French Poetry

Thomas D. Le

This selective collection of French poetry features the best loved and most anthologized poems of French literature. Hardly any students of French literature can ignore these gems without missing the essence of the French language and the genius of French poetry. The variety and richness of this collection speaks for itself.

Each author is introduced with a brief bibliography to provide the historical context and information necessary to appreciate the poet’s contribution. Then follow some of his or her representative poems accompanied by Vietnamese and English translations.

More authors and works will be added over time to enrich and expand the collection. So, come back often to catch the latest additions.

Thomas D. Le

7 June 2008

Featured Authors:

Guilllaume Apollinaire

Félix Arvers

Charles Baudelaire

Gérard de Nerval

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

Joachim du Bellay

Louise Labé

Alphonse de Lamartine

Alfred de Musset

Sully Prudhomme

Arthur Rimbaud

Pierre de Ronsard

Paul Verlaine

François Villon

Return to Featured Authors

Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869)

Born in a provincial noble family at Milly in the Mâconnais, Alphone de Lamartine became enamored early in school of poetry and literature when one of his teachers read a passage from Chateaubriand. Handsome, bright, attractive, Lamartine had many amorous adventures, which whether happy or not left their marks in his many poems.

After his studies at a Jesuit school (1803-1807), he returned to Milly, where he steeped himself in reading and his nascent poetic vocation. In a trip to Italy (1811-1812) he met a young Neapolitan girl, whom he would recall as Graziella in his autobiographical writings. After a brief stint in the army during the Restoration, years spent in forging a career, literary disillusionment and disease deepened his experience. In September 1816 during a therapeutic trip to Aix-les-Bains he met Madame Julie Charles, with whom he fell passionately in love. He found her again in Paris that winter. The following year he went to Aix, waiting in vain to see her again. She had died of tuberculosis in the winter of 1817.

The experience deeply moved Lamartine, who found it a powerful source of inspiration. During the five years in which he lived through love, suffering, mourning and hope, he wrote a series of poems that reflected these stages of his life, and a deep religious sentiment. Thus appeared the Meditations in 1820, which assured his literary reputation. From the pains of love felt before Julie Charles’s death, in The Lake and Immortality (1817), through the sufferings after her passing in Isolation to the subsequent resigned calm expressed in The Valley, and Autumn, Lamartine revealed a profound poetic sensibility, heart-felt lyrical expression and a capacity to touch a generation. The Meditations came at a time when the disenchanted youth, possessed by melancholy and reverie, was looking for internal experience, a rich emotional life, exaltation and mystical aspirations. He gave it an expression in which it recognized itself and a voice, that of Romanticism.

Following his marriage to a young English woman named Elizabeth Birch, Lamartine embarked on a diplomatic career (1820-1830), which brought him to Italy. In 1823 he published the New Meditations but failed to achieve the success of the first Meditations. Then came the Harmonies Politiques et Religieuses (1830), which reflected his religious zeal and his Christian faith.

After the revolution of 1830 Lamartine entered politics, and lost his first bid to the National Assembly in 1831. But 1833 saw him elected deputy of Bergues. His political career, marked by an above-the-fray policy of not belonging to any party, lasted until 1848, the year in which for a few weeks he was in effective control of France. During this period he published among other works Jocelyn (1836), an epic poem, interspersed with personal reminiscences, that recounts the inner life of the priest Jocelyn. From his Platonic love of Laurence, the adolescent daughter of a man condemned to death, who gave Lamartine the opportunity to remember sometimes his own deceased daughter Julia, sometimes Julie Charles, to his death working among the peasants, Jocelyn embodies human aspirations to Heaven by the purifying virtue of sacrifice.

The establishment of the Second Empire saw Lamartine’s political career come to an end in 1851. In his ripe years the debt-ridden and defeated Lamartine turned into a prolific writer, condemned for life to the pen, to produce the histories of France, Turkey, and Russia, several novels, autobiographical sketches, and a literature text, all in a vain effort to escape penury. He was forced to sell his native home at Milly and to accept a lifetime pension from the Emperor. Thus ended his life in solitude and exhaustion in 1869.

The poem Autumn (1819) evokes the somber mood of a man who looks for consolation and hope as he mourns in the gloom of autumn the passing of a friend. Lonesome wanderer in the woods he laments the extinction of hope yet keeps hoping. Perhaps when life denies him its blessings, there may still be a soul out there that will find his, a drop of honey in the bittersweet cup of life he was drinking. But his doubts set in. The fallen flower rendered its fragrance as its parting message, and he, Lamartine, will too depart. But lover of beauty that he is, this romantic soul cannot fade without embellishing the world with the sad and melodious sound of his last breath.



Salut! bois couronnés d’un reste de verdure!

Feuillages jaunissants sur les gazons épars!

Salut, dernier beaux jours! le deuil de la nature

Convient à la douleur et plaît à mes regards!

Je suis d’un pas rêveur le sentier solitaire,

J’aime à revoir encor, pour la dernière fois,

Ce soleil pâlissant, dont la faible lumière

Perce à peine à mes pieds l’obscurité des bois!

Oui, dans ces jours d’automne où la nature expire,

A ses regards voilés je trouve plus d’attraits,

C’est l’adieu d’un ami, c’est le dernier sourire

Des lèvres que la mort va fermer pour jamais!

Ainsi prêt à quitter l’horizon de la vie,

Pleurant de mes longs jours l’espoir évanoui,

Je me retourne encore, et d’un regard d’envi

Je contemple ses biens dont je n’ai pas joui!

Terre, soleil, vallons, belle et douce nature,

Je vous dois une larme, aux bords de mon tombeau;

L’air est si parfumé! La lumière est si pure!

Aux regards d’un mourant le soleil est si beau!

Je voudrais maintenant vider jusqu’à la lie

Ce calice mêlé de nectar et de fiel!

Au fond de cette coupe où je buvais la vie,

Peut-être restait-il une goutte de miel?

Peut-être l’avenir me gardait-il encore

Un retour de bonheur dont l’espoir est perdu?

Peut-être dans la foule, une âme que j’ignore

Aurait compris mon âme et m’aurait répondu?

La fleur tombe en livrant ses parfums au zéphyr,

A la vie, au soleil, ce sont là ses adieux;

Moi, je meurs; et mon âme, au moment qu’elle expire,

S’exhale comme un son triste et mélodieux.

Mùa thu lịm chết

Hởi rừng thu, ta chào cành xanh cuối

Lá vàng rơi rụng trên buội cỏ thưa

Ngày đẹp đi, mùa tang tóc tiễn đưa

Cảnh đẹp mắt sao lòng nghe đau đớn

Theo lối mòn mình tôi đi thơ thẩn

Nắng vàng xuyên kẻ lá gợn lung linh

Trên bước đi qua bóng tối cây xanh

Nhìn giọt nắng lịm trên chân lần cuối

Đây là buổi thu tàn như hấp hối

Mắt đã nhòa, lời bạn trối cuối cùng

Đôi môi nào hé nụ lúc lâm chung

Đây cái chết đã khép rồi mãi mãi

Nay tôi sắp lìa cỏi đời ngang trái

Khóc ngày dài hy vọng đã phai tàn

Đoái nhìn xem cảnh sắc đẹp mơ màng

Còn nuối tiếc sao lòng không vui sống

Đồi soi nắng đẹp xinh êm như mộng

Lệ tiếc thương tôi nhỏ nấm mồ tôi

Hương tõa đầy tia nắng dịu ngừng trôi

Người sắp chết nhìn trời sao đẹp lạ

Tôi muốn cạn ly đời đau đớn quá

Nỗi đắng cay pha cả mật ngọt ngào

Chỉ ước mong khi cạn chén ngày nào

Một giọt mật hãy còn lưu dưới đáy

Cũng có thể tương lai dành ưu ái

Hạnh phúc kia còn trở lại hồn hoang

Biết đâu trong vạn người ở thế gian

Còn một kẻ hiểu tôi hòa âm điệu

Hoa rụng xuống gió đưa hương dìu dịu

Giã từ đời, giã biệt ánh mặt trời

Khi tôi chết hồn tôi sẽ buông hơi

Như tiếng hát ru đời nghe ãm đạm

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, Alabama, 26 Septembre 2002


Greetings, forests crowned with remaining green!

Yellowing foliage on the sparse grass!

Greetings, last gorgeous days! nature’s mourning

Evokes my pain and gratifies my eyes!

I walk the lonely path in dreamy steps,

And want to see again, for the last time,

This waning sun and pale whose feeble light

Barely pierces the woods’ dark at my feet!

Yes, in these autumn days when nature dies,

In her veiled looks I find a great allure,

A friend’s farewell, and the very last smile

From the lips that death will forever close!

Thus ready to leave the span of my life,

I mourn of my long days the dying hope,

And look back once more and with envious eyes

I mull over its blessings ne’er enjoyed!

Earth, sun, valleys, and fair and sweet nature,

I owe you tears at the edge of my tomb;

The air smells so sweet! The light is so pure!

To the dying the sun is beautiful!

Now I want to drink until the last drop

This chalice that mixes nectar and bile!

At the bottom of life’s cup that I drank,

Perhaps there was a drop of honey mild?

The future may well hold for me in store

A return of happiness, forlorn hope?

Perhaps among the crowd one soul ignored

Would understand my soul and would respond?

The flower falls and yields its perfume to the wind,

To life, and to the sun, saying its last farewell;

I’ll die; and my soul at the moment it expires

Will sound a quite mournful and melodious death knell.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

Le lac


Ainsi, toujours poussés vers de nouveaux rivages,

Dans la nuit éternelle emportés sans retour,

Ne pourrons-nous jamais sur l’océan des âges

     Jeter l’ancre un seul jour?

O lac! l’année à peine a fini sa carrière

Et près des flots chéris qu’elle devait revoir,

Regarde! je viens seul m’asseoir sur cette pierre

     Où tu la vis s’asseoir.

Tu mugissais ainsi sous ces roches profondes;

Ainsi tu te brisais sur leurs flancs déchirés;

Ainsi le vent jetait l’écume de tes ondes

     Sur ses pieds adorés.

Un soir, t’en souvient-il? nous voguions en silence;

On n’entendait au loin, sur l’onde et sous les cieux,

Que le bruit des rameurs qui frappaient en cadence

     Tes flots harmonieux.

Tout à coup des accents inconnus à la terre

Du rivage charmé frappèrent tes échos,

Le flot fut attentif, et la voix qui m’est chère

     Laisse tomber ces mots:

“O temps, suspends ton vol! et vous, heures propices,

Suspendez votre cours!

Laissez-nous savourer les rapides délices

     Des plus beaux de nos jours!

“Assez de malheureux ici-bas vous implorent:

Coulez, coulez pour eux;

Prenez avec les jours les soins qui les dévorent,

     Oubliez les heureux.

“Mais je demande en vain quelques moments encore,

Le temps m’échappe et fuit;

Je dis à cette nuit:”Sois plus lente”; et l’aurore

     Va dissiper la nuit.

“Aimons donc, aimons donc! de l’heure fugitive,

Hâtons-nous, jouissons;

L’homme n’a point de port, le temps n’a point de rive;

     Il coule, et nous passons!”

Temps jaloux, se peut-it que ces moments d’ivresse,

Où l’amour à longs flots nous verse le bonheur,

S’envolent loin de nous de la même vitesse

     Que les jours de malheur?

Hé quoi! n’en pourrons-nous au moins fixer la trace?

Quoi! passés pour jamais? quoi! tout entier perdus?

Ce temps qui les donna, ce temps qui les efface,

     Ne nous les rendra plus?

Eternité, néant, passé, sombres abîmes,

Que faites-vous des jours que vous engloutissez?

Parlez: nous rendez-vous ces extases sublimes

     Que vous nous ravissez?

O lac! rochers muets! grottes! forêt obscure!

Vous que le temps épargne ou qu’il peut rajeunir,

Gardez de cette nuit, gardez belle nature,

     Au moins le souvenir!

Qu’il soit dans ton repos, qu’il soit dans tes orages,

Beau lac, et dans l’aspect de tes riants coteaux,

Et dans ces noirs sapins, et dans ces rocs sauvages,

     Qui pendent sur tes eaux!

Qu’il soit dans le zéphyr qui frémit et qui passe,

Dans les bruits de tes bords par tes bords répétés,

Dans l’astre au front d’argent qui blanchit ta surface

     De ses molles clartés!

Que le vent qui gémit, le roseau qui soupire,

Que les parfums légers de ton air embaumé,

Que tout ce qu’on entend, l’on voit ou l’on respire,

     Tout dise: “ils ont aimé”.

Hồ ái ân

Mãi miết trôi nào biết đâu bờ bến

Trong đêm dài vô tận cuốn miên man

Có thể nào trên biển cã thời gian

Neo thuyền lại chỉ một ngày thôi nhỉ ?

Nầy hồ đó! năm sắp tàn, Đông chí

Nàng hẹn ta ngồi nghỉ phiến đá nầy

Sóng ân tình còn đợi dấu chân gầy

Sao chỉ có mình ta ngồi một bóng

Nghe âm hưỡng duới lòng sâu thạch động

Ðá chập chồng làn sóng bạc đẩy xô

Bọt nước trôi theo gió cuốn nhấp nhô

Sóng dào dạt trên chân nàng trìu mến

Còn nhớ chăng khi thuyền ta tách bến

Bầu trời chiều yên lặng vẳng mơ hồ

Tiếng mái chèo theo nhịp nhẹ nhẹ khua

Sóng lách tách nước lùa như điệu nhạc

Chợt có tiếng ngân vang nghe lạ khác

Dội bên bờ sóng dạt giữa trời thơ

Giọng nói người yêu dấu tựa trong mơ

Ứng khẩu mấy lời nầy còn ghi tạc :

Thời gian hởi ! Hãy ngừng bay cánh vạc

Giờ ái ân hạnh phúc hãy ngừng trôi

Hãy để ta trọn hưởng những giờ vui

Của tình ái đẹp tươi ngày hoa mộng

Kẻ khổ đau dưới trần còn hy vọng

Gi ờ trôi qua, qua chóng hết buồn đau

Hãy ban ân kẻ khổ đở ngày nào

Xin quên hẳn những ai đang hạnh phúc

Tôi tha thiết khẫn cầu thêm giây phút

Nhưng thời gian bay hút đã biệt tăm

Xin đêm đen chậm lại bước âm thầm

Bình minh hãy xua đêm vào bóng tối

Hãy yêu nhau, yêu mãi như ngày mới

Giờ qua mau, đừng đợi, hãy yêu nhau

Đời không bến, thời gian có bờ đâu

Giờ trôi mất, đời ta rồi cũng mất

Thời gian như ghét hờn ai hạnh phúc

Khi suối tình tràn ngập sóng ái ân

Nhưng yêu đương hay đau khổ chẳng phân

Thời gian ấy cũng bay nhanh biền biệt

Ôi ! chỉ còn lại trong ta nuối tiếc

Đã mất rồi, vĩnh biệt cuộc tình qua

Thời gian cho, thời gian cũng xóa nhòa

Đâu hoàn lại cho ta ngày đầm ấm

Thiên thu với hư vô, ôi ! vực thẩm

Ngày xưa đi quá khứ đã vùi sâu

Ôi ! phút giây hoan lạc có còn đâu

Ai trả lại cho ta giờ ân ái

Kia hồ, động đá im, rừng u tối

Thời gian không biến đổi, chỉ thay mầu

Hởi thiên nhiên cảnh đẹp có khi nào

Xin giữ hộ một đêm đầy kỹ niệm

Hồ xinh đẹp, đồi xanh như tô điểm

Lúc lặng im, hay mưa bão cuồn phong

Rặng thông già tịch mịch đá chập chồng

Cành thông rũ là đà trên sóng nuớc

Khi xuân tới, gió xuân êm nhẹ luớt

Róc rách nghe tiếng sóng vỗ bên bờ

Vầng trăng soi trắng bạc mặt hồ thơ

Lung linh sáng sóng mềm lơi lả gợn

Gió than thở, lau thì thầm mơn trớn

Hương đêm về nhẹ tỏa khắp không gian

Cảnh vật quanh đây cãm xúc mơ màng

Đều lên tiếng : Họ đã yêu ngày đó !

Traduit par Lý lãng Nhân

Madison, Alabama, 16 Septembre 2002

The Lake

And thus forever pushed to a newer shore,

In the darkness eternal carried ne’er to return,

Will we ever in the ocean of the ages

    Cast anchor for one day more?

Oh lake! The year has scarcely ended

Than near the cherished waves she was to revisit,

Behold, on this stone I came alone to linger

    Where you have seen her sit.

As you roared beneath these deep rocks,

Smashed your waters against their torn sides,

So the wind threw the foams of your billows

    Onto her feet beloved.

One night, remember? As we cruised along silently,

One heard from afar on the waves under these skies,

Only the noises of rowers who struck in rhythm

    Your harmonious waters.

Suddenly of the tones unknown to the earth

Of the charmed shore struck your echoes;

The waves grew attentive, and the voice to me dear

    Thus spoke these very words:

“Oh time, suspend your flight! and you, blessed hours,

Delay your course!

Let us savor the fleeting delights

    Of the happiest days of ours.

“Enough unhappy souls in this world implore you:

Flow on, and for them flow on;

Remove the days with the cares which consume them

    And spare the happy ones.

“But in vain I ask for a few moments more,

Time evades me, and takes flight.

I say to this night, “Tarry.” But the dawn

    Will dissipate the night.

“So let us love, let us love; and the transient hour

Let’s enjoy in a hurry;

Man has no harbor, time no shores;

    It flows, we fade merely!”

Jealous time, can it be that these drunken moments

When love fills us with bliss to overflow

Fly from us at the same speed

    As do our days of woe?

Alas, could we at least freeze their traces?

Why, gone forevermore? Why, lost forevermore?

This time that gave them, this time that kills them,

    To yield them nevermore?

Eternity, void, past, gloomy abyss,

What have you done with the days you buried?

Speak; will you surrender the sublime ecstasies

    From us you had ravished?

Oh lake, mute stones, grottoes, forests obscure!

