Today in a marginal literary production and almost non-existent in terms of media advertising, poetry is nonetheless at the source of our literary history with the Homeric poems (The Iliad and the Odyssey), the Aeneid of Virgil and The Metamorphoses of Ovid. These four founding texts take the form of long poems.
From a poetic golden age, and from the medieval to the romantic: whether it is the 11th century with the song of gesture, the 16th century with the poets of the Pleiade or, later, of the romantic poets in the 18th century, the poetic genre was dominating the world of literature before the romantic form changed it all… Such a turnaround gave poetry a special place within contemporary literature: now an ancient art reputed to be tricky to access and yet a world of all possibilities.
Rather than attempting the impossible definition of modern poetry (as this genre is polymorphic and cannot be confined to this or that artistic flow), it seemed wiser for me to present to you some important figures of contemporary French-speaking poetry: an opportunity for all to enter gently into the complex works of some of my most beloved poets.
Here are two of my favourite poems that I have translated as best as I could. Paul Verlaine is my favourite poet, his art is so gloomy and moody but desperately beautiful.
My familiar dream, by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) published in Poèmes saturniens.
I often have this strange and penetrating dream
Of an unknown woman, and whom I love, and who loves me
And which is not, every time, not quite the same
Not quite another, and loves me and understands me.
Because she understands me, and my heart, transparent
For her alone, alas! stop being a problem
For her alone, and the wetness of my pale forehead,
She alone knows how to refresh them, crying.
Is she brunette, blonde or redhead? – I do not know.
Her name ? I remember it is soft and loud
Like those of the loved ones whom Life exiled.
Her gaze is the same as the gaze of statues,
And, for her voice, distant, and calm, and grave, she has
The inflection of dear voices that have fallen silent.
Baudelaire is another favourite of mine, his style is unique and exquisite.
Meditation by Charles Baudelaire
Wise up, Sorrow. Calm down.
You always lay claim to twilight. Well, here it is, brother,
It descends. Obscurity settles over the town,
bringing peace to one, worry to another.
The restless crowd, whipped on by pleasure—
our dogged torturer—carry their hearts’ raw
remorse with them as they serve their vapid leisure,
while you, my Sorrow, drop by here, take my hand, and draw
me apart from them. We watch the dying years
in faded gowns lean out from heaven’s balconies, as Regret rears,
smiling, out of the deep dark where the dead ones march.
Dragging its long train—now a shroud—from its early light
in the East, the sun goes to sleep under an arch.
Listen, Sorrow, beloved, to the soft approach of Night.
Poetry is a gift. It teaches us patience, it sounds like music for the soul, it lets us share our feelings in the most truthful way possible, it helps us to find our inner voice and most of all, poetry is exploration.