from Tartuffe

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 400th birthday.

01-15 Moliere
Moliere
French
1622 – 1673

 

A love of heavenly beauty does not preclude
A proper love for earthly pulchritude;
Our senses are quite rightly captivated
By perfect works our Maker has created.
Some glory clings to all that Heaven has made;
In you, all Heaven’s marvels are displayed.
On that fair face such beauties are displayed.
On that fair face such beauties have been lavished,
The eyes are dazzled and the heart is ravished;
How could I look on you, O flawless creature,
And not adore the Author of all Nature,
Feeling a love both passionate and pure
For you, his triumph of self-portraiture?
At first, I trembled lest that love should be
A subtle snare that Hell had laid for me;
I vowed to flee the sight of you, eschewing
A rapture that might prove my soul’s undoing;
But soon, fair being, I became aware
That my deep passion could be made to square
With rectitude, and with my bounden duty.
I thereupon surrendered to your beauty.
It is, I know, presumptuous on my part
To bring you this poor offering of my heart,
And it is not my merit, heaven knows,
But your compassion on which my hopes repose.
You are my peace, my solace, my salvation;
On you depends my bliss—or desolation;
I bide your judgment and, as you think best,
I shall be either miserable or blest.
I may be pious, but I’m human too:
With your celestial charms before his eyes,
A man has not the power to be wise.
I know such words sound strangely, coming from me,
But I’m no angel, nor was meant to be,
And if you blame my passion, you must needs
Reproach as well the charms on which it feeds.
Your loveliness I had no sooner seen
Than you became my soul’s unrivalled queen;
Before your seraph glance, divinely sweet,
My heart’s defenses crumbled in defeat,
And nothing fasting, prayer, or tears might do
Could stay my spirit from adoring you.
My eyes, my sighs have told you in the past
What now my lips make bold to say at last,
And if, in your great goodness, you will deign
To look upon your slave, and ease his pain—
If, in compassion for my soul’s distress,
You’ll stoop to comfort my unworthiness,
I’ll raise to you, in thanks for that sweet manna,
An endless hymn, an infinite hosanna.
With me, of course, there need be no anxiety,
No fear of scandal or of notoriety.
These young court gallants, whom all the ladies fancy,
Are vain in speech, in action rash and chancy;
When they succeed in love, the world soon knows it;
No favor’s granted them but they disclose it
And by the looseness of their tongues profane
The very altar where their hearts have lain.
Men of my sort, however, love discreetly,
And one may trust our reticence completely.
My keen concern for my good name insures
The absolute security of yours;
In short, I offer you, my dear Elmire,
Love without scandal, pleasure without fear.

A New Language

12-09 Deschamps
Eustache Duchamps
French
1346 – 1406

Whose name will sound among the fields?
Whose battle-cries will grind the grain?
Once, learned men and layfolk both
swore Basque and shouted English oaths:
“Help, Holyhead!” “Saint George, to me!”
were then in fashion, for we feared
the noble deeds their troops had done.
A new language always comes.

After those two, Breton displaced
the Basque and English from our lips.
Their fame exploded! No one clung
to words outworn, outmoded songs,
and all you heard was, “By God’s grace!”
from every father and his son.
The mad spoke Breton, and the dumb.
A new language always comes.

Forgotten now, no longer good,
Breton’s found peace with last year’s coins.
We only speak Burgundian!
“No god for me” — all in one voice.
You might well ask, which, of those four,
is worth the ransom, at this price.
I’ll shut up now: my song is sung.
A new language always comes.

Prince, which people will have won
the “title,” “name,” or “lawful right”
to grind the grain today? Tonight?
A new language always comes.

I Write for the Day

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 145th birthday.

11-15 Noailles
Anna de Noailles
French
1876 – 1933

 

I write for the day when I will no longer be here
To share how pleasure wept for joy – was air!
For carried into the future’s throng, my book
Should show how I loved life with a natural look.

Attentive to all toil, in dwellings as in pastures,
Every day I’ve traced a season’s changing contours:
Water, earth and a flaming torch uplifts
No corner quite so much as through my spirit’s gifts.

I’ve shown what I have seen, and what I’ve sensed,
With a heart for which the truth is no extravagance,
And now I have this yearning, as if for an affair,
To be, beyond death, loved, more loved than heretofore.

And that a young man, say, deep into what I’ve written,
Feels through me his heart: moved, astonished, smitten;
One who just erases all his commonplace amours,
Takes me to his breast, and tells me, I am yours!

Royalty

We present this work in honor of the 130th anniversary of the poet’s death.