You that time spares and rejuvenates,

Will you keep of this night, fair nature,

    At least its memory pure?

Let it abide in your repose or your storms,

Beautiful lake, in the face of your smiling hills,

And in these dark firs, and these wild rocks

    Which hang o’er your waters still!

Let it be in the zephyr that shudders in passing,

In the sounds of your shores and by them repeated,

In the silver-faced star that whitens your expanse

    With its softened brightness!

Let the wind that groans and the reeds that sigh

The gentle perfume of your balmy air,

Let all that is heard or seen or breathed

    All say: “In love they were.”

Translated by Thomas D. Le



Souvent, sur la montagne, à l’ombre du vieux chêne,

Au coucher du soleil, tristement je m’assieds ;

Je promène au hazard mes regards sur la plaine,

Dont le tableau changeant se déroule à mes pieds.

Ici gronde le fleuve aux vagues écumantes ;

Il serpente et s’enfonce en un lointain obscur ;

Là, le lac immobile étend ses eaux dormantes

Où l’étoile du soir se lève dans l’azur.

Au sommet de ces monts coronnés de bois sombres,

Le crépuscule encor jette un dernier rayon ;

Et le char vaporeux de la reine des ombres

Monte, et blanchit déjà les bords de l’horizon.

Cependant, s’élançant de la flèche gothique,

Un son religieux se répand dans les airs !

Le voyageur s’arrête, et la cloche rustique

Aux derniers bruits du jour mêle de saints concerts.

Mais à ces doux tableaux mon âme indifférente

N’éprouve devant eux ni charme ni transports ;

Je contemple la terre ainsi qu’une ombre errante :

Le soleil des vivants n’échauffe plus les morts.

De colline en colline en vain portant ma vue,

Du sud à l’aquilon, de l’aurore au couchant,

Je parcours tous les points de l’immense étendue

Et je dis : “Nulle part le bonheur ne m’attend.”

Que me font ces vallons, ces palais, ces chaumières,

Vains objects dont pour moi le charme est envolé ?

Fleuves, rochers, forêts, solitude si chères,

Un seul être vous manque, et tout est dépeuplé !

Que le tour du soleil ou commence ou s’achève,

D’un oeil indifférent je le suis dans son cours ;

En un ciel sombre ou pur qu’il se couche ou se lève,

Qu’importe le soleil ? je n’attends rien des jours.

Quand je pourrais le suivre en sa vaste carrière,

Mes yeux verraient partout le vide et les déserts ;

Je ne désire rien de tout ce qu’il éclaire ;

Je ne demande rien à l’immense univers.

Mais peut-être au delà des bornes de sa sphère,

Lieux où le vrai soleil éclaire d’autres cieux,

Si je pouvais laisser ma dépouille à la terre,

Ce que j’ai tant rêvé paraîtrait à mes yeux !

Là, je m’enivrerais à la source où j’aspire ;

Là, je retrouverais et l’espoir et l’amour,

Et ce bien idéal que toute âme désire

Et qui n’a pas de nom au terrestre séjour !

Que ne puis-je, porté sur le char de l’Aurore,

Vague object de mes voeux, m’élancer jusqu’à toi !

Sur la terre d’exil pourquoi resté-je encore ?

Il n’est rien de commun entre la terre et moi.

Quand la feuille des bois tombe dans la prairie,

Le vent du soir se lève et l’arrache aux vallons ;

Et moi, je suis semblable à la feuille flétrie

Emportez-moi comme elle, orageux aquilons !

Cô đơn

Trên núi đá, dưới bóng cây cỗ thụ

Tôi ngồi buồn chiều buông rũ quanh đây

Cảnh vật nhìn như tranh vẽ đổi thay

Dưới chân trãi đồng xanh dài bát ngát.

Đây sông sâu uốn lượn qua ghềnh thác

Giòng nước xuôi trôi mất đến phương nào

Mặt hồ kia im bóng lặng lờ sâu

Trăng mới mọc trên nền trời xanh thẩm.

Đây đồi núi, rừng cây tranh tối sẫm

Chiều chưa đi tia nắng cuối hoàng hôn

Kìa gương nga bóng sáng chiếu chập chờn

Chân trời đã nhuộm bạc mầu trăng dọi.

Bổng từ đỉnh tháp chuông cao vòi vọi

Tiếng chuông ngân vang dội khắp không gian

Lữ khách dừng chân đứng lại bên đàng

Lắng nghe khúc nguyện cầu kinh buổi tối.

Cảnh vật dẫu đẹp xinh như tranh mới

Sao hồn tôi vẫn hờ hững chẳng màng

Trần thế ơi ! sao hư ão, hoang mang

Mặt trời ấm không sưởi lòng kẻ chết.

Chập chùng dẫy đồi non kia nối tiếp

Trãi từ Nam chí Bắc đến Đông Tây

Mắt tôi tìm hết cả điểm quanh đây

Chẳng nhìn thấy nơi nào là hạnh phúc.

Kìa thung lũng với nhà tranh vách đất

Nọ lâu đài sang cã chẳng còn duyên

Sông núi kia,  rừng tịch mịch cô miên

Một người vắng tất cả đều hoang vắng.

Vầng thái dương lúc rạng đông hay tắt nắng

Tôi hững hờ câm lặng dõi theo chừng

Trên bầu trời trong vắt hoặc mịt mùng

Tôi chẳng đợi một ngày nào sáng lạng.

Cũng có lúc khi mặt trời soi sáng

Tôi thấy toàn sa mạc với khoảng không

Không ước mơ gì cả dưới trời hồng

Mà cũng chẳng mong gì trong vũ trụ.

Cũng có thể ngoài vòng cương tõa cũ

Vầng Thái dương sáng dội cõi trời nào

Khi tôi lìa thân xác dưới đất sâu

Tôi sẽ thấy những gì tôi mộng ước.

Nơi đó suối tình xưa tìm lại được

Hy vọng tràn bể ái ngập nguồn ân

Nơi ngọt ngào tý tưởng của tình thân

Miền hạnh phúc hồng trần không tiếng gọi.

Xin được níu ánh bình minh sáng chói

Vượt ngàn trùng bay tới để tìm em

Sống lưu đài trần thế được gì thêm ?

Còn chi nữa giữa tôi và đất lạnh.

Khi chiếc lá lìa cành rơi mỏi cánh

Gió chiều lên  xoáy cuốn lá bay đi

Hồn tôi như chiếc lá héo sầu bi

Gió bấc thổi bay vèo theo muôn hướng.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

16 mai 2004


Often on the mountain in the old oak’s shadow

In the gathering sundown I sit in sorrow,

And cast a random look around over the plain

Whose changing face unfolds below its scenic pane.

Here growls a river bubbling its white heads,

Snaking a deep path into the far spreads;

There still waters lie in a rustic lake;

The evening star rises, night in its wake.

On those high peaks that bear the somber woods

The last dusky light casts its gloomy moods.

And the misty charriot of Darkness Queen

Rises to blanch the world in its white sheen.

From a Gothic flèche there spreads everywhere

The peel of bells that wafts over the air.

As the traveler stops, the rustic bell tower

Mingles its holy sounds with day’s last hour.

To those peaceful tableaux my soul deadens

And feels no joy or bliss or elation.

To this wide world I’m just a lost shadow.

The sun will never wake the dead below.

My eyes in vain scan round the hills beyond

From south to northerly, from dusk to dawn.

I look throughout in this immensity,

And say, “There is no happiness for me.”

What good are they, thatch hut, palace and dells,

Empty places from which no charm still dwells?

Rivers, forests, stones and solitude rare,

Just one person missing leaves the world bare.

Whether the sun begins or ends its course,

It leaves me cold and impassive perforce,

Be it somber or pure, rising or setting.

Who cares about the sun? I expect nothing.

Perhaps beyond the bourne of its true sphere

The sun shines bright in the other skies clear.

If I could leave my body free of care

Then I would find among the dreams my share.

So far as I can see, the whole wide earth

Leaves me but emptiness and void desert;

I want nothing of all the world and clime,

Nothing at all until the end of time.

There where I could drink up the source of bliss,

That’s where I’d find my love and happiness.

And that’s the ideal good my soul desires,

Nameless on earth, to which my heart aspires.

Would that the god of Sun take me to where

You dwell, object of love with you I share.

Why should I tarry in earthly exile?

Nothing to share on this my desert isle.

And when the leaves fall down on the prairies

To be flown off the vale by evening breeze,

Just as a wilted leaf I’ll be forlorn.

O, northerly, take me with you, windborne.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

3 July 2005

Return to Featured Authors

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859)

One of the most gifted poetesses of the Romantic period, Mme Marceline Desbordes-Valmore found in her poetry a solace from a life buffeted by misfortunes.

Born in the northern French town of Douai on 20 June 1786, in the midst of a textile-dependent economy in crisis, Marceline-Félicité-Joseph was the youngest daughter of Antoine-Felix Desbordes, a painter of armories and church ornaments and Catherine-Cécile Lucas both descendants of Swiss immigrants. The Revolution ruined the family fortune, forcing the barely adolescent Marceline and her mother to take a trip to Guadeloupe in search of relief with a successful cousin. Marceline was chosen from among her parents’ four accompany her mother. To earn the fare for the trip, Marceline had to join a theater in Lille, then in Rochefort and Bordeaux, learning the cruelty of life along the way. Finally, in 1801, three years after leaving Douai, they began the perilous journey during a time when England and France were at war on the seas. When they arrived, Guadeloupe was convulsed by a violent revolt of the slaves against the French colons. The cousin, having lost his property and his wife during the uprising, had fled (Pougin 45)1. Shortly afterwards her mother died of yellow fever. Thanks to the compassion of strangers, she was finally returned at Dunkirk, now sixteen, destitute, and with her physical safety barely intact. Back to Douai, she plunged headlong into a career of acting and singing first in Rouen, then at the Opéra Comique (in 1805), where she gained the protection of the famed composer Grétry, with whom she maintained a steady correspondance after she left Paris. In 1813 she appeared in Paris again, this time at l’Odéon. It is in this town that she met in 1808 Henri de Latouche, her first true love, which lasts thirty years according to one account, whose identity she never revealed, except as “Olivier” in her poems. From this union a child was born who did not survive. Though very successful as an actress, Desbordes-Valmore left the Opéra Comique to return to the theater in Rouen, and from there in 1815 she left for a role of Rosine in Rossini’s Barber of Séville at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. Here she married in 1817 a second-rate actor, Prosper Lanchantin also called Valmore, from whom she had two daughters and a son. The first legitimate child died within a few weeks. Of the next three childen, two girls and one boy, the first-born, Ines, died during adolescence; Ondine died as a young woman, after she herself had seen her own daughter die in childhood. Only Hippolyte survived both his parents; he served twenty years in the army, seven of which in captivity by the Spaniards and then by the English..

In spite of the numerous personal tragedies Desbordes-Valmore started to write, prolifically, as a girl, a sister, a friend, a woman, and a mother, producing 25,000 verses, thousands of pages of prose, more than 3,000 letters not intended for publication. Written sometimes out of pecuniary necessity, sometimes for her own therapeutic purposes, the healing or palliating of a love life rent by heartaches, sometimes as a weapon with which to defend the weak against the powerful, her poetry easily retains the values and qualities which move her contemporaries and the modern reader to appreciate her as a significant voice among the Romantics. For twenty years, she and her husband would travel from city to city to earn a living, which hovered on the brink of indigence, until she finally gave up the theater in 1832 to devote full time to literature. Marceline Desbordes-Valmore died in Paris on 28 February 1859, at last finding peace from a tormented and painful life..

Her collections of Élégies, Marie et Romances (1819), Élégies et Romances nouvelles (New Elegies and Romances, 1825), Poésies (1830), Les Pleurs (Tears, 1833), Pauvres Fleurs (Poor Flowers, 1839), Bouquets et Prières (Bouquets and Prayers, 1843) charmed the habitués of the salons of her days. She also wrote children’s and family-oriented books: Contes en vers pour les Enfants (Tales in Verse for Children, 1840), Contes en prose (1840), Livre des Mères et des Enfants (Book for Mothers and Children, 1840), Anges de la Famille (1849), Jeunes Têtes et Jeunes Coeurs (Young Heads and Young Hearts, 1855). Among posthumous works are Poésies inédites (Unpublished Poems, 1860), Poésies de l’Enfance (Poems of Childhood, 1868), Contes et Scènes de la Vie de Famille (Tales and Scenes of Family Life, 1865), Poésies en Patois (1896). The novels include Une Raillerie de l’Amour (The Mocking of Love, 1833) L’Atelier d’un Peintre (The Workshop of a Painter, 1833) Violette (1839), and the novellas Salon de Lady Betty (1836), Domenica (1843), Huit Femmes (Eight Wives, 1845)

Her poetry, very much a spontaneous and lyrical effusion of a tender heart touching upon the elegiac and the epic, brims with female emotions and anxieties of love, the joys of motherhood, social concerns, political concerns, and religious fervor. Her pesonal lyricism evinces beauty, sincerity, and spontaneity that reach a sublime intensity. Woven with a soft texture, her verse delights the ear with the euphonious sounds that herald the musicality of Verlaine. The musicality of her verse must have benefited from the sense of musical rhythm she developed as a singer. Her style and rhythm, the odd number of syllables in verse (she introduced the eleven-syllable verse before Verlaine), her melancholy, her doleful passion, her pains and miseries form an amalgam that is strikingly original and modern. Detractors were outnumbered by admirers, among whom great men of letters such as Lamartine, Béranger, Alfred de Vigny, Victor Hugo, Rimbaud, Verlaine, even Baudelaire. As if in recognition of a kindred soul, André Breton says of her, “Desbordes-Valmore is surrealist in love.” Findng in her a soulmate for her love pains and politics, Louis Aragon, too, joins the encomium and is largely responsible for thrusting Deabordes-Valmore, who incorporates in her verse the major movements of the 19th century, into the modern consciousness. Her inspirations encompass the elegiac elements of a Lamartine and Alfred de Musset, the epic of a Victor Hugo, the symbolist of a Stéphane Mallarmé and Baudelaire, even the socio-political, and the humanist, not to mention the not so hidden feminist. Partly due to her lack of an academic background and any intellectual orientation, she is an independent, free-thinker who ranges across a wide spectrum of themes, anything that touches her heart, her conscience, her sensibility as a woman, a sister, a friend, a wife, a mother, a struggling artist who experienced first-hand the inequities and deceptions of life.

Considered a minor poet partly because of her status as a woman writer (She even wrote, “Women, I know, should not write; however, I write.”), Desbordes-Valmore has elicited a new burst of interest among modern critics. Her ability to deal with personal sufferings, an unforturnate love (with Henri de Latouche? with Dr. Alibert of the Opéra Comique?), loss of her children and friends, and an existence vitiated by near-poverty strikes the modern reader as admirable strength and fortitude. Although this renewed interest was fueled in no small part by feminist criticism, Desbordes-Valmore’s works proffers fertile ground for investigating other themes such as those abounding in the social and political arenas. Her poems capture the essence of love with tenderness and precision; the distresses and dreams of a woman in search of identity; the compassion for and defense of the children, the poor, the poor children, the women, the prisoners; in short, the downtrodden and vulnerable. Another dimension of this long-suffering soul is her spirituality. In spite of all the trials and vicissitudes she never loses faith in God2.

Charles Baudelaire, the eminent critic Sainte-Beuve, Paul Verlaine, Alexandre Dumas, Théodore de Banville, among a host of others, wrote critically of Desbordes-Valmore, paying tribute to her exquisite poetry and to “the modern Sappho,” as the great Paganini called her, who was “born for love, suffering, and poetry,” as Arthur Pougin (7) put it in La Jeunesse de Mme Desbordes-Valmore (The Youth of Mrs. Desbordes-Valmore). Pougin characterizes Desbordes-Valmore thus, “If Marceline has so far arranged her rhymes, if she has tried to express her feelings and sensations in verses more or less sonorous, more or less harmonious, it is the sole torture of her heart that draws from it the accents of a vibrant, pathetic, ardent poetry, always impregnated with intense emotions, which were later to elicit admiration and earn her an imperishable reputation.” (Pougin 82)

In his Les Poètes maudits3 (The Accursed Poets), Verlaine reviews six poets, including himself as Pauvre Lelian (anagram of Paul Verlaine), whom he calls Poètes absolus, absolute in imagination, absolute in expression. There is no definition, just an assertion, of the term maudit. After dwelling at length on the merits of Desbordes-Valmore’s verse with copious examples, Verlaine concludes, with hyperbolic flourish, “being powerless to further dissect such an angel.” (76) Then in a memorable finale, “And, pedant as is our pitiable métier, we must proclaim with a loud and intelligible voice that Marceline Desbordes-Valmore is simply — along with George Sand, who is so different, so hard, yet not without charming graces, great sense, and of proud and rather masculine disposition — the only woman of genius and talent of this century and of all centuries alongside Sappho, perhaps, and St. Theresa.” (76)

If by “poète maudit” is meant a poet of talent, who has difficulty fitting in, and is thus forced to live on the fringe by circumstances, rejecting the values of or being rejected by society, and sometimes engaging in asocial, provoking, dangerous, or self-destructive behavior (such as drug and alcohol abuse), possibly paying the price of early death for it or receiving only belated or incommensurate recognition, then Desbordes-Valmore does not exactly fit the mold. Yet, this romantic notion, pushed to an extreme, has a curious appeal, and by its measure some of Desbordes-Valmore’s admirers, namely Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, certainly would qualify. If to the designation is attached such descriptive terms as incomprehensible, hermetic, misunderstood, over the top, then one could add Stéphane Mallarmé for his impenetrable poems (Jules Renard calls Mallarmé, intraduisible, même en français, untranslatable, even in French), Lautréamont for his potentially blasphemous depiction of evil, Lautréamont, who died young at 24.

Desbordes-Valmore’s two most famous poems are highlighted here, Les Roses de Saadi and Les Séparés, the latter having been set to music by Julien his album “Julien” published in 1997.

1Pougin, Arthur. La Jeunesse de Mme Desbordes-Valmore. Paris:Calman-Levy, 1898.

