POEMS OF EARLY FRENCH BOHEMIANS


EARLY FRENCH BOHEMIAN POETS

ALFRED DE MUSSET, 1810-1857

GERARD DE NERVAL, 1801-1855

HENRI MURGER, 1822-1861


GERARD DE NERVAL

AN OLD TUNE

THERE is an air for which I would disown
Mozart's, Rossini's, Weber's melodies, -
A sweet sad air that languishes and sighs,
And keeps its secret charm for me alone.

Whene'er I hear that music vague and old,
Two hundred years are mist that rolls away;
The thirteenth Louis reigns, and I behold
A green land golden in the dying day.

An old red castle, strong with stony towers,
The windows gay with many coloured glass;
Wide plains, and rivers flowing among flowers,
That bathe the castle basement as they pass.

In antique weed, with dark eyes and gold hair,
A lady looks forth from her window high;
It may be that I knew and found her fair,
In some forgotten life, long time gone by.


EL DESDICHADO

(Translated as The Unhappy One) - Published in Les Chimerès (1854)

I am the shadowy -- the widowed -- sadly mute,
At ruined tower still the Prince of Aquitaine:
My single star is dead -- my constellated lute
Now bears the sable sun of melancholy pain.

In darkness in my grave, you who once could cheer,
Return me Posilipo and the Italian sea,
The flower which was to my tormented heart so dear,
The trellis where the rose and vine entwined could be.

Am I Amor or Phoebus?...Lusignan or Biron?
My forehead is still red from that kiss by the queen;
That grotto where the siren swims, I've had my dream...

Two times the conquerer I've crossed the Acheron,
And on the lyre of Orpheus, changing from key to key,
I've sung both saintly sighs and sung the fairy's lay.


Myrto

Published in Les Chimerès (1854)

It is of you, divine enchantress, I am thinking, Myrto,
Burning with a thousand fires at haughty Posilipo,
Of your forehead flowing with an Oriental glare,
Of the black grapes mixed with the gold of your hair.

From your cup also I drank to intoxication,
And from the furtive lightning of your smiling eyes,
While I was seen praying at the feet of Iacchus,
For the Muse has made me one of Greece's sons.

Over there the volcano has re-opened, and I know
It is because yesterday you touched it with your nimble toe,
And suddenly the horizon was covered with ashes.

Since a Norman Duke shattered your gods of clay,
Evermore beneath the branches of Virgil's laurel,
The pale hydrangea mingles with the green myrtle!


ALFRED DE MUSSET

JUANA

AGAIN I see you, ah my queen,
Of all my old loves that have been,
The first love, and the tenderest;
Do you remember or forget -
Ah me, for I remember yet -
How the last summer days were blest?

Ah lady, when we think of this,
The foolish hours of youth and bliss,
How fleet, how sweet, how hard to hold!
How old we are, ere spring be green!
You touch the limit of eighteen
And I am twenty winters old.

My rose, that mid the red roses,
Was brightest, ah, how pale she is!
Yet keeps the beauty of her prime;
Child, never Spanish lady's face
Was lovely with so wild a grace;
Remember the dead summer time.

Think of our loves, our feuds of old,
And how you gave your chain of gold
To me for a peace offering;
And how all night I lay awake
To touch and kiss it for your sake, -
To touch and kiss the lifeless thing.

Lady, beware, for all we say,
This Love shall live another day,
Awakened from his deathly sleep;
The heart that once has been your shrine
For other loves is too divine;
A home, my dear, too wide and deep.

What did I say - why do I dream?
Why should I struggle with the stream
Whose waves return not any day?
Close heart, and eyes, and arms from me;
Farewell, farewell! so must it be,
So runs, so runs, the world away,

The season bears upon its wing
The swallows and the songs of spring,
And days that were, and days that flit;
The loved lost hours are far away;
And hope and fame are scattered spray
For me, that gave you love a day
For you that not remember it.