11-10 Rimbaud
Arthur Rimbaud
French
1854 – 1891

 

One fine morning, in the country of a very gentle people, a magnificent man and woman were shouting in the public square. “My friends, I want her to be queen!” “I want to be queen!” She was laughing and trembling. He spoke to their friends of revelation, of trials completed. They swooned against each other.

In fact they were regents for a whole morning as crimson hangings were raised against the houses, and for the whole afternoon, as they moved toward groves of palm trees.

The Steps

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

10-30 Valery
Paul Valery
French
1871 – 1945

 

Your steps, children of my silence,
Holily, slowly placed,
Towards the bed of my vigilance
Proceed dumb and frozen.

Nobody pure, divine shade,
That they are soft, your steps selected!
Gods!… all the gifts which I guess
Come to me on these naked feet!
If, of your advanced lips,
You prepare to alleviate it,
An inhabitant of my thoughts
The food of a kiss,

Does not hasten this tender act,
To be soft and not to be not?
Because I lived to await you,
And my heart was only your steps.

The Head

08-05 Cendrars
Blaise Cendrars
French
1887 – 1961

The guillotine is the masterpiece of plastic art
Its click
Creates perpetual motion
Everyone knows about Christopher Columbus’ egg
Which was a flat egg, a fixed egg, the egg of an inventor
Archipenko’s sculpture is the first ovoidal egg
Held in intense equilibrium
Like an immobile top
On its animated point
Speed
It throws off
Multicolored waves
Color zones
And turns in depth
Nude.
New.
Total.

The Country Justice

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 400th birthday.

07-08 Fontaine
Jean de la Fontaine
French
1621 – 1695

 

Two lawyers to their cause so well adhered,
A country justice quite confused appeared,
By them the facts were rendered so obscure
With which the truth remained he was not sure.
At length, completely tired, two straws he sought
Of diff’rent lengths, and to the parties brought.
These in his hand he held:—the plaintiff drew
(So fate decreed) the shortest of the two.
On this the other homeward took his way,
To boast how nicely he had gained the day.

The bench complained: the magistrate replied
Don’t blame I pray—’tis nothing new I’ve tried;
Courts often judge at hazard in the law,
Without deciding by the longest straw.

The Voice

We present this work in honor of the 85th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Henri de Regnier
French
1864 – 1936

 

I do not wish anyone to be near my sadness—
Not even your dear step and your loved face,
Nor your indolent hand which caresses with a finger
The lazy ribbon and the closed book.

Leave me. Let my door today remain closed;
Do not open my window to the fresh wind of morning;
My heart today is miserable and sullen
And everything seems to me somber and everything seems vain.

My sadness comes from something further than myself;
It is strange to me and is not of me;
And every man, whether he sings or he laughs or he loves,
In his time hears that which speaks low to him,

And something then stirs and awakens,
Is perturbed, spreads and laments in him,
Because of this dull voice which says in his ear
That the flower of life in its fruit is ashes.

Love Sonnet III

We present this work in honor of the 425th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Madeleine de l’Aubespine
French
1546 – 1596

 

Let the earth cease its turning, suddenly,
And the fixed stars travel the firmament;
Let somber Saturn shine, benevolent;
Jupiter rule the hosts beneath the sea;

Let Mars turn peaceful; Sun’s lush clarity
Turn dim, then dark; grow motionless, outspent;
Venus unloving; Mercury, content,
Changeless; Moon square, no more a circle be;

Let fire weigh heavy and the earth weigh light;
Water feel dry and warm; and let the flight
Of fish go coursing, grazing through the sky,

Sooner than might another know my love.
Born was I but to grant you all thereof;
For you alone I live, and for you, die.

Tears Are Alike

In honor of V-E Day, we present this work by a poet of the French Resistance.

Louis Aragon
French
1897 – 1982

 

In the grey sky were porcelain angels
In the grey sky were stifled cries
I remember those days at Mainz
The Black Rhine and the weeping Loreleis

You would find sometimes at the end of an alley
A Frenchman dead with a knife-blade in the back
You would find sometimes that the peace was cruel
For all the young white wine of the terraces

I drank their transparent Kirschwasser
I drank the vows they whispered with clasped hand
How lovely were the palaces and churches
I was twenty then, I did not understand

What did I know about days of defeat
When you r country is a love forbidden
When you need the voice of false prophets
To bring lost hope to life again ?

I remember songs that touched the heart
I remember signs chalked in red
Found in the morning scribbled on walls
We never once deciphered what they said

Who can say where memory begins
Who can say where the present ends
Where the past becomes a sentimental ballad
And sorrow a paper yellowed with age?

Like a child surprised among his dreams
The blank looks of the vanquished made you
Then, at the tramp of guard relieving guard
The Rhenish silence shuddered to its heart.