2Le Poème d’une vie. Le site officiel de Marceline Desbordes-Valmore. 7 Jul 2007

3Verlaine, Paul. Les Poètes maudits. Paris: Léon Vanier, 1888.

7 July 2007

Les Roses de Saadi

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

J’ai voulu ce matin te rapporter des roses ;

Mais j’en avais tant pris dans mes ceintures closes

Que les noeuds trop serrés n’ont pu les contenir.

Les noeuds ont éclaté. Les roses envolées

Dans le vent, à la mer s’en sont toutes allées.

Elles ont suivi l’eau pour ne plus revenir.

La vague en a paru rouge et comme enflammée.

Ce soir, ma robe en est toute embaumée.

Respires-en sur moi l’odorant souvenir.

Hoa Hồng Saadi

Sáng nay hái hoa hồng, anh yêu dấu!

Hoa quá nhiều giây áo buộc đứt hai

Theo gió cuốn nụ hồng lả tả bay

Sóng biển dạt hoa trôi không trở lại.

Sóng sắc đỏ màu hoa như lửa rực

Áo chiều nay em sực nức mùi hồng

Trên da thơm anh hãy thở hương nồng

Để mãi nhớ hương tình đầy kỷ niệm.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

4 août 2002

The Roses of Saadi

I wanted you to have roses this morn,

And stuffed a lot of them in my snug dress,

In my tight belt I could not all shoehorn.

The knots gave way, and threw them all around,

To wind and sea they were all gone forlorn

To flow with water, never will come round.

The waves were crimson red as if on fire.

This eve my dress is drenched in their fragrance,

Breathe it and keep it to your heart’s desire.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

12 August 2002

Les Séparés

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

N’écris pas – Je suis triste, et je voudrais m’éteindre

Les beaux étés sans toi, c’est la nuit sans flambeau

J’ai refermé mes bras qui ne peuvent t’atteindre,

Et frapper à mon coeur, c’est frapper au tombeau

N’écris pas !

N’écris pas – N’apprenons qu’à mourir à nous-mêmes

Ne demande qu’à Dieu … qu’à toi, si je t’aimais !

Au fond de ton silence écouter que tu m’aimes,

C’est entendre le ciel sans y monter jamais

N’écris pas !

N’écris pas – Je te crains; j’ai peur de ma mémoire;

Elle a gardé ta voix qui m’appelle souvent

Ne montre pas l’eau vive à qui ne peut la boire

Une chère écriture est un portrait vivant

N’écris pas !

N’écris pas ces mots doux que je n’ose plus lire :

Il semble que ta voix les répand sur mon coeur;

Et que je les vois brûler à travers ton sourire;

Il semble qu’un baiser les empreint sur mon coeur

N’écris pas !

Những Kẻ Xa Nhau

Đừng viết nữa! Em buồn, em muốn chết

Hè đẹp xinh, anh vắng, chỉ đêm đen

Vòng tay em quàng lại chằng tới anh,

Tay đấm ngực, như đấm mồ hoang lạnh

Đừng viết nữa!

Đừng viết nữa! Biết rằng cho đến chết

Ôi, hỡi Trời… hỡi anh biết, em yêu!

Dù vắng anh, em vẫn hiểu anh yêu

Như cảm thấy trời cao chưa vói tới

Đừng viết nữa!

Đừng viết nữa! Em sợ trong tiềm thức

Giọng nói quen anh vẫn gọi tên em

Suối nguồn kia đâu uống được hở anh!

Cho nét chữ thành dáng người sống động

Đừng viết nữa!

Đừng viết lời ngọt ngào không dám đọc

Như tiếng anh vương vãi khắp tim em

Lời anh như lửa bỏng, nụ cười êm

Chiếc hôn đó đốt hằn tim em cháy

Đừng viết nữa!

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, AL, 2 juillet, 2007


Do not write – I am sad and just wish to expire.

Lovely summers without you are but a dark night.

I have closed up my arms, which can no more reach you,

And to strike at my heart is to strike at the grave.

Do not write!

Do not write – Let us learn for ourselves how to die.

Ask only God… and to yourself if I loved you!

In your absence’s depth to hear that you love me

Is to hear heaven without ever getting there.

Do not write!

Do not write – I fear you, and too my memory;

It keeps the voice that calls often to me.

Do not show one running water who cannot drink.

A dear handwritten word is like a live portrait.

Do not write!

Do not write me sweet words I no longer dare read.

It seems your voice spreads them upon my heart

And that I see them searing through your smile,

It seems a kiss imprints them on my heart.

Do not write!

Translated by Thomas D. Le

30 June 2007


Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

Vous demandez si l’amour rend heureuse;

Il le promet, croyez-le, fût-ce un jour.

Ah! pour un jour d’existence amoureuse,

Qui ne mourrait? la vie est dans l’amour.

Quand je vivais tendre et craintive amante,

Avec ses feux je peignais ses douleurs:

Sur son portrait j’ai versé tant de pleurs,

Que cette image en paraît moins charmante.

Si le sourire, éclair inattendu,

Brille parfois au milieu de mes larmes,

C’était l’amour; c’était lui, mais sans armes;

C’était le ciel. . . qu’avec lui j’ai perdu.

Sans lui, le cœur est un foyer sans flamme;

Il brûle tout, ce doux empoisonneur.

J’ai dit bien vrai comme il déchire une âme:

Demandez-donc s’il donne le bonheur!

Vous le saurez: oui, quoi qu’il en puisse être,

De gré, de force, amour sera le maître;

Et, dans sa fièvre alors lente à guérir,

Vous souffrirez, ou vous ferez souffrir.

Dès qu’on l’a vu, son absence est affreuse;

Dès qu’il revient, on tremble nuit et jour;

Souvent enfin la mort est dans l’amour

Et cependant….oui, l’amour rend heureuse!

Tình Yêu

Tình đem hạnh phúc tới không?

Tình mang lời hứa dù trong một ngày

Một ngày đã biết yêu ai

Dẫu ta có thác, cuộc đời đã yêu

Tình em tha thiết đã nhiều

Lửa tâm thiêu đốt một chiều đớn đau

Hình ai em trút lệ sầu

Đã nhòa nét mực sắc mầu cũng phai

Nụ cười ai lóe trên môi

Qua bao nước mắt còn ngời ánh sao

Tình nghe sắc bén không dao

Một trời tôi đã lạc vào biệt tăm

Tình không: tim vắng lửa hồng

Êm như độc dược mà lòng cháy thiêu

Hồn tôi rách nát đã nhiều

Xin ai đừng hỏi tình yêu nhiệm mầu?

Người ơi, biết trước hay sau:

Tình là chủ tể có cầu hay chăng

Để trong cơn sốt lâu lành

Ta gieo nỗi khổ, hay giành thương đau

Tình xa khơi động mạch sầu

Tình về run rẫy giọt châu đêm ngày

Nhiều khi tình chết trong tay

Thế mà hạnh phúc từ ngày yêu anh

Traduit par David Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, 13 July, 2007


You asked if love makes one happy.

His promise’s yes, be it for a day.

Ah, who wouldn’t want to live one day for love

Then die? For life does live in love.

As lover full of gentleness and fear,

With his fires I painted his suffering,

On his portrait I shed so many tears

That his image became much less charming.

If smile, that unexpected gleam,

Broke out sometimes amidst my tears,

It was love, unarmed, it was him,

And heaven with him disappears.

Deprived of love, the heart’s icy.

Yet he burns all, and poisons all.

He sure knows how to rend a soul.

Ask him if he makes one happy!

You’ll know, whatever may occur,

That love will win by force or grace;

And in the slow-healing fever he made

You will suffer and make others suffer.

Once found, his absence is torture,

And when he’s back, one shakes every hour.

Often it’s death that lives in love.

And yet, love does make one happy.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

13 July 2007

Return to Featured Authors

Sully-Prudhomme (1839-1907)

Winner of 1901 Nobel Prize for Literature

Reacting against the excesses of Romanticism, a new poetry movement, the Parnasse, propounded art for art’s sake, lifted poetry to Parnasse, the abode of the Muses, and restored art to its former purity and dignity, from which Lamartine had dragged it down. Three reviews contributed to the Parnassian movement, La Revue fantaisiste (1861), founded by Catulle Mendès, who defamed romantic declamation and rehabilitated virtuosity, La Revue du progrès (1863-64), founded by Xavier de Ricard, who extolled scientific poetry, and L’Art (1865-66), dominated by the influence of Leconte de Lisle. The first collection of Parnassian poetry, Le Paranasse contemporain was edited in 1866 by Lemerre, who assembled works from thirty-seven poets, including Théophile Gautier, Baudelaire, Leconte de Lisle, Théodore de Banville, Francois Coppée, Catulle Mendès, José-Maria de Heredia, Verlaine, Mallarmé. This collection was succeeded by two others that were published in 1871 and 1876. All Parnassians shared the cult of formal perfection.

Sully-Prudhomme, by his attention to the precise form and style, belongs in the Parnassian movement. However, his inspiration runs counter to the movement; he sings of his intimate feelings, the dictates of his moral conscience, and the troubles of his thoughts. His lyrical works, Stances et Poèmes (Stanzas and Poems 1865), Les Épreuves (The Trials, 1866), Les Solitudes (1869), Les Vaines Tendresses (Vain Tenderness 1875), are followed by philosophical poems, La Justice (1878) and Le Bonheur (Happiness, 1888). Certain of his poems have a melancholy and delicate charm.

Le vase brisé

Sully Prudhomme

Le vase où meurt cette vervaine

D’un coup d’éventail fut fêlé ;

Le coup dut effleurer à peine,

Aucun bruit ne l’a révélé.

Mais la plus légère meurtrissure,

Mordant le cristal chaque jour,

D’une marche invisible et sûre

En a fait lentement le tour.

Son eau fraîche a fui goutte à goutte,

Le suc des fleurs s’est épuisé ;

Personne encore ne s’en doute,

N’y touchez pas, il est brisé.

Souvent aussi la main qu’on aime,

Effleurant le coeur, le meurtrit ;

Puis le coeur se fend de lui-même,

La fleur de son amour périt ;

Toujours intact aux yeux du monde,

Il sent croître et pleurer tout bas

Sa blessure fine et profonde ;

Il est brisé, n’y touchez pas.

Chiếc Bình Rạn Nứt

Hoa héo chết trong bình nước cạn

Ai có ngờ tai nạn bất tường

Quạt kia vừa khẻ chạm nhẹ nhàng

Không tiếng động mà bình đã rạn.

Vết nứt dẫu nhẹ nhàng nông cạn

Ngày lại ngày thanh thản sâu thêm

Tuy vô hình tàn phá lạng êm

Pha lê đã trọn vòng nứt rạn.

Từng giọt nước lần hồi tiêu tán

Hoa héo dần nhựa cạn hao mòn

Chưa ai ngờ sự thể vẫn còn

Đừng chạm nhé! Bình hoa đã vở.

Thương như thế bàn tay yêu đó

Chạm tim mình dẫu có nhẹ nhàng

Rôi tim kia sẽ tự vở tan

Hoa tình ái thôi đành liệm chết.

Nhưng thế giới bên ngoài ai biết

Khóc âm thầm cho vết thương đau

Nghe trong tâm nứt rạn thâm sâu

Bình đã vỡ, xin đừng chạm nhé.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

19 Août 2002

The Fissured Vase

This vase wherein the vervain dies

A fan’s light touch left a crack fine.

Soft blow it was to all the eyes,

And made no noise one would divine.

Yet slight as is the little bruise,

It gnaws at its crystal each day.

Unseen but sure in its slow cruise

Around the vase it makes its way.

Fresh water leaves in dribs and aught,

The flowers’ soul will expire soon.

Though none has yet to suspect naught,

Touch not the vase for it’s in ruin.

Thus often when the hand you love

Strokes light the heart yet breaks it so,

The heart shatters on its blest love,

The flower dies of its love’s woe.

It looks whole to the world outside,

Yet feels the growth, and softly cries,

Of its wound deep and fine inside.

It is injured, touch not the vase.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

12 August 2002

Les yeux


Bleus ou noirs, tous aimés, tous beaux,

Des yeux sans nombre ont vu l’aurore ;

Ils dorment au fond des tombeaux,

Et le soleil se lève encore.

Les nuits plus douces que les jours,

Ont enchanté des yeux sans nombre ;

Les étoiles brillent toujours,

Et les yeux se sont remplis d’ombre.

Oh ! qu’ils aient perdu le regard,

Non, non, cela n’est pas possible

Ils se sont tournés quelque part,

Vers ce qu’on nomme l’invisible.

Et comme les astres penchants

Nous quittent, mais au ciel demeurent,

Les prunelles ont leurs couchants,

Mais il n’est pas vrai qu’elles meurent :

Bleus ou noirs, tous aimés, tous beaux,

Ouverts à quelque immense aurore,

De l’autre côté des tombeaux

Les yeux qu’on ferme voient encore.

Đôi Mắt

Mắt nhung huyền hay mắt xanh hồ thủy

Đẹp như tình chung thủy buổi bình minh

Biết bao người yên nghỉ dưới mồ xanh

Mặt trời vẫn vô tình soi sáng tỏ.

Đêm lắng dịu như đẹp lông mắt dó

Ngày trôi mau đã có vạn người qua

Ánh sao đêm côn lấp lánh cỏi trời xa

Sao mắt ấy đã ngập tràn bóng tối.

Hay mắt đã không nhìn thấy lối

Nhưng không, không! Điều vô lý làm sao!

Mắt kia chỉ quay về một phía nào

Ấy là chốn vô hình ta vẫn gọi.

Như sao lạc chỉ vài giây sáng chói

Dẫu xa ta còn mãi cõi trời xanh

Đôi đồng tử dù đã hết long lanh

Đâu có nghĩa là mắt kia đã chết.

Mắt huyền đẹp hay mắt xanh yêu dấu

Mắt mở tròn soi thấu cõi bình minh

Bên bờ kia ngoài dẫy nấm mồ xanh

Mắt tuy khép vẫn côn trông thấy mãi.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

24 Août 2002

The Eyes

Blue or black, all adored and fair,

The countless eyes that saw the dawn!

Now rest in peace deep in their lair

While the sun still rises beyon’.

The nights than days are sweeter still

Have delighted the eyes countless.

The stars will always shine at will

And yet the eyes filled with darkness.

O that they have all lost their sight!

But no, no! That just cannot be.

They simply must have turned aside

Towards a place no one can see.

And though the stars will sure decline

In yonder sky they still remain.

The eyeballs fall in sleep supine

Yet always will their life regain.

Blue, black, all beautiful and loved,

And open to some dawn behold,

Beyond the grave the eyes beloved

That death has closed will never fold.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

13 August 2002

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Paul Verlaine (1844-1896)

An only child, spoiled and turbulent, Verlaine was placed in a boarding school. After graduation from high school he attempted law, quickly became bored, quit, and drifted from a job with an insurance company to one with the City of Paris. Soon he took to the bohemian lifestyle and alcohol, frequented cabarets and the literary circles. His Poèmes Saturniens, written at age 16 while still at the Lycée, were published in 1866 in Paris, to the critical acclaim of Anatole France et Mallarmé. But his addiction to absinthe caused one scandal after another. In 1870, the year of the publication of Les Fêtes Galantes, he married 17-year-old Mathilde Mauté, settled down, and even got involved in political events. During the Commune he joined the insurgents.

In September 1871, he met Arthur Rimbaud, who had sent him his poems, and now had come from Charleville to join him. Falling in love with the youth, he reverted to his cabaret ways. During bouts of drunkenness, he would quarrel with Mathilde or beat her. When the couple’s son arrived in October, Rimbaud went back to Charleville. Verlaine’s family enjoyed a period of relative calm. Before long Rimbaud and Verlaine got back together, and they fled to Belgium, where Mathilde failed to beg him to come back, then to London, where his mother tried in vain to bring him around.

With Rimbaud he drank, quarreled, and fought, until Rimbaud finally grew tired and left for Charleville, where Verlaine could not persuade him to resume their wanderings. In July 1873, for having shot Rimbaud in the arm Verlaine served a two-year sentence in Brussels, during which time he rediscovered the Christian faith of his childhood. Out of prison Verlaine went to London to teach French and drawing. Back in Paris in 1882, he returned to absinthe, forsaken by his wife, who finally divorced him. He tried to publish Rimbaud’s work, wrote for magazines, and published his own poems, Jadis et Naguère (1884), and Parallèllement (1889). Refusing to belong to any literary schools and romantic that he was, he lived in bars surrounded by young women admirers.

He spent the income from his poems and articles on drinks. His friends pooled their resources to help him out with a monthly stipend. Afflicted by rheumatism and leg ulcers, he spent extended periods in the hospital, where he found a measure of tranquillity. Always a maverick, he submitted his candidacy to the Académie Française, but received no votes.

However, in 1894, he was elected “Prince of Poets” by his peers to succeed Leconte de Lisle. The only other accolade was bestowed at his funeral one day after his death on January 9, 1896. The Latin Quarter, whose every single bar and tavern he had patronized, became thick with mourners, who formed an honor guard all the way to the Clichy cemetery, to pay tribute to the inveterate drunkard who incarnates Poetry and has joined the ranks of the accursed poets.

Verlaine’s art resides in the music of his poetry. It is this inebriating quality, combined with the finely wrought melancholy, the sadness of love and unattained happiness, the delicate and sentimental touch, that set him apart as a magician of the word.

In the short mood poem Chanson d’automne, which encapsulates his Weltschmerz, taken from the Poèmes Saturniens, Verlaine at an early age sees his spirit sink to its nadir. The star-crossed poet, whose tormented life he was to live on the brink of perdition, lets autumn fill his soul with leaden sadness. The languorous sobs of the violin rend his heart. He cries about the past, and faces the future with the vulnerability of an autumn leaf at the mercy of the evil wind. With just a few words in each verse in three six-line stanzas, he creates a haunting lament that clings tenaciously to the psyche. Let the musique verlainienne then begin. To submerge and transport us to an autumn of melancholic heartbreak.

Chanson d’automne


Les sanglots longs

Des violons

De l’autonne

Blessent mon coeur

D’une langueur


Tout suffoquant

Et blême quand

Sonne l’heure,

Je me souviens

Des jours anciens

Et je pleure.

