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  #1  
Unread 11-19-2020, 12:21 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Default Laforgue, The First Night

Jules Laforgue (Uruguay, then France, 1860-1887)

DRAFT TWO

The First Night

This evening’s nice—just look!—for old men’s lechery.
My tomcat, Mürr, posed sphinx-like, as in heraldry,
observes with his unnerving pupils, twitchily,
a rising moon anemic as a girl might be.

Right now’s when children pray, when Paris (den of whore
and she-wolf) throws each stone-clad boulevard a score
of chilly-chested girls who rove, eyes prowling for
whatever male they scent—a ghastly, gaslit corps.

I’m musing at my window, near my tomcat Mürr.
I’m thinking of the babies everywhere who were
just born, and all the dead who were interred today.

And I imagine I’m beneath the graveyard rows,
taking the place of some now in their coffins—those
for whom this night will be the first they’ll spend that way.


NOTES:
L4: Chlorosis, also called greensickness, is a form of anemia associated with adolescent girls.
L5: Since the Latin word for prostitute is lupa, “she-wolf,” the word lupanar—the standard Latin term for a brothel—literally means “wolf den.” Capitalized, as here in the original’s Paris-Lupanar, it refers to the largest brothel in Pompeii, excavated in the 1860s.



DRAFT ONE

The First Night

This evening's nice for lewd old men, as you can see.
My tomcat, Mürr, sphinx-posed—couchant, in heraldry—
observes, with his fantastic eyes, uneasily,
the greensick moon that’s not yet climbed horizon-free.

Right now’s when children pray, when Paris (den of whore
and she-wolf) throws each stone-clad boulevard a score
of chilly-chested girls who rove, eyes prowling for
whatever male they scent—a ghastly, gaslit corps.

And I? I window-muse, beside my tomcat Mürr.
I dream of all the babies in the world who were
just born, and all the dead who were interred today.

And I imagine I’m beneath the graveyard rows,
taking the place of some now in their coffins—those
for whom this night will be the first they’ll spend that way.

Alt sestet:

And I? I window-muse, beside my tomcat Mürr.
I dream of all the children in the world who were
just born, then all the dead who were today un-hearsed.

And I imagine I’m beneath the graveyard rows,
to take the place of some now in their coffins—those
for whom this night they spend down there will be their first.


NOTES:
L4: Chlorosis, also called greensickness, is a form of anemia associated with adolescent girls.
L5: Since the Latin word for prostitute is lupa, “she-wolf,” the word lupanar—the standard Latin term for a brothel—literally means “wolf den.” Capitalized, as here in the original’s Paris-Lupanar, it refers to the largest brothel in Pompeii, excavated in the 1860s.


L1 was:
An evening nice for lewd old men is coming, see.


FRENCH ORIGINAL

La première nuit

Voici venir le soir doux au vieillard lubrique.
Mon chat Mürr, accrupi comme un sphynx héraldique,
Contemple inquiet de sa prunelle fantastique
Monter à l’horizon la lune chlorotique.

C’est l’heure où l’enfant prie, où Paris-Lupanar
Jette sur le pavé de chaque boulevard
Les filles aux seins froids qui sous le gaz blafard
Vaguent flairant de l’œil un mâle de hasard.

Moi, près de mon chat Mürr, je rêve à ma fenêtre.
Je songe aux enfants qui partout viennent de naître,
Je songe à tous les morts enterrés d’aujourd’hui.

Et je me figure être au fond du cimetière
Et me mets à la place en entrant dans leur bière
De ceux qui vont passer là leur première nuit.


ENGLISH PROSE CRIB

See the pleasant evening come to the lecherous old man. As in much of this poem, the singular here does not seem to indicate a particular individual, so I’ve translated it as plural.
My cat Mürr, crouched low / couchant: (of an animal) lying with the body resting on the legs and the head raised, like a heraldic sphinx,
twitchily observes from his fantastic pupil
the chlorotic / chlorosotic moon climb up /ascend / scale the horizon. See note on L4 above.

It is the hour when the child says prayers, when Paris-Lupanar See note on L5 above.
casts upon the paving / stonework of each boulevard
the girls with cold breasts who under the wan gaslight
wander, sniffing out with the eye a random male.

(As for) me, next to my cat Mürr, I muse at my window.
I dream of the children who everywhere (partout = “throughout all”) have just been born,
I dream of all (tout) the dead (who were) buried today.

And I imagine being at the bottom of/ in the depths of the cemetery,
And I put myself in the place of [i.e., I imagine] entering, inside their coffins,
some of those who are going to spend their first night there.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; Yesterday at 10:29 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 11-21-2020, 01:45 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Julie, the "as you can see" in L1 seems to be referring to the wrong thing. Shouldn't it be more like "See evening come, beloved of old men's lechery"? In the next line, something like "crouched like a sphinx in heraldry" would sound like more natural wording. In the next line, "fantastic" seems to have the wrong overtones in English. How about something like "otherworldly" or "eerie" instead? I know what "greensick" means because of Shakespeare, but for most readers, it might help if you could fit "anemic" in its place. Even "sickly" might be preferable.

