Monday, September 10, 2012

Poem & Translation: Paul Verlaine + Reading at NY Botanical Garden

The bridge over the recreated pond
The bridge over the lily pond
Though I have many pots in the kiln right now, I did not want to let more than a week elapse since an I reported on an event I participated in at the majestic New York Botanical Garden, which is located in the Bronx: the final reading in the Poetry Society of America's Monet to Mallarmé series, this one dedicated to the poems of Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), the symbolist master, queer pioneer and among the truest musicians of French lyric poetry.

This past Sunday, introduced by PSA's Charif Shanahan, poets, critics and translators Patrick Phillips, Charles Ruas and I read just yards from the Botanical Garden's exhibit and recreation of Claude Monet's garden at Giverny in its Enid Haupt Conservatory. Each of us drew from the rich archive of Verlaine's works. I elected to read both in French and in English, with the translations all by Martin Sorrell.  Patrick Phillips focused on Verlaine's romantic poems, while Charles Ruas explored Verlaine's work after he was sentenced to prison for his 1873 shooting of Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), the young seer among poets with whom Verlaine fell madly, crazily in love, one of several amours fous that marked Verlaine's life.

Here is one of the poems I read, certainly one of Verlaine's most famous and exquisite, "Chanson d'automne," or Autumn Song. It is nearly untranslatable, in part because in any other language, including French's Romance cousins, it loses so much of its innate homophonous, rhyming, and assonant music, beginning with the first stanza's vowel sounds ("automne," "monotone"), some very nasal ("sanglots longs"), but all of which mimic and embody the "monotonous" music of (Autumn's) violins. Nevertheless, here is the poem, and my admittedly crude translation. Autumn nevertheless is upon us, and so Verlaine's gem feels right.  If you are in New York and are thinking of an interesting trip outside Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Botanical Garden is only 20 minutes by train from Grand Central Station, about $3.75 (I think) each way, and recreating Monet until October 21, 2012!

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon cœur
D’une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l'heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.
Poem by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). It initially appeared in his first collection,Poèmes Saturniens, in 1866.

The drawn-out sobs
Of the violins
Of autumn
Wound my heart
With a languorous

All worked up
And pale, when
The hour nighs
I recall
Days of old
And I cry

And I'm off
On an ill wind
That carries me
Hither, thither
Just as with a
Fallen leaf.

Copyright translation © by John Keene, 2012.

Here are a few photos from the Monet's Garden exhibit. Enjoy!
UPDATE: A photo from Charif Shanahan/PSA:

A listener, Phillips, me, Ruas, at the event

Photos (by me)
Enid Haupt Conservatory at New York Botanical Garden
In the NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
The NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
Flowers at the NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
Flowers at the NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
The pond
Bamboo stalks
Flowers at the NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
Flowers at the NY Botanical Garden's Monet's Garden Exhibit
Une abeille!

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