Et je m’en vais

Au vent mauvais

Qui m’emporte

Deçà, delà

Pareil à la

Feuille morte.

Thu ca

Vĩ cầm khóc thu buồn

Nghe nức nở sầu tuôn

Xé tim tôi não nuột

Như điệu hát chán chường.

Nghẹn ngào giờ chuông đổ

Nhớ tới những ngày xưa

Ôi, khóc mấy cho vừa.

Tôi sẽ ra đi mãi

Mặc gió cuốn bay xa

Đây đó biết đâu là

Như lá vàng rụng chết.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

14 Octobre 2002

Song of Autumn

The prolonged sobs

Of the violin

In the autumn

Tear up my heart

With languishing



And listless when

The dread hour strikes

I remember

The days of yore

And I cry.

And I wander

In evil wind

Which carries me

Hither, thither

Like a dead leaf

I would be.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

30 June 2001

Il pleure dans mon coeur


Il pleure dans mon coeur

Comme il pleut sur la ville

Quelle est cette langueur

Qui pénètre mon coeur ?

Ô bruit doux de la pluie

Par terre et sur les toits !

Pour un coeur qui s’ennuie

Ô le chant de la pluie !

Il pleure sans raison

Dans ce coeur qui s’écoeure.

Quoi ! nulle trahison?

Ce deuil est sans raison.

C’est bien la pire peine

De ne savoir pourquoi

Sans amour et sans haine

Mon coeur a tant de peine !

Khóc Thầm

Sướt mướt tim tôi khóc

Như mưa trên phố phường.

Vì sao sầu héo hắt

Xuyên thấu cả tâm cang?

Tiếng mưa rơi êm ả

Trên đất, trên mái nhà

Thêm não lông, buồn dạ

Tiếng mưa, ôi thiết tha!

Sụt sùi không duyên cớ

Tim nầy vẫn nghẹn ngào;

Duyên tình không phản bội

Sao lại thảm thê gào.

Khổ tâm nầy ai thấu

Nào biết lý do đâu

Không yêu, không tủi hận

Sao tim quá sầu đau?

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

24 Août 2002

The Cry in My Heart

The cry that’s in my heart is like

The rain that pours onto the town.

What is this languor sad to strike

And weigh my heavy heart low down?

O rain whose sound that is so sweet

Upon the roofs and on the grounds!

It fills my heart with grief replete.

O rain whose song that so resounds!

For no known reason it cries so

In my sad heart filled with distress.

What, no real treason can I know?

This mournful mood is meaningless.

What can be worse than this deep pain

That kills, and yet I know not why.

No love nor hate, only this bane

That wounds my heart and lets it cry.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

29 August 2002



Souvenir, souvenir, que me veux-tu ? L’automne

Faisait voler la grive à travers l’air atone,

Et le soleil dardait un rayon monotone

Sur le bois jaunissant où la bise détonne.

Nous étions seul à seule et marchions en rêvant,

Elle et moi, les cheveux et la pensée au vent.

Soudain, tournant vers moi son regard émouvant :

“Quel fut ton plus beau jour?” fit sa voix d’or vivant,

Sa voix douce et sonore, au frais timbre angélique.

Un sourire discret lui donna la réplique,

Et je baisai sa main blanche, devotement.

– Ah! Les premières fleurs, qu’elles sont parfumées!

Et qu’il bruit avec un murmure charmant

Le premier oui qui sort de lèvres bien-aimées!

Còn chi hơn nữa

Ôi kỹ niệm, mùa thu nào có nhớ ?

Chim họa mi vỗ cánh cảnh thu buồn

Tia mặt trời sáng dọi những cành sương

Rừng phong đã nhuộm vàng trong gió lạnh

Nàng với tôi hai người đi thơ thẫn

Tóc mây bay hồn mộng cũng chơi vơi

Mắt say sưa nàng bổng chợt hỏi tôi :

“Ngày đẹp nhất trong đời anh sao nhỉ ?”

Nghe giọng nói yêu kiều thêm thùy mị

Tôi mỉm cười vừa cầm lấy tay nàng

Đặt nụ hôn tay ngà ấy nồng nàn

Tôi khẻ bảo : “Hoa đầu tiên thơm quá !”

Thoảng nghe tiếng nàng thì thầm êm ã

Tiếng đầu tiên “Vâng ạ !” thoát môi yêu.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

29 Août 2002


Memory, O memory, what wilt thou of me?

The autumn sent the thrush ‘cross lifeless sky

While the sun shot its dull arrows of light

On the yellow wood where the north wind howled.

We were alone dreaming away in lonely walk,

She and I, our hair and thoughts flying in the breeze.

Then suddenly she turned to me her moving look

“What was your best day?” in lively golden voice,

A sweet and clear voice with angelic tone.

With discreet smile I gave her my reply,

Then kissed her white hand with devoted love.

Ah! How so fragrant are the first flowers!

What a sound uttered in charming murmur

That first sweet Yes from those lips I love!

Translated by Thomas D. Le

2 December 2004

Mon rêve familier

(Poèmes saturniens)


Je fais souvent ce rêve étrange et pénétrant

D’une femme inconnue, et que j’aime, et qui m’aime

Et qui n’est chaque fois, ni tout à fait la même,

Ni tout à fait une autre, et m’aime et me comprend.

Car elle me comprend, et mon coeur transparent

Pour elle seule, hélas! cesse d’être un problème;

Pour elle seule, et les moiteurs de mon front blême,

Elle seule les sait rafraichir, en pleurant.

Est-elle brune, blonde ou rousse? Je l’ignore.

Son nom? Je me souviens qu’il est doux et sonore

Comme ceux des aimés que la vie exila.

Son regard est pareil au regard des statues;

Et pour sa voix, lointaine et calme, et grave, elle a

L’inflexion des voix chères qui se sont tues.

Giấc mơ quen

Giấc mơ thường đến lạ lùng

Người không quen biết mà cùng yêu nhau

Mổi lần tuy có khác sao

Hiểu tôi, em đã hiến bao nhiêu tình.

Tim anh trong suốt thủy tinh

Bởi em đã hiểu mối tình đớn đau

Vì em trán hết buồn mau

Lệ em rưới mát tâm sầu năm xưa.

Tóc vàng, hay thẩm, đong đưa ?

Tên em anh nhớ tiếng vừa êm tai

Người yêu, đời đã lưu đài.

Mắt em, tượng đá như ngây dại buồn

Tiếng em, xa vẳng trầm vương

Giọng người yêu đã tắt nguồn từ lâu.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

9 December 2002

My Familiar Dream

I’ve often this strange and impressive dream

Of an unknown girl I love and loves me,

And who each time is neither the same deemed

Nor different who loves and understands me.

For she knows me, and my crystal-clear heart

For her only is not a puzzling part.

For she alone of my pale sweaty brow

To freshen up with tears she does know how.

Is she brunette, blond, or red? I know not

Her name? I recall it sweet, and nice-sounding

Like those of the belov’d that life’s banished.

Her look is so much like that of statues;

And her voice that’s far off and calm and grave

Sounds like those that are loved and fallen still.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

26 October 2004



Voici des fruits, des fleurs, des feuilles et des branches

Et puis voici mon coeur, qui ne bat que pour vous.

Ne le déchirez pas avec vos deux mains blanches

Et qu’à vos yeux si beaux l’humble présent soit doux.

J’arrive tout couvert encore de rosée

Que le vent du matin vient glacer à mon front.

Souffrez que ma fatigue, à vos pieds reposée,

Rêve des chers instants qui la délasseront.

Sur votre jeune sein laissez rouler ma tête

Toute sonore encor de vos derniers baisers ;

Laissez-la s’apaiser de la bonne tempête,

Et que je dorme un peu puisque vous reposez.


Nầy là hoa, lá cành và cây trái

Đây tim nầy chỉ đập mãi cho em

Tay ngà xin chớ xé nát tim anh

Ôi mắt đẹp! Nhận chút tình khiêm tốn.

Anh đến đây khi sương dầy khắp chốn

Gió mai làm băng giá trán anh đầy

Thầm mơ khi ngồi dưới gót chân gầy

Bao mệt mỏi biến thành giây khoan khoái

Ngực em trẻ tựa mái đầu thoải mái

Tiếng em hôn còn vang mãi bên tai

Trận cuồn phong đã lắng dịu trùng khơi

Cho anh ngủ trong tay em yên giấc

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, Alabama, 4 Octobre 2002


Here’re the fruit, the flow’rs, the leaves, and limbs

And here’s my heart, which beats for you only.

Let you not tear it up with your white hands

As humble gift it’s for your eyes lovely.

I came all bathed in morning dew

That on my brow the wind had froze.

Let me tired at your feet repose

Dream of dear times that me renew.

On your young breast let my head squeeze

Full of the sounds of your last kiss.

Let it find calm from the tempest

And me to find sleep while you rest.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

4 December 2004

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Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918)

Guillaume Apollinaire, born Wilhelm Apollinaire de Kostrowitzki in Rome on August 26, 1880, of an expatriate Polish mother and an Italian father, received a good education at the College of Saint-Charles de Monaco. Two years after moving to Paris, Guillaume Apollinaire took in 1901 the position of tutor to Miss Gabrielle de Milhau, whose maternal grandmother owned properties in the Rheinland. Following his pupil’s family to the Westwald, he lived in Neu-Glück then in Munich. He traveled all across Germany and Austria, then on to Bohemia. Some of his early poems evoke the “firs with pointed caps” of the Rheinish landscape. He fell in love with a young English governess of the Milhaus, Annie Playden, whom he followed to London. The rebuff of her parents and her subsequent departure to America left him so deeply hurt that he wrote the Chansons du mal-aimé (Songs of the Unloved) in 1903.

Back in Paris, Guillaume Apollinaire got frenetically involved in literary activities, joining a small band of poets (among whom André Salmon and Alfred Jarry) who met in the basement of the Soleil d’Or on Quai Saint-Michel, and another group headed by Paul Fort and Moréas at the Closerie des Lilas before leading as editor-in-chief the short-lived review Le Festin d’Esope. He made friends with the young modernist painters Vlaminck, Derain, and finally Picasso, who introduced him to the poet Max Jacob, and with whom he later formulated the cubist esthetics. Guillaume Apollinaire joined all avant-garde movements, witnessed the advent of fauvism, and introduced the public to the naive art of the Customs officer Henri Rousseau. Published in 1908 his first volume, L’Enchanteur pourrissant (The Rotting Wizard), illustrated by Derain, recounted in strange poetic prose the dialogue between Merlin and the fairy Viviane. The following year appeared a collection of short stories, l’Hérésiarque et Cie, which were told with energetic verve. In 1911 the refined poems of the Bestiaire revealed the boldness of his symbolism and the delicacy of his taste. But it was another wider and more varied collection published in 1913 entitled, Alcools, that confirmed his poetic talent, and his lust for an intense life.

In the fall of 1914 he was infatuated with a flirtatious young woman he met at Nice named Lou, who was to cause him untold suffering. Soon after enlistment in Nîmes Guillaume Apollinaire served in an artillery unit. At his request, he was sent to the front line in April 1915. In March 1916 now a second lieutenant in the infantry, he received a head wound from an incoming shell while in a trench. After surgery he went back to Paris, where he published Les Mamelles de Terésias (Teresa’s Breasts), a “surrealist drama” of repopulation. In Le Poète assassiné (The Murdered Poet), he recounted with somber humor the symbolic history of a misunderstood genie, Croniamantal, who was stoned to death by a mob, victim of an ingrate mistress and an absurd century. In the manifesto L’Esprit nouveau (The New Spirit) he laid down the canon of the modern art. His Calligrammes, published in 1918, poems on the war and his passion for Lou, contained some in which the words were arranged in the shape of a drawing that suggested the visual image of the object whose theme was being treated. Thus, the poem titled Il pleut (It rains) spread from the top to the bottom of the page in parallel oblique lines reminiscent of a driving rain. His esthetic experimentations were cut short by the relapse of his wound. A Spanish flu epidemic took him away just two days before the war’s end. His remaining poems for Lou were collected in the 1947 volume Ombre de mon amour (Shadow of my Love), and the rest appeared in Le Guetteur mélancolique (The Melancholic Sentry) in 1952.

Guillaume Apollinaire, heir to the romantic tradition, revealed in his intimate verse the secret torment of his suffering soul, the melancholy of an ill-understood solitude from which he was unable to escape, a nostalgic lament expressed with mysterious harmony and purity. Innovator in the realm of poetic expression, he not only invented the calligrammes, but also, as in the first poem of Alcools entitled Zone, experimented with the esthetics of cubism by a chaotic juxtaposition of disparate motifs. Throwing together themes heard from the cafés and other public places with disarming spontaneity and intentional confusion, he deliberately created bold associations and astounding images that shocked the reader into a sense of bewilderment and wonder. By his very boldness Guillaume Apollinaire was a trailblazer who fought the battle between tradition and invention to the bitter end, proclaiming the primacy of the spirit of adventure over the sterility of well-worn ways.

The audacity of his ideas and his bold experimentations with form and content helped to point the way for French poetry to discover hitherto unexplored potentialities.

Le pont Mirabeau

Guillaume Apollinaire

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Et nos amours

Faut-il qu’il m’en souvienne

La joie venait toujours après la peine

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure

Les jours s’en vont je demeure.

Les mains dans les mains restons face-à-face

Tandis que sous

Le pont de nos bras passe

Des éternels regards l’onde si lasse

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure

Les jours s’en vont je demeure.

L’amour s’en va comme cette eau courante

L’amour s’en va

Comme la vie est lente

Et comme l’espérance est violente

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure

Les jours s’en vont je demeure.

Passent les jours et passent les semaines

Ni temps passé

Ni les amours reviennent

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure

Les jours s’en vont je demeure.

Cầu Mỵ La

Cầu Mỵ-La sông Sen nước chảy

Dĩ vãng như tình chẳng trở về

Nhắc chi nữa cũng thừa lệ ước

Ngày vui đâu đến trước thương đau.

Đêm đã tới, điểm giờ chuông đổ

Tháng ngày đi tôi ở phương nầy.

Cầu nối nhịp vòng tay áp mặt

Thiên thu làn sóng mắt mõi mòn.

Đêm đã tới, điểm giờ chuông đổ

Tháng ngày đi tôi ở phương nầy.

Tình đã trôi xuôi theo nước cuốn

Giòng đời sao quá chậm ai ôi.

Tình đã xa rồi, thôi vĩnh biệt

Hy vọng còn cuồng nhiệt trong tôi.

Đêm đã tới, điểm giờ chuông đổ

Tháng ngày đi tôi ở phương nầy.

Ngày đi, tuần đến, trôi trôi mãi

Dĩ vãng như tình chẳng trở về

Cầu Mỵ-La sông Sen nước chảy

Tình ta đành mãi mãi phôi pha.

Đêm đã tới, điểm giờ chuông đổ

Tháng ngày đi tôi ở phương nầy.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

6 Mai 2002

The Mirabeau Bridge

Below Mirabeau Bridge flows River Seine

Just like our loves.

Must one recall it to my mind that when

Pain went away then joy would always come.

And when the night arrives and sounds its bell,

The days are gone, but here I surely dwell.

Let us hold hands and keep us face to face

While that moment

Below the bridge of our clasp’d arms there race

Eternal eyes in flows that are so tired.

And when the night arrives and sounds its bell,

The days are gone, but here I surely dwell.

Love passes on just like this water flow

Love passes on.

How slowly life does travel, how so slow

And how is hope so full of violence.

And when the night arrives and sounds its bell,

The days are gone, but here I surely dwell.

The days and weeks also keep moving on.

Neither times past

Nor our past loves return from the beyon’.

Below Mirabeau Bridge flows River Seine.

And when the night arrives and sounds its bell,

The days are gone, but here I surely dwell.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

18 August 2002

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Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

Orphaned at age six, when his father a defrocked priest turned civil servant died in his sixties, Charles Baudelaire took an aversion to his stepfather Aupick, an officer who was later promoted to general in command of the Paris area, that his mother married shortly after his father’s death. Bored at the boarding school he dreamed of becoming sometimes a pope, sometimes a comedian.

After completion of high school he rejected a diplomatic career, which his stepfather supported. He frequented the literary youth of the Latin Quarter, and wanted to be a writer. A family council under General Aupick’s pressure decided to send him to India in 1841. Baudelaire, having no taste for foreign adventure, jumped ship at the Isle of Reunion, and in time returned to Paris, where now a major he claimed his part of his father’s estate.

He became involved with the actress Jeanne Duval, and through thick and thin remained her lover and support for the rest of his life. With his friends Théophile Gautier, Théodore de Banville, Sainte-Beuve et Gérard de Nerval, he plunged headlong into the Romantic movement. He led a dandy’s life, and incurred heavy debts. His family was forced to put him under Court’s supervision to rein in his eccentric high living.

Destitute and humiliated, Baudelaire was constantly moving to keep one step ahead of his creditors, hiding among his mistresses, and writing furiously for a living while working on his poems.

After a blotched suicide attempt he temporarily reconciled with his mother. In 1846 he discovered this other accursed and misunderstood kindred soul across the Atlantic, Edgar Allen Poe, and for the next seventeen years undertook to translate and reveal his works.

In the wake of the 1848 Revolution he worked as a journalist and critic. The publication of Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) in 1857, which was quickly judged obscene, forced him to pay a heavy fine. In spite of the support of Victor Hugo, Sainte-Beuve, Théophile Gautier and other young admiring poets Baudelaire isolated himself in bitterness.

His health began to deteriorate. To alleviate the pain caused by gastric problems, and the recurrence of syphilis after ten years, he smoked opium. In his self-imposed exile, he received the homage of two as yet unknown poets, Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine. During his stay in Belgium in 1866 a stroke left him paralyzed and nearly speechless. For a year he hung on tenuously to life while his friends came to his bedside to play him Wagner to relieve his sufferings. In 1867 at age 46, Baudelaire expired in his mother’s arms.

