Monday, 18 February 2013

Old French poets

Horse and rider by Jack B Yeats
Chimney smoke rising, early morning, Moffat
A perfect winter's morning in Moffat: frost on the ground, a bright clear sky as the sun comes up behind the hills to the southeast, one crow sitting in the still-leafless birch trees on the mill leat.

Smoke curls lazily up from the houses by the Birnock Water, echoing lines in the poem by Joachim du Bellay engraved on the sculpture in my garden:

Quand reverrai-je, hélas, de mon petit village
Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison
Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,
Qui m'est une province, et beaucoup davantage ?

Speaking of old French poets, today in The Writer's Almanac I read the famous poem by W B  Yeats whose brother Jack was an equally gifted painter:
When You Are Old
by William Butler Yeats

When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Yeats' poem, being a more or less direct translation - with deviations of genius -  from a famous French original written 300 years earlier by Ronsard (below) will serve as one starting point for our discussions at our upcoming conference on translation Sept 20-22 2013:

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, a la chandelle,
Assise aupres du feu, devidant et filant...etc

Both poems are exquisite and worth memorising for those difficult moments in life when only poetry will do.

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