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Unread 10-21-2021, 02:45 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 7,387
Default Vigny, 'The Moment You Weep'

Count Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863), a poet, playwright, and novelist, led France’s Romantic movement before Victor Hugo (1802-1885) overtook him in popularity. From 1831 to 1838, Vigny's lover was the actress Marie Dorval (1798-1849), then at the height of her fame as a star of France’s premier theater company, the Comédie-Française.

The company’s main venue, the Salle Richelieu, has a colonnade at street level, lit by pendant lanterns. The outdoor areas of the Palais-Royal complex, of which the Salle Richelieu is part, had been lit by lanterns designed for candles or oil lamps since the mid-17th century, by order of King Louis XIV, and in the 1820s this center of cultural activity and high-end shopping received Paris’s first gaslights.

I’m taking the “floor” in the poem’s second stanza as a metaphorical reference to the era’s wood-paved streets. These large wooden blocks were notoriously slippery when wet, and needed frequent replacement as the wood swelled and worked loose. However, wood pavers were preferred to stone pavers in well-to-do neighborhoods, because they were so much quieter under horseshoes.

The Moment That You Weep

A bell tolls one, out in the night,
to candle-snuff (at last) the day.
The quiet darkness wipes away
all trace of daytime's noise and bright.                 |                Was: day’s fingerprints of noise and bright.
This theater where you’re loved by all
is nothing now but an echoing hall
in which your voice still lingers, small—
reverberating, weak, in flight.

To us, the shadows that surround                 |                Was: The colonnade's half lit, half drowned
the lit-up colonnade appear                           |                Was: in shadows, which to us appear
as if a forest—black, austere—
protrudes from a landscape underground.                 |                Was: pokes through from a country underground.
Our footfalls shudder and disperse,
dulled; we haltingly traverse                                |                Was: dulled, as haltingly we traverse
a floor that makes your foot slip worse
than a ruined city’s rubble-mound.

And you, you keep your thoughts from me--                |                Was: And you? You’re lost in reverie—
you, this empty body’s soul,                               |                Was: you, this deserted body's soul,
O you, whose voice enthralled the whole
of earth tonight with melody.
Now, up two flights of stairs you’re springing—
the way a graceful bird stops singing
and toward its silk-lined nest goes winging,
seeking peace and privacy.

But in its nest, that bird’s now sleeping
softly, gently, on its clutch
(that unhatched pillow)—nestled much
as if within a cradle’s keeping.
It’s put its head in layers of feather
misted by the foggy weather
that fuses gutter and star together.

And you, you're thinking, and you're weeping.                |                Was: And you? You’re thinking, and you’re weeping.

The Hour When You Weep

One o’clock is sounding in the night,
the day at last has been snuffed out,
the quiet darkness erases the imprint
of its brightness and of its noise;
All this theater, where you are adored,
is nothing more than a resounding hall
that still retains your voice
as a weak echo that is fleeing.

The illuminated colonnade
gets lost in shadow and appears to us
a somber and black forest,
emerging from a tunneled-out/undermined land.
Our steps shudder in crossing
the deaf/dull-sounding floor, hindering/detaining (you),
that resists your slipping foot
like a ruined city.

And you, you think/daydream, solitary,
you, the soul of this deserted body,
O you, the voice of this concert
that this evening was enchanting the earth,
you have just reclimbed/returned home in double time/two steps at a time/up two flights of stairs
just as a graceful bird
grows silent, and in its silken nest
searches for peace and mystery.

But in its nest the gentle bird
sleeps softly atop its brood/clutch (of chicks/eggs);
and on the unfinished bed
it curls up as if in a cradle.
It puts its head under its plumage,
bathed in the vapors of the fog
that climbs to the star from the gutter.

And you, you think and you weep.

L’Heure ou tu pleures

Une heure sonne dans la nuit,
La journée enfin s'est éteinte,
L'ombre calme efface l'empreinte
De ses clartés et de son bruit;
Tout ce théâtre, où l'on t'adore,
N'est plus qu'une salle sonore
Où ta voix retentit encore
Comme un faible écho qui s'enfuit.

La colonnade illuminée
Se perd dans l'ombre et nous paraît
Une sombre et noire forêt.
Sortant d'une terre minée.
Nos pas ébranlent en passant
Le sourd plancher retentissant
Qui résiste à ton pied glissant
Comme une ville ruinée.

Et toi, tu rêves solitaire,
Toi, l'âme de ce corps désert,
O toi, la voix de ce concert
Qui ce soir enchantait la terre,
Tu viens de remonter aux deux
Ainsi qu'un oiseau gracieux
Se tait, et dans son nid soyeux
Cherche la paix et le mystère.

Mais dans son nid le doux oiseau
Dort mollement sur sa couvée;
Et sur sa couche inachevée
S'arrondit comme en un berceau;
Il met sa tête sous sa plume,
Baigné des vapeurs de la brume
Qui monte à astre du ruisseau.

Et toi, tu penses et tu pleures.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 10-24-2021 at 01:11 AM.
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Unread 10-22-2021, 07:52 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 15,598

I haven't even looked at the French yet, but it's a wonderful poem in English so I forgive in advance any liberties you might have taken with the original. I enjoyed it.
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Unread 10-24-2021, 01:05 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 7,387

Thanks, Rogerbob!

I've made a few more tweaks above, mainly to the first quatrain of S2.

I'm not happy with the beginning of S3, but nothing else I try is better. Suggestions welcomed. I think the "deserted body" in S2L2 is the empty theater building (or perhaps the deserted nighttime city), but introducing "me" just before it makes it sound like the narrator is referring to himself. But I didn't like "reverie" in S2L1, either, because the notion of solitariness gets lost. I tried something with "solo," but that sounded like a reference to singing. Ugh.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 10-24-2021 at 03:02 AM.
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Unread 10-24-2021, 02:22 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 9,217

Here are a few thoughts, and I hope to come back to give more:

S1L2 "to candle-snuff" sounds unnatural. How about "extinguishing"?
S1L4 I think you need a noun like "light" in place of the adjective "bright."
S1L6 would read better without "now," which seems unneeded.
S2L4 perhaps "were pushing up through hollowed ground"?
S2L6 how about something like "muted/muffled/deadened" instead of "dulled"?
S2L7 perhaps "one's" instead of "your"

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Unread 10-25-2021, 04:22 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 4,998

Julie, this is a beautiful poem and I've enjoyed struggling through the French. I'm not capable of offering translation advice but am compelled to point out something that strikes me. In the crib the first line is

"One o’clock is sounding in the night"

To me, that is a different statement than

"A bell tolls one, out in the night"

The first statement has a different and to my ear a more powerful effect. One is sounding through the night and the other seems much timider, particularly with the comma.

Perhaps I'm missing something?

I want to thank you for bringing this poem and poet to my attention.

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Unread 10-25-2021, 11:33 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 7,387

Thank you very for your thoughts, Susan. I'm still mulling them.

Yes, John, the crib's version of L1 is so much better than any of the tetrameter versions I came up with that my first crack at this actually converted the whole poem into pentameter in order to accommodate it. But I decided I really couldn't justify tacking an extra foot onto each of the other 23 lines.
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