With just one book, Baudelaire blazed a trail for modern poetry, by the melody of his verse, the depth of his emotions, his response to the universality of evil, which his proud spirit transcends.

In his song of autumn, Baudelaire reveals a gloomy mood jaundiced by a presentiment of an impending departure from the world. The long bright summer days are gone, yielding to the ominous steps of the winter’s death inexorably coming ever closer by the moment. He can hear it in the echo on the paving of the courtyard. He can feel it entering his being with all the force of anger, hatred, horrors to reduce his heart to an insensate block of ice.

His spirit is crumbling under the relentless assault of the battering ram of evil, and the monotonous blows seem like a hasty pounding of the nails into someone’s coffin signifying a voyage of no return.

Baudelaire desperately clings to the love of a woman, to the fast disappearance of the summer sun, to the glorious but declining fall, even to the setting sun because they are his only hope of salvation in the bitter present that is slipping from his grasp. The end looms, and he wants to savor the modest pleasure of resting for just a fleeting moment on the sweet remaining rays of autumn.

Poignant lugubrious thoughts for a man who had ten years or so to live!

Chant d’Automne



Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres;

Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts!

J’entends déjà tomber avec des chocs funèbres

Le bois retentissant sur le pavé des cours.

Tout l’hiver va rentrer dans mon être: colère,

Haine, frissons, horreur, labeur dur et forcé,

Et comme le soleil dans son enfer polaire,

Mon coeur ne sera plus qu’un bloc rouge et glacé.

J’écoute en frémissant chaque bûche qui tombe;

L’échafaud qu’on bâtit n’a pas d’écho plus sourd.

Mon esprit est pareil à la tour qui succombe

Sous les coups du bélier infatigable et lourd.

Il me semble, bercé sur ce choc monotone,

Qu’on cloue en grande hâte un cercueil quelque part,

Pour qui ?– C’était hier l’été; voici l’automne !

Ce bruit mystérieux sonne comme un départ.


J’aime de vos longs yeux la lumière verdâtre,

Douce beauté, mais tout aujourd’hui est amer,

Et rien, ni votre amour, ni le bourdoir, ni l’âtre,

Ne me vaut le soleil rayonnant sur la mer.

Et pourtant, aimez-moi, tendre coeur ! soyez mère,

Même pour un ingrat, même pour un méchant;

Amante ou soeur, soyez la douceur éphémère

D’un glorieux automne ou d’un soleil couchant.

Courte tâche ! La tombe attend; elle est avide !

Ah ! laissez-moi, mon front posé sur vos genoux,

Goûter, en regrettant l’été blanche et torride,

De l’arrière-saison le rayon jaune et doux.

Autumn Song


Soon we will sink in the frigid darkness

Good-bye, brightness of our too short summers!

I already hear the fall in distress

Of the wood falling in the paved courtyard.

Winter will invade my being: anger,

Hatred, chills, horror, hard and forced labor,

And, like the sun in its iced inferno,

My heart is but a red and frozen floe.

I hear with shudders each weak limb that falls.

The scaffold will have no louder echo.

My spirit is like a tower that yields

Under the tireless and heavy ram blow.

It seems, lulled by this monotonous sound,

Somewhere a coffin is hastily nailed,

For whom? Summer yesterday, autumn now!

This mysterious noise sounds like a farewell.


I love the greenish light of your long eyes,

Sweet beauty, but all is bitter today.

Nothing, not love, the boudoir or the hearth

Is dearer than the sunshine on the sea.

Still love me, tender heart! Be a mother

Even to the ingrate, to the wicked,

Lover, sister, ephemeral sweetness

Of fall’s glory or of the setting sun.

Short-lived task! The tomb awaits, merciless.

Ah! Let me, my head resting on your knees,

Savor, regretting the white hot summer,

The autumn’s last rays yellow and tender.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

30 June 2001

Le balcon

Charles Baudelaire

Mère des souvenirs, maîtresse des maîtresses,

Ô toi, tous mes plaisirs! Ô toi, tous mes devoirs

Tu te rappelleras la beauté des caresses,

La douceur du foyer et le charme des soirs,

Mère des souvenirs, maîtresse des maîtresses !

Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon,

Et les soirs au balcon, voilés de vapeurs roses,

Que ton sein m’était doux! que ton coeur m’était bon !

Nous avons dit souvent d’imperissable choses

Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon.

Que les soleils sont beaux dans les chaudes soirées !

Que l’espace est profond ! que le coeur est puissant !

En me penchant vers toi, reine des adorées,

Je croyais respirer le parfum de ton sang.

Que les soleils sont beaux dans les chaudes soirées!

La nuit s’épaississait ainsi qu’une cloison,

Et mes yeux dans le noir devinaient tes prunelles,

Et je buvais ton souffle, ô douceur! ô poison !

Et tes pieds s’endormaient dans mes mains fraternelles.

La nuit s’épaississait ainsi qu’un cloison.

Je sais l’art d’évoquer les minutes heureuses !

Et revis mon passé blotti dans tes genoux.

Car à quoi bon chercher tes beautés langoureuses

Ailleurs qu’en ton cher corps et qu’en ton coeur si doux ?

Je sais l’art d’évoquer les minutes heureuses !

Ces serments! ces parfums! ces baisers infinis,

Renaîtront-ils d’un gouffre interdit à nos sondes

Comme montent au ciel les soleils rajeunis

Après s’être lavés au fond des mers profondes ?

Ô serments! ô parfums! ô baisers infinis!

Bao lơn tình ái

Kỹ niệm tuyệt vời! Người yêu lý tưởng!

Đam mê đầy tận hưởng phút lạc hoan

Đẹp làm sao tay mơn trớn dịu dàng

Chiều êm ả lửa bếp hồng uốn lượn

Kỹ niệm tuyệt vời! Người yêu lý tưởng!

Những buổi chiều than lửa hồng nồng đượm

Và những chiều bao lơn ướm khói hồng

Ngực em mềm, tim em ấp hương nồng

Lời vĩnh cữu trao nhau tình đã chớm

Những buổi chiều than lửa hồng nồng đượm

Mặt trời đẹp vô cùng, đêm nóng bỏng

Ôi không gian sâu thẵm trái tim hồng

Cuối xuống em, Hoàng hậu của tình nồng

Anh ngỡ thở hương say mùi máu nóng

Mặt trời đẹp vô cùng, đêm nóng bỏng

Đêm tịch mịch đen dầy như vách đóng

Trong bóng đêm anh đoán thấy mắt em

Hơi thở em như độc dược dịu êm

Chân em ngủ trong tay anh sưởi nóng

Đêm tịch mịch đen dầy như vách đóng

Anh gợi lại trong tâm giờ hạnh phúc

Của ngày qua khi ngồi phục dưới chân em

Tìm nữa chi tim em quá dịu êm

Thân ngà ngọc ru hồn anh chất ngất

Anh gợi lại trong tâm giờ hạnh phúc

Hương thề với nụ hôn dài bất tận

Biết bao giờ còn trở lại vực sâu

Như mặt trời vừa lên khởi biển sâu

Nhờ tắm gội nên trẻ trung xinh xắn

Hương thề với nụ hôn dài bất tận

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, Alabama, 29 Septembre 2002

The Balcony

Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses,

O you who are my joys! O you all my duties.

You will recall the beauty of your caresses,

The sweetness of hearth, and the charm of eventides.

Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses.

Those eves that are lighted by the glowing embers.

Those evens on the balcony that pink mists shroud.

How sweet your breast to me! How wonderful your heart!

Amid our frequent talks of things that never die.

Those eves that are lighted by the glowing embers.

How beautiful are radiant suns in hot sundowns!

How deep is space and how the heart power-endowed!

When I was leaning to your side, queen of the beloved,

I’d swear I smelled all of your blood’s fragrance.

How beautiful are radiant suns in hot sundowns!

The night thickened into a tight-sealed wall.

My eyes could still espy your pupils in the dark.

And I drank up your breath. O sweetness! O poison!

And your feet lie asleep in my brotherly hands.

The night thickened into a tight-sealed wall.

I know the art of evoking blissful moments!

And I relived my past nestled between your knees.

For why look I elsewhere for your languorous charms

Than in your body dear and in your lovely heart?

I know the art of evoking blissful moments!

Those vows! Those perfumes! Those endless kisses!

Will they be borne again from their bottomless gulf

Such as the renewed sun that rises in the sky

From its baths submerged in the ocean depths?

O vows! O perfumes! O endless kisses!

Translated by Thomas D. Le

29 October 2004

Harmonie du soir

Charles Baudelaire

Voici venir le temps où vibrant sur sa tige

Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir ;

Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir ;

Valse melancolique et langoureux vertige !

Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir ;

Le violon frémit come un coeur qu’on afflige ;

Valse melancolique et langoureux vertige !

Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir.

Le violon frémit come un coeur qu’on afflige,

Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir !

Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir ;

Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige.

Un coeur tendre qui hait le néant vaste et noir,

Du passé lumineux recueille tout vestige !

Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige…

Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir !

Hòa âm buổi chiều

Đây là lúc trên cành hoa run rẩy

Cánh hoa tan thành khói tợ bình hương

Hương hoa quyện tiếng hát chiều sương

Nhạc luân vũ trầm buồn hồn ngây ngất

Như bình hương hoa tan thành khói mất

Tiếng vĩ cầm rung động trái tim đau

Luân vũ buồn hồn đã ngất ngây sầu

Trời buồn đẹp như trang thờ vĩ đại

Tiếng vĩ cầm rung động tim tê tái

Tim non hờn khoảng không vắng tối đen

Trời đẹp buồn : trang thờ lớn vô biên

Mặt trời chết trong máu đào băng đọng

Tim non hờn khoảng không đen tối vắng

Quá khứ đi còn hằn vết lung linh

Mặt trời chết trong máu đọng thành bǎng

Kỹ niệm cũ trong tôi còn sáng chói

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, Alabama, 15 Octobre 2002

Evening Harmony

Here comes the time when shaking on its stem

Each flower evaporates like a censer.

The sounds and perfumes through the night air whir.

Melancholy waltzing and dizzily grim!

Each flower evaporates like a censer.

Like an afflicted heart shudders the violin.

Melancholy waltzing and dizzily grim!

The sky is as lovely and sad as an altar.

Like an afflicted heart shudders the violin.

It hates the vast, dark void, that heart tender.

The sky is as lovely and sad as an altar.

The sun drowns in its own blood that won’t run.

It hates the vast, dark void, that heart tender.

From the brilliant past it keeps all souvenirs fond.

The sun drowns in its own blood that won’t run.

Your memory shines like a sacred bread holder!

Translated by Thomas D. Le

7 June 2009

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Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855)

Born Gérard Labrunie in the Valois, Gérard de Nerval spent his early years roaming the forests and listening to local folklore, which imbued him with the propensity toward reverie. He adapted nimbly to life in Paris, where he studied with Théophile Gautier at the collège Charlemagne. He was a very likable fellow, and as a dandy led a life filled with fun, balls, parties. His early works reflected this carefree period.

Well versed in German culture, Gérard de Nerval translated Goethe’s Faust in 1828. Enamored of Hoffman’s fantasies, he wrote a tale, La Main de gloire (The Hand of Glory) in 1832, in which magic and humor dominate. His poetry showed delicate taste. In one of his early poems, a dame dressed in antique garb was conjured up, whom he seemed to have known from a previous life, a fantasy that was to become the dominant theme of his later works.

In 1836, Gérard de Nerval fell in love with the singer-comedienne Jenny Colon, who was touched by his advances, but who sacrificed romantic love to a prosaic but more rational union with an Opera-Comique flutist. Though the painful experience entailed no immediate consequences, its effects worked subliminally inside him. No longer within his ken, Jenny still remained the feminine ideal in his memory. After reading the Second Faust, he was further confirmed in his mystical delusion. Like Faust, he believed himself in love with the eternal feminine figure, who was incarnated in human form as Jenny. This psychotic delusion led to his being institutionalized in 1841.

During his brief remission, Gérard de Nerval learned of Jenny Colon’s death. In place of the fading memory of her, a more brilliant image of a heavenly being emerged. In his 1843 travels to the Orient, he studied the region’s mythologies, including the Greek Venus and the Egyptian Isis, who represented to him the paragon of feminine perfection. Back from his travels, he immersed himself in esoteric research. A new crisis in 1851 required him to enter an asylum for a time. With the premonition of impending madness Gérard de Nerval wrote furiously, and produced La Bohème galante (The Loose Bohemian), LorelyLes Nuits d’octobre (October Nights) in 1852.

From 1853 until his death, he alternated between periods of relative calm and periods of delirium. He entered Dr. Emile Blanche’s health clinic until May 1854. After his release, he travelled in Germany, but had to be readmitted on his return until October 1854. On 25 January 1855 he was found hanging in an alley of Paris ending an existence of excruciating mental suffering.

His Voyages en Orient (Travels in the Orient) appeared in 1851, in which he related for the first time the hauntings in his soul amidst details of customs he observed. His recurring thought, however, was a familiar dream of equating the ephemeral charm of a beloved woman with the eternal perfection of a virgin.

Among his most moving works, Sylvie (1853) stood as the best of novellas he assembled in one volume titled Les Filles du feu (The Daughters of Fire). He wrote Sylvie during a time when he genuinely sought to escape from his torments by evoking memories of his early life, in his misty Valois, where his mysticism germinated during adolescence.

Les Chimères, a collection of sonnets also published in 1853, depicted Gerard’s early experiences and bookish reminiscences. The sonnet Artémis exalted the female figure he named Aurélia, whom he glorified during the dark days of madness. In the tale Aurélia he recounted the history of his internal life from his breakup with Jenny Colon, with faithful details of his delirious dreams. In his final tale of Pandora (1853-1854), he opposed the myth of Aurélia the deified female to the myth of Pandora the root of human sufferings.

At the end of his life Gérard de Nerval had become disillusioned with the feminine ideal and reached intellectual and emotional collapse. He had used poetry as a means to capture the images of his dreams.

Une allée du Luxembourg

Gérard de Nerval

Elle a passé, la jeune fille,

Vive et preste comme un oiseau :

À la main une fleur qui brille,

À la bouche un refrain nouveau.

C’est peut-être la seule au monde

Dont le coeur au mien répondrait,

Qui, venant dans ma nuit profonde

D’un seul regard l’éclaircirait !

Mais non, ma jeunesse est finie…

Adieu, doux rayon qui m’as lui,

Parfum, jeune fille, harmonie…

Le bonheur passait, il a fui !

Con đường phố Lục-Xâm

Người con gái đã đi qua đường nhỏ

Bước gọn gàn, nhanh nhẹn tợ chim non

Tay nàng cầm cành hoa sắc xinh dòn

Và miệng hát ví von bài ca mới

Có thể nàng là người tôi vẫn đợi

Vì tim nàng sẽ hòa nhip với tim tôi

Để đêm dầy sâu thẩm của đời tôi

Nhờ ánh mắt của nàng soi sáng tỏ

Nhưng không! Tuổi hoa niên tôi đã bỏ

Vĩnh biệt rồi, tia sáng dịu êm nào

Mùi hương thơm, tình thanh nữ ngọt ngào

Và hạnh phúc đã bay đi mất hút!

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, Alabama, 12 Novembre 2002

The Luxembourg Path

She has just passed, the dear young girl,

Alive and sharp just like a bird

Holding a flower in her hand,

And at her mouth a new refrain.

Perhaps she is alone on earth

Whose heart reached out to touch my own

Who came to me in midst of night

With just one look she brightened mine.

But no, my youth has reached its end.

Goodbye, sweet ray that shone on me,

Perfume, young girl, and harmony.

Happiness gone, forever spent.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

30 October 2004

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Félix Arvers (1806-1850)

Poet and playwright, a friend of Alfred de Musset’s, Félix Arvers became famous for a moving sonnet dedicated to Marie Nodier, daughter of the writer Charles Nodier. This piece appeared in his Mes heures perdues (My Lost Hours), for which Théodore de Banville wrote a preface.

At 30 Arvers abandoned his legal career to embrace drama, reaping recognition with his tragedy La Mort de François 1er (Death of Francis I), and his comedy Plus de peur que de mal (More of Fear than of Pain) as well as some vaudevilles.

But it is to A Secret that Arvers owes his fame. The sonnet was wildly popular among literary salons, of which he was an habitué.

Un secret

Félix Arvers

Mon âme a son secret, ma vie a son mystère;

Un amour éternel en un moment conçu;

Le mal est sans espoir, aussi j’ai dû le taire,

Et celle qui l’a fait n’en a jamais rien su.

Hélas! J’aurais passé près d’elle inaperçu,

Toujours à ses côtés, et pourtant solitaire,

Et j’aurais jusqu’au bout fait mon temps sur la terre,

N’osant rien demander et n’ayant rien reçu.

Pour elle, quoique Dieu l’ait fait douce et tendre,

Elle ira son chemin, distraite, et sans entendre

Ce murmur d’amour élevé sur ses pas;

A l’austère devoir pieusement fidèle,

Elle dira, lisant ces vers tout remplis d’elle:

“Quelle est donc cette femme?” et ne comprends pas.

Yêu thầm

Hồn tôi dấu kín mối tình

Tình tuy bất diệt một mình tôi hay

Tình vô vọng, tỏ cùng ai

Người trong cuộc ấy có hay bao giờ

Âm thầm lê bước ngẩn ngơ

Cách nhau gang tấc thẫn thờ lẻ loi

Dù tôi sống trọn cuộc đời

Nào đâu dám tỏ một lời yêu đương

Nàng dù xinh đẹp dịu dàng

Đường đời lơ đãng nhẹ nhàng bước qua

Đâu nghe vẳng tiếng xót xa

Mối tình tuyệt vọng mặn mà dưới chân

Thãn nhiên nhẹ bước phong trần

Thũy chung chỉ biết giữ phần chính chuyên

Đọc thơ chẳng chút ưu phiền

Hỏi: “Người gieo khổ cuộc tình là ai ?”

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, Alabama, 25 July 2001

Secret Love

My soul nurtures a secret, my heart a mystery,

A lasting love I conceived in a brief moment.

I bear without a word its hopeless pain’s torment

And the one who caused it will know of it hardly.