HENRI MURGER

SPRING IN THE STUDENT'S QUARTER

WINTER is passing, and the bells
For ever with their silver lay
Murmur a melody that tells
Of April and of Easter day.
High in sweet air the light vane sets,
The weathercocks all southward twirl;
A sou will buy her violets
And make Nini a happy girl.

The winter to the poor was sore,
Counting the weary winter days,
Watching his little fire-wood store,
The bitter snow-flakes fell always;
And now his last log dimly gleamed,
Lighting the room with feeble glare,
Half cinder and half smoke it seemed
That the wind wafted into air.

Pilgrims from ocean and far isles
See where the east is reddening,
The flocks that fly a thousand miles
From sunsetting to sunsetting;
Look up, look out, behold the swallows,
The throats that twitter, the wings that beat;
And on their song the summer follows,
And in the summer life is sweet.

* * * * * *

With the green tender buds that know
The shoot and sap of lusty spring
My neighbour of a year ago
Her casement, see, is opening;
Through all the bitter months that were,
Forth from her nest she dared not flee,
She was a study for Boucher,
She now might sit to Gavarni.


OLD LOVES

LOUISE, have you forgotten yet
The corner of the flowery land,
The ancient garden where we met,
My hand that trembled in your hand?
Our lips found words scarce sweet enough,
As low beneath the willow-trees
We sat; have you forgotten, love?
Do you remember, love Louise?

Marie, have you forgotten yet
The loving barter that we made?
The rings we changed, the suns that set,
The woods fulfilled with sun and shade?
The fountains that were musical
By many an ancient trysting tree -
Marie, have you forgotten all?
Do you remember, love Marie?

Christine, do you remember yet
Your room with scents and roses gay?
My garret - near the sky 'twas set -
The April hours, the nights of May?
The clear calm nights - the stars above
That whispered they were fairest seen
Through no cloud-veil? Remember, love!
Do you remember, love Christine?

Louise is dead, and, well-a-day!
Marie a sadder path has ta'en;
And pale Christine has passed away
In southern suns to bloom again.
Alas! for one and all of us -
Marie, Louise, Christine forget;
Our bower of love is ruinous,
And I alone remember yet.


MUSETTE (1850)

YESTERDAY, watching the swallows' flight
That bring the spring and the season fair,
A moment I thought of the beauty bright
Who loved me, when she had time to spare;
And dreamily, dreamily all the day,
I mused on the calendar of the year,
The year so near and so far away,
When you were lief, and when I was dear.

Your memory has not had time to pass;
My youth has days of its lifetime yet;
If you only knocked at the door, alas,
My heart would open the door, Musette!
Still at your name must my sad heart beat;
Ah Muse, ah maiden of faithlessness!
Return for a moment, and deign to eat
The bread that pleasure was wont to bless.

The tables and curtains, the chairs and all,
Friends of our pleasure that looked on our pain,
Are glad with the gladness of festival,
Hoping to see you at home again;
Come, let the days of their mourning pass,
The silent friends that are sad for you yet;
The little sofa, the great wine glass -
For know you had often my share, Musette.

Come, you shall wear the raiment white
You wore of old, when the world was gay,
We will wander in woods of the heart's delight
The whole of the Sunday holiday.
Come, we will sit by the wayside inn,
Come, and your song will gain force to fly,
Dipping its wing in the clear and thin
Wine, as of old, ere it scale the sky.

Musette, who had scarcely forgotten withal
One beautiful dawn of the new year's best,
Returned at the end of the carnival,
A flown bird, to a forsaken nest.
Ah faithless and fair! I embrace her yet,
With no heart-beat, and with never a sigh;
And Musette, no longer the old Musette,
Declares that I am no longer I.

Farewell, my dear that was once so dear,
Dead with the death of our latest love;
Our youth is laid in its sepulchre,
The calendar stands for a stone above.
'Tis only in searching the dust of the days,
The ashes of all old memories,
That we find the key of the woodland ways
That lead to the place of our paradise.


Return to Home Page