Friday, 12 November 2010

Colombine - This poem by Verlaine tells of the female star character of the Italian mime theatre.

Colombine

Brassens put music to this lilting, melodic poem of Paul Verlaine. The poet tells how someone who ruthlessly exploits his or her sexual charm is able to reduce to a state of abject subjugation those who fall victim - and Verlaine’s life story suggests that perhaps he should know! To illustrate this farcical, human situation, he enacts a typical scene, performed by the Italian mime theatre the Commedia dell'arte.(1)








Verlaine's Colombine


Léandre le sot,
Pierrot qui d'un saut
De puce
Franchit le buisson,
Cassandre sous son
Capuce,


Arlequin aussi,
Cet aigrefin si
Fantasque,
Aux costumes fous,
Les yeux luisant sous
Son masque,


Do, mi, sol, mi, fa,
Tout ce monde va,
Rit, chante
Et danse devant
Une frêle enfant
Méchante
Dont les yeux pervers
Comme les yeux verts
Des chattes
Gardent ses appas (2)
Et disent :
"A bas les pattes ! "

A verse with no words is played next and then Brassens sings the following as his last verse:

L'implacable enfant,
Preste et relevant
Ses jupes,
La rose au chapeau,
Conduit son troupeau
De dupes !

From the poem of Paul Verlaine
Song by Georges Brassens -1955 - Chanson pour l'auvergnat

Silly Leander,
Pierrot who with one
Flea-like jump
Springs over the bush
Cassander neath his
Deep monk’s cowl,


Harlequin also,
That cheating rogue so
Full of guile
In crazy costume,
His keen eyes glinting
Neath his mask


Do, mi, so, mi, fa,
All these go along
Laugh and sing
They dance in front of
A skinny girl who
Means trouble
Whose eyes of menace
Like the bright green eyes
Of felines
Guard her body’s charms
As they say
Wand’ring hands, keep off!





The child, hard to please
Spry and with her skirts
Lifted high
The rose in her hat
Leads on her flock of
Those she fools!









NOTES

1)The Commedia dell'arte - The poem gives a glimpse of the “Commedia dell'arte”, the Italian theatre which was popular to French audiences during three centuries. Molière knew it well and its influence is seen in his comedies. Two hundred years later, Balzac, in “Le Père Goriot” shows the members of Parisian high society making a weekly visit to the Italian theatre.

The noble and distinguished people who attended this theatre were enjoying boisterous knockabout comedy, which could be very racy. There was comic portrayal of sex and the plot was often based on sexual infidelity and promiscuity. Situations which enacted shipwrecks and fires allowed the actresses to cast off their clothes.

The admirable skill of these players was to go onstage to perform an unwritten drama which, to a great extent, they improvised on the spot.

The theatre had stock characters and we meet some of them in this poem:
.
• The young lovers- often naïve. In this poem Leander is the young hero, foolishly besotted (with Colombine).
• The easily deceived old man. In this poem it is Cassander, who is wearing a hood to hide his lustful pursuit of the young girl temptress, Colombine.
• The cheeky young serving girl was very often called Colombine as here. She was usually completely amoral and although she had a lover, she shared her favours as she liked.


• The rascally servants. There were usually several of these. They were usually lazy scoundrels and sometimes cruel and cunning. Although they deceived others, they were often so stupid that they were themselves open to deception. Verlaine gives us here the two most well-known:
a. Pierrot was the white faced clown – hence the acrobatics.


b. Harlequin was one of the characters who traditionally wore a mask. He was deeply in love with Colombine, who caused him great jealousy.




(2) Gardent ses appas – « Les appas » mean charms or charming features. A plural noun with the same sound would be « Les appâts » - the bait used to catch your prey. Both could apply to the armoury of the predatory female.








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