Alas, I would walk near her, yet be unnoticed,

Always at her side and always will be lonely.

Thus will I pass my time on this earth so weary

Daring to ask for nothing, nothing to receive.

She, whom God has made so sweet and tender,

Goes her absent-minded way hearing nothing

Of this murmur of love raised in her steps.

Piously dutiful, unswervingly faithful,

She will say, reading these verses so filled with her,

“Who is this woman?”, and will never understand!

Translated by Thomas D. Le

25 July 2001

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Alfred de Musset (1810-1857)

Elegant, witty, and worldly-wise, admitted at barely age eighteen to the literary group Le Cénacle de la rue de Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Alfred de Musset found his early verse wildly acclaimed, and himself termed a wunderkind. He faced a future bright with promises. During these early years, he published his first verse collection, Contes d’Espagne et d’Italie (The Tales of Spain and Italy, 1830), in which he depicted these countries, which he never knew, with fictitious characters. The harsh land of Spain came to life with its violent hidalgo character, and the love capital of Venice hosted an impassioned Byronic hero, whose murderous hands wrought innocent death. It is a work in which his rowdy romanticism did not sit well with the politicized romanticism of his contemporaries. His independence soon led him, in 1831, to break free from the tutelage of Victor Hugo, whose virtuosity he emulated, and with the Cenacle along with Alfred de Vigny, Nodier, and the others. Now he extolled Greece as the mother of the arts as well as Renaissance Italy, both giving him inspiration for his romantic musings and the eternal classical spirit.

Twelve years later, the broken, disillusioned, love-lorn maverick Musset had been through it all. He had written plays, some unsuccessful such as La Nuit vénitienne (A Venitian Night, 1830), others becoming chefs-d’oeuvre. In the work entitled Les Caprices de Marianne, Musset played the dual role of the passionate romantic and of the romantic libertine. Fantasio‘s protagonist sparkled with an admixture of frivolity, imagination, and melancholy. The tragic On ne badine pas avec l’amour (Don’t Trifle with Love, 1834), where a love triangle of one man and two women led to death, took the audience from the light-heartedness of flirtation, through the pathos of a darkening plot, to the tragic demise of a trusting female. Just as one should not trifle with love, so should one never trifle with debauchery, as the prose drama Lorenzaccio (1834) reminds us.

Musset had written poetry, a semiautobiographical La Confession d’un enfant du siècle (The Confession of a Child of the Century, 1836), where the libertine hero disillusioned with pleasure, which he equated with happiness, finally reconciled to a loveless life. Then came the four most celebrated of his poems, Les Nuits (The Nights, 1835-1837) stretching over thirty months: the Night of May, the Night of December, the Night of August, and the Night of October are dialogues of the poet with his Muse or his own alter ego in which he lost all inspiration in May, lived with solitude in December, regained the illusions of bliss in love in August, and finally purged of the suffering of the past, indulged in the earthly pleasure of living.

The crisis of Musset’s life occurred during the years 1833-1837. Musset and his mistress George Sand took a trip to Genoa and Pisa, where the first signs of trouble had begun to appear. But it was at Venice that they broke up; George Sand being disillusioned with his flightiness left him for the doctor Pagello. After he got back in Paris in 1834, Musset kept in touch with George Sand, and the two erstwhile lovers continued their relationship through ardent letters until their final rupture in March 1835. Although Musset tried to rebuild his life through worldly pursuits and further creations, he had been forever broken by his Venice experience.

The remaining twenty years was marked by a steady decline in health and outlook. He deliberately plunged into a dissolute existence. At the age of thirty, the former “enfant terrible” became a spent force, tired, and exhausted. His inspiration, resurgent on occasions, was heading toward extinction. A few more successes graced his waning years: sonnets, tales in prose, L’Espoir en Dieu (Hope in God, 1838), Souvenir (1841) evoking his love adventure with George Sand, success of the Caprice in Russia and Paris, and finally admission to the French Academy in 1852. A premature death overtook him at forty-six.

Musset’s poetic sensibility, imagination and inspiration manifest themselves with verve in acrobatics of rhyme and rhythm, at least at the beginning of his career. Just as Musset is capable of capricious musings and light-hearted bantering, he is equally moving in his poignant effusions that reflect the struggle, the joys, the feelings, the tribulations and the torments of his life. Through the success of his plays, which are just as lyrical as his poetry, Musset has invested drama, hitherto considered rather frivolous, with an aura of credibility and even glory.

Nuit d’Août

Alfred de Musset (1810-1857)

O Muse! que m’importe ou la mort ou la vie ?

J’aime, et je veux pâlir; j’aime et je veux souffrir ;

J’aime, et pour un baiser je donne mon génie ;

J’aime, et je veux sentir sur ma joue amaigrie

Ruisseler une source impossible à tarir.

J’aime, et je veux chanter la joie et la paresse,

Ma folle experience et mes soucis d’un jour,

Et je veux raconter et répéter sans cesse

Qu’après avoir juré de vivre sans maîtresse,

J’ai fait serment de vivre et de mourir d’amour.

Dépouille devant tous l’orgueil qui te dévore,

Coeur gonflé d’amertume et qui t’es cru fermé.

Aime, et tu renaîtras; fais-toi fleur pour éclore.

Après avoir souffert, il faut souffrir encore ;

Il faut aimer sans cesse, après avoir aimé.

Đêm tháng tám

Hồn Thơ hởi ! Tôi đâu cần sống chết

Tôi yêu, và tôi muốn dệt khổ đau

Một nụ hôn xin đổi với tài cao

Tôi chỉ muốn trên má gầy giọt lệ

Chãy tuôn tràn mãi để khóc cho tình

Tôi muốn hát niềm vui và lười biếng

Những ngông cuồng, những lo lắng một ngày

Tôi muốn kể đi, kể lại, hoài hoài

Rằng tôi đã quyết không yêu ai hết

Để rồi tôi thề sống chết với tình

Hình hài đó dầy vò vì kiêu hãnh

Trái tim nào cay đắng ngỡ tràn đầy

Hãy yêu, hãy sống như đóa hoa khai

Khổ đau kia chưa đủ, cần đau nữa

Phải yêu hoài, yêu nữa, mãi không thôi

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, Alabama, 29 Août 2002

August Night

O Muse! What does it matter, life or death?

I love, and want pallor, I love and want the pain;

I love, my genius for a kiss I won’t disdain;

I love, and want to feel on my cheek wan

That stream from endless spring forever drawn.

I love, and want to sing of joy and laziness

Of my crazed life and cares of just one day.

I want to tell and say forever and ceaseless

That once vowing to live without mistress,

Only of love I vow to live and die.

Renounce to all your pride that’s killing you

The bitter-filled heart that you thought was closed.

Love and revive; to blossom be a flower.

Having suffered, even more you must suffer,

And keep loving, after having so loved.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

19 November 2004

Return to Featured Authors

Louise Labé (1524-1566)

Je vis, je meurs : je me brûle et me noie – I live, I die; I burn, I drown. (Sonnet VIII)

Does this Petrarchan verse aptly summarize the life and death of Louise Labé, fictitious personage created by Maurice Scève and the Lyon humanists in his entourage? Or is Louise, whoever she is (a courtesan, a bourgeoise, a poetess, an impostor, a paper invention), the most celebrated feminist in French literature? Poor Louise, the experts do not agree. And why should they? In vain does she turn in her real or imagined grave, the world of literature will spill countless amount of ink before the dust settles, if ever.

To believe Mireille Huchon1, professor of French at the Sorbonne-Paris IV and eminent scholar of the 16th century, and her supporters, Louise Labé never existed as the author of Euvres de Louïze Labé Lionnoize. In her much-admired book published by Droz in 2006, Louise Labé, une créature de papier, Mireille Huchon revived an old thesis that the Belle Cordière (the beautiful rope maker as Labé is also called) was no more a flesh-and-blood poetess than Petrarch’s Laura or Medusa was a person, with whom Louise Labé was associated and who figured in a portrait made of her by Pierre Woeiriot in 1555.

This explosive debunking of the myth of the “French Sappho” with the erudition of a seiziémiste of Mireille Huchon’s caliber creates an uproar among the French academic establishment, especially after Louise Labé was placed in the program for the competitive examination of Concours d’agrégation de lettres modernes for the first time in 2005, four centuries and a half after the Euvres’ publication.

The reaction did not take long to crystallize, ranging from the incredulous “how dared she?” to the dismissive non-Parisian (who else?) who asserts that when Paris sneezes, France is not obligated to catch a cold, as well as from serious academic apologists and detractors.

Fueling the debate is the enigma surrounding the sudden rise of Louise Labé, a bourgeoise with presumably a good education in languages, literature, humanism, equestrian art, music, and even the handling of arms, when her first and only work, Euvres de Louïze Labé Lionnoize, was published in 1555 by the celebrated Lyon printer/publisher Jean de Tournes. This one-hundred-and-seventy-eight-page book consists of a dedicatory epistle to Mademoiselle Clémence de Bourges Lyonnoise (a prominent aristocrat who died young), three elegies, the Débat de Folie and d’Amour, and twenty-four sonnets. About one third of the tome, written in Greek, Latin, Italian, and French, contains the Escriz de divers Poëtes, à la louenge de Louïze Labé Lionnoize, laudatory poems by the School of Lyon poets: Maurice Scève, Olivier de Magny, Claude de Taillemont, Pontus de Tyard (also a member of the Pleiades). These writings should be nothing more than éloge paradoxal (tongue-in-cheek praise). This is a program done, according to Mireille Huchon, to heed Clement Marot’s urging to louer Louise2 (praise Louise), a phrase that echoes Petrarch’s laudare Laura, even though both beauties are likely to be pure literary invention, i.e., scriptae puellae (written demoiselles, paper demoiselles). These imaginary females are not uncommon creations among the Greek and Latin elegiac poets, who make them out of whole cloth as an excuse to sing their loves.

So mysterious is Louise Labé’s sudden eclipse after the second edition the following year, leaving behind no traces and no further mention in the literature, that the one plausible explanation might be that the hoax, once perpetrated, has served its purpose and there is no longer need for a sequel.

Using internal analysis of texts, exegesis, comparison as well as external comparison and analysis of period sources, Mireille Huchon argues that the Louise Labé oeuvres are the result of the collective work of the Lyon poets who congregated around their chef de file Maurice Scève. Many of Olivier de Magny’s sonnets have been attributed to Louise Labé. The two quatrains of her Sonnet II are identical to those of Sonnet LV in his Soupirs. Maurice Scève is the supposed author of the Debat, Claude de Taillemont that of the Epistle, and Olivier de Magny of the elegies and sonnets. How such a collective work done in jest, or worse as a fraud, got a royal privilege (permission) to publish is anybody’s guess.

Mireille Huchon’s hypothesis spawned fierce debate among the literati, who align themselves among three camps: the supporters, the skeptics, and the fence-sitters. Finding M. Huchon’s proof irrefutable, historian and academician Marc Fumaroli pronounces the final scene of the final act of the Louise Labé drama by announcing, “Exit Louise Labé.”3 He further applauds M. Huchon for having buried exegetes and biographers, who in general do not question the existence of the poetess Louise Labé. Already there is evidence that those supposed to be eight feet under ground not only refuse to play dead, but fight back. Among the fence-sitters there is a spectrum of opinions. Emmanuel Buron4, of Université Renne 2, agrees with some of M. Huchon’s analyses, but remains unconvinced by her conclusions. Buron found in his own research that some poems in the Escriz, written independently of Louise Labé by Jean-Antoine de Baif, Pontus de Tyard, and Maurice Scève, were reused in Euvres. Did Scève write the Debat, as alleged by M. Huchon? Buron does not think so. My thought is that at a time when borrowings, imitations, and even forgeries were commonplace, it is almost pointless to pinpoint original authorship, since it does not prove or disprove current authorship. Great authors have borrowed without much hindrance and will continue to do so. Shakespeare, Corneille, Racine, Molière, to name just a few, were not above pilfering from older sources without in any way diminishing their own artistry or literary quality. Back to Euvres, Maurice Scève, reputed to be the Mallarmé of the 16th century, is not exactly easy to decipher. Did the Debat attributed to him evince any of the style, quality, and thoughts for which Scève is known to possess as his hallmark?

Professor François Rigolot5, of Princeton University, straddles the debate with a concession that Euvres carries the signs of collective work. After all, from Rabelais to Ronsard, authors routinely borrowed, consulted, and imitated, from Petrarch to neoplatonism. But the age reeks of Petrarchism and neoplatonism, especially in Lyon, which was among the first French cities to be invaded by the Italian Renaissance. In the sixteenth-century Lyon was the French Renaissance center. From the learned to the bourgeoisie, it would be improbable to find anyone with an education who is not aware of the intellectual movement or the modus operandi of the writers of the day.

Daniel Martin6, of Université de Provence, also questions the attribution of Euvres as alleged by M. Huchon. While conceding that there are some borrowings from existing authors, the conclusion that Louise Labé was not the author of the work to him lacks convincing support. To M. Huchon there is a bundle of converging indices, signs that should lead to the inescapable conclusion she advocates. Martin can only concede that at most it is a question mark, but certainly not a definitive proof.

And so the debate continues. To provide a forum for this ongoing controversy, the Société Internationale pour l’Étude des Femmes de l’Ancien Régime7 (SIEFAR, International Society for the Study of Women in the Ancien Regime) calls for contributions to the topic at its site.

There remains the question of how to associate Louise Labé the courtesan with Louise Labé the poetess or the impostor. Her contemporaries were already vilifying her. A beautiful woman who writes sensual poetry and argues for women the right to education and science invites controversy. The historian-magistrate-public prosecutor Claude de Rubys, on whom one of M. Huchon’s major arguments rests, calls her the most notorious of courtesans. Jean Calvin, founder of a reformed church, in his Pamphlet contre Gabriel de Sconay, précenteur de l’Église de Lyon8 (1560) characterizes her as

« […] plebeia meretrix, quam partim a propria venustate, partim ab opificio mariti, Bellam Cordieram vocabant. » [cette prostituée de bas étage que l’on nommait, en partie à cause de sa beauté, en partie à cause du métier de son mari, La Belle Cordière. This lowly prostitute called in part for her beauty, in part for the occupation of her husband, La Belle Cordière].

Why would these eminent personages stoop to decry a plebeian prostitute, unless she was someone with the intelligence and the achievement that command respect? And in fine why should they waste their time on a paper poetess? If the erudite humanists were using the real but much-maligned Belle Cordière to play their pranks, a trick which was supposedly so evident to their contemporaries, does not such an act redound on them for abusing a vulnerable human being? The purported perpetrators of the hoax are not ordinary men in the street. Maurice Scève, the leader, is an échevin (magistrate); all are members of the intellectual elite of their city. Again there are unanswered questions.

Let us now leave the controversy to present and future specialists and concentrate on Louise Labé, the poetess.

Rediscovered after three centuries of obscurity by the Romantics, Louise Labé emerges as a thoroughly modern poet, with a lyricism and a sensuality that rival those of any poets since her time, when she made a great deal of stir among her contemporaries. “The sweetest pleasure after love itself is to talk about it.” And Labé has the gift of doing just that. Her sensual poetry resonates with an authenticity, a delicateness, and a sensibility that endear and charm. Marceline Desbordes-Valmore found in this “nymph on the banks of the Rhône” a soul not unlike her own.

Louise Labé was born between 1516 and 1524, on rue de L’Arbre-sec St., Lyon, the daughter of a rich rope maker from Lyon, Pierre Charly and of Etiennette Roybet. The surname Labé came from an earlier marriage of her father with a widow whose husband’s name was Jacques Humbert, alias Labé (or L’Abbé, l’Abé, Labbé).

She seems to have received an excellent Italian-style education. By the liberty of her behavior, she could rank among the feminists of our days. At 25, between 1543-1545, she married Ennemond Perrin, a merchant of ropes twenty-five years her senior, hence her nickname “la Belle Cordière” (the pretty rope maker).

Her daring, lewd sonnets and amorous adventures earned her the aspersions and ill-will of her scandalized and unsympathetic contemporaries. We have seen above that Jean Calvin called her plebeia meretrix (common whore). Whether Louise Labé is a courtesan remains problematic as there is a historical figure by that name who was a courtesan, according to a contemporary historian, Claude de Rubys. The story of how a courtesan is assimilated to a poet, the Belle Cordière, is a complex one for the researchers, who ineluctably come to no consensus. Therein also lies one thorny issue in the ongoing debate over the existence of Louise Labé as a poet.

[As a brief digression, this debate recalls one that centers on the great 18th-century Vietnamese poetess Ho Xuan Huong, whose daring poetry laced with not-so-hidden sexual innuendos written in a language redolent of double entendre raised questions about her very own existence. How could a Confucian society, with its strictures on male-female relationship and constraints on female expression of any kind, give rise to a thoroughly emancipated poet, a “Vietnamese Sappho,” if you will? Surely there must be some male pranksters who took on female identity to titillate an audience who was always ready to relish incursions into the taboo world of sex in literature with perfect anonymity and impunity. Although many uncertainties surround the biography and work of Ho Xuan Huong, there seems to be consensus among scholars that such a personality did exist, as well as her 49 or so poems written in the demotic script called Chu Nom.]

In spite of the brouhaha surrounding Louis Labé’s identity and her undeserved stigma, she presided over a refined society, and held court in her salon whose habitués included among others the very same Lyon poets that M. Huchon claims wrote all her works. Extolling joie de vivre and singing of the torments of love, Labé possessed a sure grasp of the verse rivaling the best of the poets in the Pleiades, and showed remarkable vivacity in her Euvres. This work went through a second edition in Lyon in 1556 and the fifth edition appeared in 1762. But it was not until the 19th century that the romantics rediscovered it.

She bequeathed her fortune to various individuals and liberally to the poor at her premature death probably in 1566. In her testament, she wanted a simple funeral:

 “veult estre enterrée sans pompe ni superstitions, à sçavoir de nuict, à la lanterne, accompagnée de quatre prestres, outre les porteurs de son corps” (to be interred without pomp and superstition, namely at night, in lantern light, accompanied by four priests besides the pallbearers.)


