Lament for Clairac

Theophile de Viau
French
1590 – 1626

 

Sweet place where I adored Phyllis of yore,
Sun-hallowed walls that held my soul in charms,
Today beneath our sundered roofs no more
Than bloody spoil for prideful men at arms,

Cloth of the altar gone in smoke and scorned,
Temple in ruins, mysteries undone,
Horrific relicts of a city burned:
Men, horses, palaces, buried as one.

Deep moats packed with debris from shattered walls,
Tableaux of horror, shrieks and burials,
River where blood has not stopped running high,

Slaughterfields where the wolves and crows gorge free,
Clairac! For the one birth you gave to me
How many, many deaths you make me die.

The Shadow of the Orange-Leaves

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 175th birthday.

Judith Gautier
French
1845 – 1917

 

The young girl who works
all day in her solitary chamber
is moved to tenderness if she
hears of a sudden the sound of
a jade flute.
And she imagines that she
hears the voice of a young boy.

Through the paper of the
windows the shadow of the
orange-leaves enters and sits
on her knees;

And she imagines that some-
body has torn her silken dress.

The Frog

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 150th birthday.

Hilaire Belloc
French
1870 – 1953

 

Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As ‘Slimy skin,’ or ‘Polly-wog,’
Or likewise ‘Ugly James,’
Or ‘Gap-a-grin,’ or ‘Toad-gone-wrong,’
Or ‘Bill Bandy-knees’:
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.

No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).

Lassitude

In honor of Bastille Day, we present this work by one of France’s most revolutionary 19th century poets.

Louise Colet
French
1810 – 1876

 

It is from these long days of indescribable sickness
Where we would like to sleep the heavy sleep of the dead;
From these hours of anguish where existence weighs
On the soul and on the body.

So we search in vain for a gentle thought,
A joyful image, a rich memory;
The soul fights for an instant, and finally falls again, drooping
Under its deep troubles.

So all that enchants and all that we enjoy
Has for our open eyes only deceptive brightness;
And the dreamed happiness, if it comes, cannot exactly
Overpower our fatigue.

Since I am Forgotten

Guillaume de Machaut
French
1300 – 1377

 

Since I am forgotten by you, sweet friend,
To a love life, and to happiness, I bid goodbye.
Unlucky was the day I put my love in you,
Since I am forgotten by you, sweet friend.
Yet I will keep what I have promised you,
Which is that never will I have another lover.
Since I am forgotten by you, sweet friend,
To a love life, and to happiness, I bid goodbye.

Asleep in the Valley

Arthur Rimbaud
French
1854 – 1891

 

A small green valley where a slow stream flows
And leaves long strands of silver on the bright
Grass; from the mountaintop stream the Sun’s
Rays; they fill the hollow full of light.

A soldier, very young, lies open-mouthed,
A pillow made of fern beneath his head,
Asleep; stretched in the heavy undergrowth,
Pale in his warm, green, sun-soaked bed.

His feet among the flowers, he sleeps. His smile
Is like an infant’s – gentle, without guile.
Ah, Nature, keep him warm; he may catch cold.

The humming insects don’t disturb his rest;
He sleeps in sunlight, one hand on his breast;
At peace. In his side there are two red holes.

Alice Sick

We present this work in honor of the 325th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Jean De La Fontaine
French
1621 – 1695

 

Sick, Alice grown, and fearing dire event,
Some friend advised a servant should be sent
Her confessor to bring and ease her mind;—
Yes, she replied, to see him I’m inclined;
Let father Andrew instantly be sought:—
By him salvation usually I’m taught.

A messenger was told, without delay,
To take, with rapid steps, the convent way;
He rang the bell—a monk enquired his name,
And asked for what, or whom, the fellow came.
I father Andrew want, the wight replied,
Who’s oft to Alice confessor and guide:
With Andrew, cried the other, would you speak?
If that’s the case, he’s far enough to seek;
Poor man! he’s left us for the regions blessed,
And has in Paradise ten years confessed.

Under Mirabeau Bridge

Guillaume Apollinaire
French
1880 – 1918

 

Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away
And lovers
Must I be reminded
Joy came always after pain

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

We’re face to face and hand in hand
While under the bridges
Of embrace expire
Eternal tired tidal eyes

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

Love elapses like the river
Love goes by
Poor life is indolent
And expectation always violent

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

The days and equally the weeks elapse
The past remains the past
Love remains lost
Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

The Cathedral

Edmond Rostand
French
1868 – 1918

 

All they did was make it a little more immortal
A work of art doesn’t cease to exist because it’s destroyed by a moron
Ask Phidias and ask Rodin
Whether seeing their work we don’t say “That’s it!”.

A fort dies when we dismantle it
But a ruined church is always beautiful
And, looking upwards, we recall how the roof looked
But prefer to see the sky rather than stones full of holes.

Let us give thanks – and admit that we previously didn’t have
Monuments like those the Greeks have on their gilded hill
A symbol of beauty sanctified by an act of abuse

Let us give thanks to those who aimed their stupid cannon
Since the result of their action is shame on them
But for us the building has become a Parthenon.

The Dog and the Sheep

Marie de France
French
c. 1160 – c. 1215

 

This tale is of a dog, who was
A liar, cheat and treacherous,
Who sued a sheep. He had her led
Before the judge; as plaintiff, said
That he must have the loaf of bread
He’d lent to her, that she still had.
The sheep denied the whole affair;
He had not lent a loaf to her!
The judge said: “Dog, can you produce
Witnesses that the Court can use?”
The dog said that he could, all right,
Two; one the wolf and one the kite.
These witnesses were led forth, both,
And both affirmed by solemn oath
That all the dog had said was true.
You know why they agreed, don’t you?
They hoped to get some portion, if
The sheep, found guilty, lost her life.
The judge, proceeding in the trial,
Summoned the sheep; why the denial
He asked her, that she had the bread
The dog had lent her, as he said.
Why lie? This item was so small!
Return it; or worse would befall!
The wretched sheep, who had no bread,
Was forced to sell her wool instead.
Winter and cold soon had her dead.
The dog came; took some wool she’d shed,
The kite came flying for his share,
And then the wolf. They took from her
All of her flesh; the seized on it,
For they had long been starved for meat.
No vestive of her life was left;
And, too, her master was bereft.

With this example we can state
What many false folk demonstrate.
With lies and tricks of every sort
They drag the poor folk into court;
They get false witnesses to lie,
They bribe with poor folks’ prosperity.
They don’t care how the wretched die;
They only want their slice of pie.