, but by that time, she was seriously ill and was unable to leave Paris, where she died a few months later.

Lamartine married Mary-Ann Birch, an English-woman, in June 1820. He wrote the poem, “Pensées des morts” in 1826 and it is perhaps unlikely that the young fiancée, mourned in it is Julie Charles. The bandeau that he recalls was probably a favourite headband in which he pictures some other young girlfriend, but I gave some idle thought whether I should put down “bandage”, which is an alternative translation to suggest a meeting of two convalescents .


Please clickhere to return to the full alphabetical list of my Georges Brassens selection


A reminder to myself of a touching English poem on the emptiness when a deeply loved person is gone.


The great 17th century poet, John Donne, who dearly loved his wife said that if he lost her he could not bear to look at another woman. CS Lewis disagrees. It is in the small things formerly shared together that the pain lies. His lost love for his wife. Joy Gresham, was the subject of the film “Shadowlands”

Joys that Sting by C S Lewis

“Oh doe not die,” says Donne, “for I shall hate
All women so”. How false the sentence rings.
Women? But in a life made desolate
It is the joys once shared that have the stings.

To take the old walks alone, or not at all,
To order one pint where I ordered two,
To think of, and then not to make, the small
Time-honoured joke (senseless to all but-you);

To laugh (oh, one'll laugh), to talk upon
Themes that we talked upon when you were there,
To make some poor pretence of going on,
Be kind to one's old friends, and seem to care,

While no one (O God) through the years will say
The simplest, common word just your way.

Taken from Poems by C S Lewis 1964



3 comments:

Anonymous said...

One verse is mistranslated. It should be something like :

C'est un ami de l'enfance
It was a childhood friend of mine
Qu'aux jours sombres du malheur
That in dark days of trial
Nous prêta la Providence
the Providence sent to us
Pour appuyer notre coeur ;
To support our heart

The Providence here means God.

Judith said...

The first commenter is correct. But anyway: thanks so much for putting up this video, French and English in one place. It is a great service for those wanting to share the music of Brassens.

David-Barfield said...

Thanks to both of you for the correction, which I have now made. it was a bad lapse of concentration on my part.

I am sorry that I did not read this comment earlier.

from David Yendley