1. Mireille Huchon. Louise Labé, une créature de papier..

2. Clement Marot (1496-1544).Académie de Lyon.

3. Marc Fumaroli. Louise Labé, une géniale imposture.

4. Emmanuel Buron. Claude de Taillemont et les Escriz de divers Poëtes à la louenge de Louïze Labé Lionnoize: Discussion critique de Louise Labé, une créature de papier de Mireille Huchon.

5. Edouard Launet. Louise Labé, femme trompeuse. Section Instrument de mystification.

6. Daniel Martin, Louise Labé est-elle « une créature de papier » ?

7. LouiseLabé attaquée!

8. Rumeurs à propos des moeurs de Louise.


Angard, Laurent. «Louer Louise» ou l’énigme Louise Labé. Fabula – La recherche en littérature. 4 August 2007.


Buron, Emmanuel. Claude de Taillemont et les Escrizde divers Poëtes à la louenge de Louïze Labé Lionnoize: Discussion critique de Louise Labé, une créature de papier de Mireille Huchon. L’Information littéraire 2, 2006, p. 38-46. 30 July 2007.


Fumaroli, Marc. Louise Labé, une géniale imposture. Le Monde, 12 Mai 2006. 30 July 2007.


Huchon, Mireille. Louise Labé, une créature de papier, Geneva: Editions de La librairie Droz, 2006.

Launet, Edouard. Lousie Labé, femme trompeuse. Libération, 16 June 2006, p. 38-46. 30 July 2007. .

< >

La vie de Louise Labé. Académie de Lyon. 4 August 2007.


Louise Labé a-t-elle vraiment existé ? (2007-02-27 12:21:15). 4 August 2007.


Louise Labé attaquée! Société Internationale pour l’Étude des Femmes de l’Ancien Régime. 30 July 2007.

< >

Louise Labé, Une créature de papier ? Lectura. 4 August 2007.


Marot, Clement (1496-1544). Académie de Lyon. 8 August 2007.

< >

Martin, Daniel. Louise Labé, est-elle « une créature de papier » ? RHR (Réforme, Humanisme, Renaissance) 63, déc. 2006, p. 7-37. 30 July 2007.

< >

Paoli, Angèle. Carte Blanche à Angèle Paoli : le mystère Louise Labé. 4 August 2007.

< >

Résumé- Oeuvres – Choix bibliographique – Jugements. Société Internationale pour l’Étude des Femmes de l’Ancien Régime. 30 July 2007.


Rumeurs à propos des moeurs de Louise. Académie de Lyon. 4 August 2007.

< >

11 August 2007

Baise m’encor’

Louise Labé (1526-1566)

Baise m’encor, rebaise-moi et baise :

Donne-m’en un de tes plus savoureux ,

Donne m’en un de tes plus amoureux ;

Je t’en rendrai quatre plus chauds que braise.

Las, te plains-tu ? ça, que ce mal j’apaise

En t’en donnant dix autres doucereux

Ainsi mêlant nos baisers tant heureux ,

Jouissons-nous l’un de l’autre à notre aise.

Lors, double vie à chacun en suivra,

Chacun en soi et son ami vivra

Permets m’Amour penser quelque folie ;

Toujours suis mal, vivant discrètement

Et ne puis donner contentement,

Si hors de moi ne fais quelque saillie.

Hôn em nữa đi anh…

Hôn em nữa đi anh, rồi hôn nữa

Hôn cho em một nụ thật bàng hoàng

Hôn cho em một nụ rất nồng nàn

Để em trả bốn nụ hôn nóng bỏng

Thôi, anh chớ than phiền chưa thấm giọng

Để em hôn mười hôn nữa ngọt ngào

Ta đổi trao môi mọng ướt bên nhau

Cùng tận hưởng ái ân hoan lạc đó

Rồi mai đến đường đời chia hai ngỏ

Bạn xa rồi tan vở mộng lứa đôi

Có khi nào chạnh nghĩ đến tình tôi

Tình thầm kín trong tim côi ray rức

Nghe khao khát lòng còn như rạo rực

Mối tình si đôi lúc thẩn thơ hồn

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Hãy hôn anh nữa đi em

Hãy hôn anh, hôn nữa đi em

Cho anh tất cả ngọt ngào êm

Cho anh tất cả tình say đắm

Để rồi anh thưởng bốn hôn thêm

Than thở làm chi hỡi diễm kiều

Cho anh nựng nịu mười hôn yêu

Để mình hôn nhau trong hạnh phùc

Dìu nhau trên thảm gấm hoa thêu

Dù đời đôi ngả đôi đường

Dù mình hai đứa hai phương không cùng

Thả say theo mối tình cuồng

Anh còn sầu mãi cối lòng riêng mang

Nhất lòng tình chỉ trao nàng

Bao giờ toại nguyện thiên đàng mình anh.

Written by Song Viet upon reading Labe’s “Baise m’encor’.”

4 December 2004

Kiss Me More

Kiss me, kiss me more and still more,

Give me that scrumptious kiss of yours,

Give me that kiss that’s tenderest,

I’ll give you four that are hottest.

Sigh! You gripe? Let me soothe your pain

With ten kisses that are sweetest

To mix with ours in bliss greatest.

Enjoy each other e’er again.

Though we each have our private life

To live and let the other do likewise,

Let me insane for our love’s sake.

In discreet life I’d suffer pain

If I could not give myself fain

To you madly for you to take.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

2 December 2004

Sonnet VIII

Louise Labé

(interprétation de l’Ode à l’Aimée de Sappho)

Je vis, je meurs : je me brule et me noye.

J’ay chaut estreme en endurant froidure :

La vie m’est et trop molle et trop dure.

J’ai grands ennuis entremeslez de joyes :

Tout à un coup je ris et je larmoye,

Et en plaisir maint grief tourment j’endure :

Mon bien s’en va, et à jamais il dure :

Tout en un coup je seiche et je verdoye.

Ainsi amour inconstamment me meine :

Et quand je pense avoir plus de douleur,

Sans y penser je me treuve hors de peine.

Puis quand je croy en ma joye estre certeine,

Et estre au haut de mon désiré heur,

Il me remet en mon premier malheur.

Bài Thơ Sonnet số VIII

Sống thiêu đốt rồi chết trong ngụp lặn

Sốt vô cùng và lạnh cũng thấu xương

Đời tôi đầy êm ả lẫn thê lương

Lắm buồn khổ lẫn xen niềm vui sướng

Khi bất chợt tôi khóc, cười ngã ngớn

Lúc vui chơi sao tâm trí não nề

Hạnh phúc đã ra đi mãi chẳng về

Trong phút chốc khô tàn thân cây lá

Và như thế tình tôi thay đổi lạ

Khi lòng đau chất ngất ngỡ không nguôi

Thì khổ đau bổng chốc lại rời tôi

Để khi tôi nắm chặt lấy niềm vui

Và tin tưởng đỉnh cao giờ hạnh phúc

Lại là khi tai họa đến đầu tiên

Traduit par David Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, 18 July 2007

Sonnet VIII

I live, I die: I burn, I drown,

Amidst the cold, heat strikes me down

Too soft and too hard my life is to me

My great sorrows are mixed with glee.

All at once I laugh and I cry

And I endure great torment in pleasure.

My happiness flees, but lasts forever.

All at once I wilt and I thrive.

Thus inconstant love torments me.

Just as I think my pain has worsened

Without thinking so I am trouble-free.

Then when I believe my joy is certain

With happiness I so craved it fills me,

And sets me back to my first misfortune.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

20 July 2007

Sonnet XIV

Louise Labé

Tant que mes yeux pourront larmes épandre

A l’heur passé avec toi regretter,

Et qu’aux sanglots et soupirs résister

Pourra ma voix, et un peu faire entendre;

Tant que ma main pourra les cordes tendre

Du mignard luth, pour tes grâces chanter;

Tant que l’esprit se voudra contenter

De ne vouloir rien fors que toi comprendre;

Je ne souhaite encore point mourir.

Mais, quand mes yeux je sentirai tarir,

Ma voix cassée, et ma main impuissante,

Et mon esprit en ce mortel séjour

Ne pouvant plus montrer signe d’amante,

Prierai la mort noircir mon plus clair jour.

Bài Thơ Sonnet số XIV

Bao lâu mà mắt em còn nhỏ lệ

Vì tiếc thương ngày mình kế bên nhau

Nén thở dài ngưng thổn thức nghẹn ngào

Để thỏ thẻ tai anh lời tâm sự

Cho tiếng đàn gieo nức nỡ bên anh

Bao lâu hồn trỉu nặng mộng xuân tình

Em chỉ cần anh hiểu em là đủ

Em chẳng ước Tử Thần chờ trước cửa

Chỉ khi nào nước mắt đã cạn khô

Khi tay run giọng nói đã mơ hồ

Không còn sức tỏ tình yêu anh nữa

Em nguyện cầu khi tới giờ qui tử

Xin xóa đen ngày sáng nhất đời em

Traduit par David Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, 21 October 2002

Sonnet XIV

So long as tears gush from my eyes,

Regret the past and happy days with you,

My voice will rise, be heard anew,

And will resist the sobs and sighs;

So long as this my hand can tune the lute’s

Chords that will praise your native grace,

And so long as my mind can still embrace

The thought to be one mind with you,

I will not wish at all to die.

But when my eyes have become dry,

My voice broken, my hand feeble,

And my spirit in this abode mortal

No longer gives you signs of love,

I pray that death darken my brightest day.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

9 June 2007

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Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)

Around mid-sixteenth century French poetry rejoined the humanistic tradition, and a number of ambitious young men congregated to form the Pleiades, consisting of seven members: Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay, Remy Belleau, Antoine de Baïf, Jodelle, Pontus de Tyard, and the great humanist Dorat, principal of the Parisian college of Coqueret, who taught Ronsard, Baïf and du Bellay greco-latin poetry as well as the cultures and thoughts of greco-latin antiquity. The group’s manifesto, Défense et illustration de la langue française, drafted by du Bellay, is a program for the apology of the French language and its enrichment with the thoughts, styles, forms of great masterpieces of ancient Greece and Rome. Before long Ronsard, the most erudite of the pupils, emerged as the leader of the group.

Born into a noble family in the chateau of La Possoniere in the Vendomois, Ronsard was destined for a courtly life, and a military or diplomatic career. Thwarted in his ambitions by an illness that left him deaf, Ronsard turned to poetry. Following the proclamations of the Défense, Ronsard started out with a servile imitation of the Greek lyrical poet Pindar, and the Roman lyrical poet Horace. His Pindaric odes (1550), too affected and artificial for modern ears, have fallen into oblivion. But through his Horatian odes, published 1553-1556, Ronsard showed an easy expression for his genius, an Epicurean outlook, a carpe diem preoccupation.

Probably his most enduring legacy came from the sonnets of his Les Amours. He dedicated Les Amours de Cassandre (1552) to a barely nubile daughter of an Italian banker he had met during a Court fête at Blois. In these sonnets, he expressed a genuine passion for Cassandra through the rhythm and harmony of language though the overall effect was marred by artificiality and over-refinement. In contrast, the sonnets of Les Amours de Marie (1555) dedicated to the young peasant Marie Dupin sparkled, in spite of its Catullian imitation, with inspiring imagery of nature, and references to such nature’s cheery aspects as the rose and beautiful women.

An official poet at the court of King Charles IX from 1560-1574, Ronsard sang of flighty loves, and nature’s charms, and attempted unsuccessfully to aspire to greatness with serious works. During the wars of religion he composed the Discours (1560-1563), in which he took a firm stand as a Catholic. However, his epic poem Franciade (1574) failed for following his model Virgil too closely.

When Charles IX died, Ronsard lost his position at the court. The new king Henri III had his own poet. Now in the autumn of his years and struck with illness, Ronsard nevertheless continued to publish his poems. He lived with reminiscences of Marie, a country gentleman occupied with details of rustic life and thoughts of impending demise. A belated love for the young Hélène de Surgères was tinged with melancholy, and inspired his sonnets Les Amours d’ Hélène (1578), in which he urged the young maiden to seize the day before it is too late.

During his lifetime, Ronsard’s genius earned him deserved fame throughout Europe, where his poems were avidly read and he himself was honored. Yet an ironic twist of fate relegated him to obscurity during the seventeenth century, the age of classicism, inspite of his profound influence on French poets of his days. For three hundred years Ronsard lay forgotten. Then the Romantics came along, rehabilitated this prince of poets and proclaimed him a precursor. They found in Ronsard the voice of the heart, a modern attitude toward love, and an inner life enriched by exalted feelings and passion. The Parnassians, who advocated a return to the ancients, esteemed his imitations of the Greeks and Romans an illuminating service to poetry.

Prends cette rose…

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)

Prends cette rose aimable comme toi,

Qui sert de rose aux roses les plus belles,

Qui sert de fleur aux fleurs les plus nouvelles

Dont la senteur me ravit tout de moi.

Prends cette rose, et ensemble reçois

Dedans ton sein mon coeur qui n’a point d’ailes :

Il est constant et cent plaies cruelles

N’ont empêché qu’il ne gardât sa foi.

La rose et moi différons d’une chose :

Un Soleil voit naître et mourir la rose,

Mille Soleils ont vu naître m’amour,

Dont l’action jamais ne se repose.

Que plût à Dieu que telle amour, enclose,

Comme une fleur, ne m’eut duré qu’un jour.

Hãy nhận lấy nụ hồng nầy

Hãy nhận nụ hồng như em dễ mến

Hoa hồng nầy xinh đẹp đến tuyệt vời

Trong ngàn hoa, hoa tươi nhất em ơi

Mùi hương ngát đã làm anh ngây ngất

Hãy nhận nụ hồng nầy và dấu cất

Trong lòng em : tim anh có cánh đâu

Tình yêu nầy dù trǎm vết thương đau

Còn giữ mãi niềm tin không biến đổi

Tình anh với hoa hồng duy khác lối

Hoa nở rồi tàn dưới một mặt trời

Tình anh đây ngàn ánh Thái dương soi

Trong lòng kẻ yêu em tình mãi sống

Xin Thượng Đế ban ơn cho tình mộng

Như đóa hoa chỉ sống có một ngày

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, Alabama, 11 Octobre 2002

Take This Rose…

Take this rose as lovely as you can be

Which is the rose that’s prettiest

Which is the flower that’s the freshest

Whose fragrance so delights all me.

Take this rose, and into your breast

Snuggle my heart, which has no wings,

And is faithful; hundred cruel hurts

Won’t be able to shake its faith.

The rose and I differ in this:

The sun will see it live and die.

A thousand suns have seen my love

Which never stops nor will it rest.

May God of such love so imprest

Let it a flower live a day.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

2 December 2004

Maitresse, embrasse-moi…

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)

Maitresse, embrasse-moi, baise-moi, serre-moi,

Haleine contre haleine,  échauffe-moi la vie,

Mille et mille baisers donne-moi, je te prie,

Amour veut tout sans nombre, amour n’a point de loi.

Baise et rebaise-moi; belle bouche pourquoi

Te gardes-tu là-bas, quand tu seras blêmie,

À baiser (de Pluton ou la femme ou l’amie),

N’ayant plus ni couleur, ni rien semblable à toi ?

En vivant, presse-moi de tes lèvres de roses,

Bégaye, en me baisant, à lèvres demi-closes

Mille mots tronçonnés, mourant entre mes bras.

Je mourai dans les tiens, puis, toi ressuscitée,

Je ressusciterai, allons ainsi là-bas,

Le jour tant soit-il court vaut mieux que la nuitée.

Người yêu hỡi! Hãy hôn tôi…

Hãy hôn tôi và ghì chặc lấy tôi

Thở cùng tôi và sưởi ấm đời tôi

Ngàn nụ hôn xin ban phát cho tôi

Tình không lượng, tình cũng không có luật

Hãy hôn tôi, hôn nữa, hôn không dứt

Giữ gìn chi, dành chi nữa em yêu

Ôi miệng kia còn xinh đẹp mỹ miều

Hôn tôi nữa trước khi lìa dương thế

Tràn nhựa sống, đôi môi hồng em hé

Hãy hôn tôi và thỏ thẻ, thầm thì

Ngàn lời yêu lặn ngụp phút tình si

Vòng tay chặc chúng mình say rồi tỉnh

Hãy dắt díu nhau đi tìm tiên cảnh

Đêm đen dài, ngày ngắn vẫn còn hơn

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, Alabama, 29 Septembre 2002

Kiss Me, Sweetheart…

Sweetheart, embrace me, kiss me, squeeze me tight.

Let our breath mix, let you warm up my life.

Thousand kisses, give them me, sweetheart please.

Love wants all, no bounds no rules no surcease.

Kiss me, kiss me again, pretty mouth, why

Keep way yonder, when you are just dying

To kiss (be you Pluto’s girlfriend or wife)

So pale and not a whit your own self, why?

Press your lips of rose against mine for life.

With half-closed lips stammer while kissing me

Untold garbled words, dying in my arms.

I will die in yours, then once you revive

I will too revive, and we’ll thither be.

Although short, better than night day still is.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

5 December 2004

Sonnet pour Hélène

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir à la chandelle

Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant

Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant

Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j’étais belle

Lors vous n’aurez servante ayant telle nouvelle

Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant

Qui au bruit de Ronsard ne s’aille réveillant

Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle

Je serais sous la terre, et phantôme sans os

Par les ombres myrrtheux je prendrais mon repos

Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie

Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain

Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain

Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie

Thơ cho Ê-len

Khi em già duới ngọn đèn bạch lạp

Bên lửa hồng thông thả nhịp quay tơ

Chợt nhớ tới ngày xưa khi trẻ đẹp

Rong-sa chàng ca ngợi viết thành thơ.

Côn đâu nữa nàng hầu xưa ngáy ngủ

Chẳng đoái hoài đang nữa giấc triền miên

Khi nghe tiếng Rong-sa tha thiết gọi,

Tạ ơn đời ca tụng mãi tên em.