In S3L1 "window-muse" seems odd. Maybe you could do something like "I daydream at my window, by my tomcat Mürr." In S3L2, maybe "everywhere" would be preferable to "in the world."

I hope some of this is useful.

Susan
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Unread Yesterday, 10:40 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Thank you, Susan. I've posted Draft Two above, accommodating your comments. Very helpful.

In other news, someone else has kindly informed me of the following:

Quote:
I'm not sure if you know this, but Murr is pretty well known in German Romanticism: Lebensansichten des Katers Murr, by ETA Hoffmann. He's a rather bourgeois and self-satisfied tomcat, who writes his autobiography on the verso pages of another autobiography, that of the tormented violinist Kreisler. It makes for a fairly weird novel, in the best German Romantic tradition. Hoffmann has no umlaut on the name.
How interesting! I had of course Googled for Mürr, Mûrr, and Murr, trying to see what I could learn about Laforgue's cat's name, but hadn't retrieved anything useful. It had not occurred to me to try "tomcat Murr." (Frankly, it was only for metrical reasons that I had translated "chat" as "tomcat" rather than "cat." For all I knew, this cat was the same one as in the Laforgue sonnet I translated last week, which contained an unnamed female cat, in the same sphinx pose.)

According to the Wikipedia entry for the novel, the Hoffman character was famous enough to have been the subject of etchings by Ferdinand II, King consort of Portugal (1816-1885).

Laforgue's readers would thus have recognized the namesake of his cat.

I'm very grateful for that little tidbit, and thought others might appreciate it, too.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; Yesterday at 10:58 PM.
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  #4  
Unread Today, 11:31 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Julie, in S1L3 "unnerving" makes it sound as though Laforgue is frightened of his cat. I think the idea implied is that the cat's eyes are mysterious and unusual, but not frightening. In S1L4, it is hard to justify bringing in a girl that is not mentioned in the poem. In S2L2, I think the French implies that the girls are on the sidewalks of the boulevard, not that the streets are paved. There is a weird disconnect in "eyes prowling for / whatever male they scent." I think you should use some metaphor from hunting that does not actually involve scent: "tracking," "stalking," "pursuing,"etc.

Susan
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Unread Today, 07:22 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Thanks, Susan. I'll try "uncanny" instead of "unnerving" in L3. Laforgue had used the same "fantastique" adjective for the cat's pupils/eyes in the other sonnet I posted, and I felt was clear from that context that he found cat eyes not just unusual, but rather creepy. So I wanted to bring that over to this poem.

I think the presence of a girl would have been implicit in the lunar image L4, even though the words "chlorotic" and "greensick" don't communicate that as strongly to modern readers. So I experimented with spelling out the connection to a girls. The poet has metaphorically diagnosed the moon with a form of anemia associated almost exclusively with malnourished adolescent girls--probably well-represented among the prostitutes in Q2 that Q1L1's lewd old men would have been seeking. But I'll definitely keep looking at that, and I may change my mind.

I really, really wanted to put sidewalks into Q2L2, but the French words "pavé" (in that period, a road surface of stone setts or of creosote-treated wood blocks, rather than the much smaller blocks used in Paris streets today) and "pavement" don't seem to have any specific sidewalk ("trottoir") connection.

On the other hand, Laforgue is mentioning boulevards. The grand engineer of wide Parisian boulevards from 1853 to 1870 was Haussmann, who didn't mind knocking down slums in order to achieve them, and who famously preferred macadam road surfaces to the previous stone and wood blocks, which could be pried up during insurrections and used to make barricades or projectiles. (He hadn't finished replacing all of the main streets' wooden and stone with macadam by the time of the Paris Commune uprising in 1971, so these were once more turned into barricades and weapons by the revolutionaries.)

The macadamized surface of a grand boulevard--the Champs-Elysées perhaps?--is clearly visible in this restored footage from the 1890s. But there might still have been block surfaces on the sidewalks of these macadamized boulevards. Perhaps that's what Laforgue is referring to when he mentions the "pavés" of the boulevards. I think I see blocks used in the sidewalk areas of a macadamized street in the footage with the horse-drawn fire engines that starts here.

Then again, all this footage shows an awful lot of pedestrians wandering casually through the street, right there among the horse-drawn carriages. Not even the approaching fire engines manage to shoo everyone out of the roadway! I guess horse-drawn traffic just isn't as terrifying as motorized traffic. So it's plausible I that the middle of the street, rather than the less-trafficked sidewalks, might have been where streetwalkers would have roamed, trying to "sniff out" with their eyes whether carriages contained potential customers. But if that's not where the pavé was....

So, I'm not quite done thinking out the sidewalks vs. streets. Just thinking out loud right now. But thanks for pushing on it--it led me to some interesting new directions. And I hadn't realized how common wooden pavé was. Here's an interesting article on the road surfaces in London in approximately the same period--well-documented now thanks to the bicycle enthusiasts of the time.

That "sniffing with the eye" imagery really is weird, as you noted. I'll keep pondering what to do with that bit, too.

Again, thanks very much for helping me see these lines in a new way.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; Today at 07:24 PM.
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