For the sake of both practising my French and reading something I’m interested in, I’ve started reading through a book straightforwardly titled French Poetry of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Elliott M. Grant and first published in 1932 (my copy is a 1950 reprint). I haven’t worked through much of it yet, but I have a learned a few things about French poetry generally and now know a couple fine poets I hadn’t previously even been aware of.
One of those is Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, an actress who had a pair of intense but short-lived romances early in her life, which inspired some of her poems, before settling down with Mr. Valmore, another actor. Her first poems were published in 1813, with the poem below, “Le Rendez-vous,” appearing in 1825.
Here’s the French original:
Il m’attend! je ne sais quelle mélancolie,
Au trouble de l’amour se mêle en cet instant:
Mon coeur s’est arrêté sous ma main affaiblie;
L’heure sonne au hameau. Je l’écoute… et pourtant
Il m’attend! d’où vient donc que dans ma chevelure,
Je ne puis enlacer les fleurs qu’il aime tant?
J’ai commencé deux fois sans finir ma parure,
Je n’ai pas regardé le miroir… et pourtant,
Il m’attend! le bonheur recèle-t-il des larmes?
Que faut-il inventer pour le rendre content?
Mes bouquets, mes aveux ont-ils perdu leurs charmes?
Il est triste, il soupire, il se tait… et pourtant,
Il m’attend! au retour serai-je plus heureuse?
Quelle crainte s’élève en mon sein palpitant!
Ah! dût-il me trouver moins tendre que peureuse,
Ah! dussé-je en pleurer, viens, ma mère… et pourtant,
Some of Desbordes-Valmore’s poems can be found in English, but I haven’t seen or read the in-print editions. There’s a translation of selected poems by Anna Evans, as well as an edition by French publisher Gallimard that supposedly has parallel text, but there’s no preview or translator name.
Now, I translated this poem for my own edification, but given Desbordes-Valmore’s obscurity in English I’ve decided to share my amateur translation here. Note, of course, that I’m still a student of this language, so neither satisfaction nor safety are guaranteed. Feel free to offer constructive criticism either here in the comments or on Twitter.
He waits for me! I don’t know what sadness
Is mingled with the haze of love in this moment.
My heart is stopped under my feeble hand;
The hour rings in the hamlet. I listen to it, and yet
He waits for me! why is it that in my hair
I cannot entwine the flowers he loves so much?
I’ve begun twice without finishing my finery,
I haven’t looked at a mirror… and yet,
He waits for me! Does happiness hide tears?
What must be invented to make him happy?
Have my bouquets and confessions lost their charm?
He’s sad, he sighs, he keeps to himself… and yet,
He waits for me! Will I return happier?
What fears are raised in my beating heart?
Ah! Should he find me less tender than fearful,
Ah! Should I weep, come, my mother… and yet,
I’ll add one final note here, which is that I have a new appreciation for translators of poetry. I played around with the phrasing for the best effect and most natural expression in English, but made no serious attempt at maintaining a rhyme scheme or strict metre. Perhaps I’ll revisit this down the road once I have more experience under my belt.
I do intend to translate more; again mostly for my edification because looking at a work this closely forces one to fully understand the poem, whereas merely reading it allows one to easily settle for getting the gist of it. Expect to see those pop up here occasionally, ideally with gradually improving quality.