Dưới lòng đất hồn ma anh lãng vãng

Bóng thông già anh thanh thản nghỉ ngơi

Em ngồi đó bên lửa tàn nuối tiếc

Vì kiêu sa nên khinh rẻ tình tôi

Hãy tin anh, hãy sống cho hôm nay

Nụ hồng đó, hoa đời sao chẳng hái?

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, Alabama, 12 June 2001

Sonnet for Hélène

When you are old, at night by candlelight

Sitting by the warm crackling fire spinning,

You will recite my verses marvelling,

Ronsard sang of me as a beauty bright.

There will hardly be any maids

Half asleep from the day’s labor

Who will not awake on hearing Ronsard

Bless your name with eternal praise.

I will lie in the ground, a boneless ghost,

Reposing in the myrtle’s deep shadow,

And you crouching by the hearth an old maid

Will regret my love and your proud disdain.

Heed my word, live now and not tomorrow

And gather today the roses of life.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

14 June 2001

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Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560)

A nobleman from Anjou, issued from an illustrious noble family of Liré, Joachim du Bellay nevertheless retained only a bitter memory of his tender years. Orphaned and sickly, he was robbed of the innocence of childhood under the care of an older brother. A long illness left him half-deaf, and for the rest of his life he always lived in ill health.

Near Poitiers, where he had come to pursue a law education, he met Ronsard in 1547, and followed him to Paris to study under the humanist Dorat at the College of Coqueret. He steeped himself in humanism with zeal, and soon his talent was recognized by his classmates, many of whom later founded the Pleiades. It devolved upon him to write and sign the Défense et illustration de la langue française, the Pleiades’ manifesto. In 1549 putting the group’s doctrine to work, du Bellay wrote the sonnets of L’Olive (an anagram of Viole, the woman he adulated), where he, like other poets of the School of Lyon, made Petrarch a model of imitation. He sang of love with flowery Petrarchan language and mythological allusions, but with an artistry that hinted at a great poet.

For four years (1553-1557), he served as secretary to his cousin Cardinal Jean du Bellay in a mission to Rome, which King Henry II dispatched to secure the Pope’s support. In this ancient capital, he saw its great ruins, and could now explore the grandeur that he had so admired. Though having all the opportunities for a diplomatic career, for an ecclesiastical benefice, and for an exalted place in the literary world, du Bellay soon tired of the drudgery of a mission that ended in failure. Yet it is in Rome that, battling the onset of consumption, he wrote the sonnets of Les Antiquités de Rome and Les Regrets, which were published in 1558 after his return to France. In the Antiquities, du Bellay showed an ambivalent attitude of great admiration for the achievements of Rome, and of melancholy for its fall to ruins, in a savant language laced with scholarly reminiscences. More moving and intimate are his Regrets, in which du Bellay, now seized with a nostalgic love of his native land, gave free rein to his elegiac and satirical verve. On the elegiac front, his sonnets spoke of his exile, the lassitude he felt in his body and mind, his nostalgia, his sinking into oblivion in the face of Ronsard’s rise at the court of Henry II. In the satirical poems, he castigated the rapacity of the moneyed class, the vainglorious fastidiousness of the Roman courtiers, the luxury of the clerics, and in general, the pettiness and vices of contemporary Roman life.

A fit of apoplexy on 1 January 1560 took him at age thirty-seven. Du Bellay left the sonnet, of which he was a master, an instrument with the suppleness and agility to express alike deep emotions and grand themes. His Alexandrines lend themselves equally well to the amplitude of the epic in the Antiquities, and to the melancholic mood of his Regrets. Be it the rise and fall of the Romans, the ennui of the daily rut of diplomatic life, the disgust with courtly sycophancy, they all found eloquent expression in his masterly poems, which du Bellay moulded with prosodic techniques ranging from alliteration and bold caesura to antitheses and repetition. With Ronsard, du Bellay reigned as poet of King Henry II, much to the jealous annoyance of the followers of Clément Marot. Du Bellay proved that poetry was not a means of gaining favor by fawning poetasters, but a foundation on which to build the grand edifice of French poetry.

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse…

From Les Regrets, Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560)

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,

Ou comme celui-là qui conquit la Toison,

Et puis est retourné, plein d’usage et raison,

Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son âge !

Quand reverrai-je, hélas, de mon petit village

Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison

Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,

Qui m’est une province et beaucoup davantage ?

Plus me plaît le séjour qu’ont bâti mes aïeux,

Que des palais romains le front audacieux ;

Plus que le marbre dur me plaît l’ardoise fine,

Plus mon Loire gaulois que le Tibre latin,

Plus mon petit Liré que le mont Palatin,

Et plus que l’air marin la douceur angevine.

Vui sướng như Uy-Lịch

Vui sướng như Uy-Lịch về chốn cũ

Áo cừu vàng dũng sĩ đã đoạt rồi

Về quê xưa với kinh nghiệm đầy vơi

Bên mẹ cha sống những ngày thơ thới

Ôi, làng cũ bao giờ tôi trở lại

Khói mù bay, nào thấy mái nhà xưa

Nhà tuy nghèo, rào dậu dẫu lưa thưa

Trong tâm khảm còn sang hơn tỉnh lỵ

Tôi vẫn mến phòng khách xưa cũ kỷ

Hơn lâu đài chạm trổ kiểu Rô-manh

Cẩm thạch đẹp sao bằng mái ngói thanh

Yêu sông Loa hơn sông Tiếp La-tin

Đồi Lý-lê còn hơn núi Pha-tin

Gió biển dịu sao bằng tình quê Mẹ.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, AL., 20 May 2004

Happy He Who, Like Ulysses…

Happy he who, like Ulysses, explored the earth,

Or he who had conquered the Golden Fleece,

And who had now come home wise of the world

To live his life among his own in bliss.

Alas, when will I see of my village again

The chimney smoke, and in what season of the year

Behold the croft of yon my humble home and dear,

To me a kingdom great and yet a great deal more?

Sweeter to me my forefathers’ abode

Than great Rome’s palaces’ bold brassy front,

My fine slate roof than its hard granite build,

My Gallic Loire than its Tiber Latin,

My small Liré than its Palatine Hill,

My sweet Anjou than its salt air marine.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

22 December 2004

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Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)

Rimbaud, who had shown precocious gifts as a poet, had the mindset and temperament of a maverick. He was full of violent wrath: against the social order, against Emperor Napoleon III, against the Prussians, against the humiliating war with Germany (1870), against the Catholic religion . He felt deeply for the Parisian uprising and for the downtrodden, but conceived unmitigated hostility to modern society as he saw it through the smugness of those people who represented the establishment. Impatient with the confines of his small town, where he indulged in reveries and escapades, he skipped the Baccalaureate exam, then embarked on misadventures that took him briefly to Paris and Belgium, only to return to Charleville, bitter with his brief prison stint in Paris and unsuccessful job search in Belgium.

For all this experience, his poetic career, though brief and not lasting beyond 1875, was remarkably influential, made all the more remarkable for a short life that was punctuated by adventures of all sorts.

Born in Charleville in 1854, Rimbaud was early a rebel against a stern, unyielding mother. He evinced this rebelliousness in his fractious behavior, and his hatred of social conformism. Encouraged by his rhetoric professor Georges Izambard, Rimbaud manifested a mastery of the poetic art, wrote with sensuality, vivid imagination and intimacy while not being above castigating the petty bourgeoisie of his home town for its complacent obtuseness.

Like Baudelaire, he set out to discover a world of dream. With the poem in prose Le Bateau ivre (The Drunken Boat, 1871), he gave free rein to a frenetic imagination and depicted with bold, bizarre images his own self perceived as the boat navigating exotic waters. (“I have dreamed the green night with blinded snows, slowly kissing the seas, welling in its eyes the flow of astonishing sap, and the yellow and blue awakenings of singing phosphors.”) It is this poem that prompted Verlaine to invite him to live together. Thus, for a few adolescent years (1871-1873), Rimbaud was the young companion of Verlaine, leading a bohemian life in Paris, in Belgium, then in England. It was in Brussels (1873) that Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the arm with a revolver in a fit of passion, and served two years for the crime.

Already into alcohol, Rimbaud sank deeper into dissoluteness and debauchery in Paris while living with Verlaine. At long last, disillusioned by the bitter experience with Verlaine, Rimbaud left him for good, and wrote Une Saison en enfer (A Season in Hell, 1873), in which the remorseful Rimbaud expressed his regrets over a wayward existence, and was now heading toward self-redemption. Gone were the days of wanderings, of rebellion, of living on the edge. When Une Saison en enfer met with an indifferent public, it was about time to turn his back on literature. And after one last attempt, Les Illuminations, another work of poetic prose, written in London in 1874, in which Rimbaud was at once illunimator and enlightened in his invention of a universe sometimes like the real one, sometimes unlike anything known, in a language moulded to express the startling revelations of his imagination, he was ready to call it quits.

After the Illustrations Rimbaud turned his back to poetry, and opened a new chapter in his life, which he filled with overseas endeavors. He traveled through Europe, enlisted in the Dutch army, ended in desertion. At age 23, he left Charleville to reappear in Africa, Cyprus, Aden, now a manager in a trading company, now an arms dealer in Ethiopia. Leading an ascetic life, he genuinely wanted to live honorably. A tumor in the knee brought him back to France for treatment. After his amputation, he wanted to return to Ethiopia, but died in Marseille in 1891.

Rimbaud’s poetry distinguished itself with a dazzling virtuosity, and though emulating the romantics and the Parnassians, he soon exhausted their craft and looked beyond. In an escape from despair, he employed the resources of his genius, threw himself headlong into delirium in an attempt to make himself into a seer, and produced some of his weirdest poems. His senses escaped all constraints to be free to mingle, intersect, fuse in all sorts of impossible combinations that translated into chimerical sensations and thoughts. To express such phatasm, he invented a transcendental poetic language, by which symbolists and surrealists recognize him as a precursor. It is to this legacy that modern and contemporary poetry owes so much of its distinctive character.


Arthur Rimbaud

Par les soirs bleus d’été, j’irais dans les sentiers,

Picoté par les blés, fouler l’herbe menue:

Rêveur, j’en sentirai la fraîcheur à mes pieds.

Je laisserai le vent baigner ma tête nue.

Je ne parlerai pas, je ne penserai rien:

Mais l’amour infini me montera dans l’âme,

Et j’irai loin, bien loin, comme un bohémien,

Par la Nature, heureux comme avec une femme.

Cãm giác

Chiều xanh mùa hạ lối mòn

Lúa vàng nhẹ xót cỏ lòn dưới chân

Mộng hồn bay bổng lâng lâng

Gió lùa tóc rối mát chân người về.

Lặng im tôi chẳng nghĩ suy

Tình dâng man mác hồn si ngập trời

Rồi như lãng tử xa xôi

Hẹn cùng non nước yêu đời lứa đôi.

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, AL., 20 May 2004


Of the blue summer eves, I’ll walk along the paths

Slashed by the wheat blades, trampling upon the fine grass,

Dreaming, I will smell the freshness at my feet

And I will let the wind bathe my uncovered head.

I’ll say nothing at all, nor will I think at all,

Yet this infinite love will rise to fill my soul.

Then I’ll go so far away, like a bohemian

Amidst nature, happy as if with a woman.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

10 February 2005

Première soirée

Arthur Rimbaud

Elle était fort déshabillée

Et de grands arbres indiscrets

Aux vitres jetaient leur feuillée

Malinement, tout près, tout près.

Assise sur ma grande chaise,

Mi-nue, elle joignait les mains,

Sur le plancher frissonnaient d’aise

Ses petits pieds si fins, si fins.

Je regardai, couleur de cire,

Un petit rayon buissonnier

Papillonner dans son sourire

Et sur son sein, mouche au rosier.

Je baisai ses fines chevilles.

Elle eut un doux rire brutal

Qui s’égrenait en claires trilles,

Un joli rire de crystal.

Les petits pieds sous la chemise

Se sauvèrent: “Veux-tu finir!”

La première audace permise,

Le rire feignait de punir!

Pauvrets palpitants sous ma lèvre,

Je baisai doucement ses yeux:

Elle jeta sa tête mièvre

En arrière: “Oh! C’est encor mieux!…

Monsieur, j’ai deux mots à te dire…”

Je lui jetai le reste au sein

Dans un baiser, qui la fait rire

D’un bon rire qui voulait bien…

Elle était fort déshabillée

Et de grands arbres indiscrets

Aux vitres jetaient leur feuillée

Malinement, tout près, tout près.

Đêm đầu tiên

Áo nàng trể xuống làn hông

Cây cao vươn lá ngoài song thầm thì

Xuyên qua khung kính nhòm chi

Bóng cây sàm sỡ đã ghì sát nhau

Nàng ngồi trên ghế dựa cao

Nữa thân để lộ biết bao nhiêu tình

Hai tay khẻ chắp bên mình

Hai bàn chân nhỏ hữu tình làm sao

Mầu da sáp mịn ngọt ngào

Lung linh tia sáng dọi vào cành tươi

Chập chờn cánh bướm môi cuời

Trên bồng ngực đó lả lơi nụ hồng

Tôi hôn chân nhỏ tình nồng

Tiếng cuời nàng chợt vở tung mãnh tình

Tiếng cuời thánh thót xinh xinh

Thủy tinh trong vắt giọng tình véo von

Đôi bàn chân nhỏ thon thon

Dấu trong vạt áo như còn thiết tha

Buớc đầu bạo dạn đã qua

Giọng cười như thể phạt vờ đấy thôi

Đôi mi chớp mở dưới môi

Tôi hôn đôi mắt lả lơi sóng tình

Ngã đầu nàng nũng nịu xin:

“Thế ni còn thích hơn mình đã yêu…

Nầy anh! Thôi, chẳng nói nhiều…”

Ngực nàng chữa dứt lời yêu nồng nàn

Nụ hôn tôi đã rộn ràng

Nàng cười quyến rũ ngập tràn ái ân.

Áo nàng trể xuống làn hông

Cây cao vươn lá ngoài song thầm thì

Xuyên qua khung kính nhòm chi

Bóng cây sàm sỡ đã ghì sát nhau

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, AL., 20 May 2004

The First Night

She was fully undressed

And the tall indiscreet trees

Cast off their leaves against the panes

Maliciously closely, closely.

Sitting in my large chair,

Half-naked, she clasped her hands,

On the floor shivered with ease

Her little feet, so fine, so fine.

I beheld, wax-colored,

A little wayward ray

Fluttering in her smile

And on her breast, a fly in the rosebush.

Then I would kiss her fine ankles

In spite of her sweet laugh brutal

Which ticked away in its clear trills

A pretty, clear laugh of crystal.

The little feet burrowed under the shirt

Flitted away, “Will you stop now?”

The first daring step was thus allowed,

Yet the smile still feigned to avert.

Throbbing gently under my lips

Her eyes batting I softly kiss,

Throwing her delicate head

Backward, “Oh, ’tis even better!

Monsieur, let me tell you something…”

I threw all the rest to her breast

That made her laugh in just one kiss

Such a good laugh so well-meaning.

She was fully undressed

And the tall indiscreet trees

Cast off their leaves against the panes

Maliciously closely, closely.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

10 February 2005


Arthur Rimbaud


Sur l’onde calme et noire où dorment les étoiles

La blanche Ophélia flotte comme un grand lys,

Flotte très lentement, couchée en ses longs voiles…

– On entend dans les bois lointains des hallalis.

Voici plus de mille ans que la triste Ophélie

Passe, fantôme blanc, sur le long fleuve noir,

Voici plus de mille ans que sa douce folie

Murmure sa romance à la brise du soir.

Le vent baise ses seins et déploie en corolle

Ses grands voiles bercés mollement par les eaux;

Les saules frissonnants pleurent sur son épaule,

Sur son grand front rêveur s’inclinent les roseaux.

Les nénuphars froissés soupirent autour d’elle;

Elle éveille parfois, dans un aune qui dort,

Quelque nid, d’où s’échappe un petit frisson d’aile

– Un chant mystérieux tombe des astres d’or.


O pâle Ophélia! belle comme la neige!

Oui tu mourus, enfant, par un fleuve emporté!

– C’est que les vents tombant des grands monts de Norwège

T’avaient parlé tout bas de l’âpre liberté;

C’est qu’un souffle, tordant ta grande chevelure,

A ton esprit rêveur portait d’étranges bruits;

Que ton coeur écoutait le chant de la Nature

Dans les plaintes de l’arbre et les soupirs des nuits;

C’est que la voix des mers folles, immense râle,

Brisait ton sein d’enfant, trop humain et trop doux;

C’est qu’un matin d’avril, un beau cavalier pâle,

Un pauvre fou, s’assit muet à tes genoux!

Ciel! Amour! Liberté! Quel rêve, ô pauvre Folle!

Tu te fondais à lui comme une neige au feu:

Tes grandes visions étranglaient ta parole

– Et l’Infini terrible effara ton oeil bleu!


– Et le Poète dit qu’aux rayons des étoiles

Tu viens chercher, la nuit, les fleurs que tu cueillis;

Et qu’il a vu sur l’eau, couchée en ses longs voiles,

La blanche Ophélia flotter, comme un grand lys.

15 mai 1870.



Trên sóng nước huyền im sao lặng ngủ

Trôi bồng bềnh hoa huệ trắng Ô-Phê-Ly

Khăn sô dài che phủ dáng lâm ly

Nghe tiếng vọng mơ hồ rừng xa gọi

Ngàn năm qua Ô-Phê-Ly nàng hỡi

Bóng ma buồn lãng đãng nuớc sông huyền

Đây ngàn năm còn ngây dại, đảo-điên

Lời ân ái gởi gió chiều thỏ thẻ

Hôn ngực nàng gió tung từng cánh nhẹ

Buờm căng phồng theo sóng sẽ lắc lư

Liễu rũ buồn sướt mướt khóc vai bờ

Trên trán mộng trúc la-đà gục xuống

Sen thở dài quanh mình nàng lá cuốn

Tỉnh giấc nồng đôi lúc dưới cội cây

Tổ chim nào run cánh chập chờn bay

Tiếng hát mật từ sao vàng rụng xuống


Ô-Phê-Ly nàng đẹp như tuyết trắng

Đã qua đời tuổi trẻ dưới giòng sông

Từ núi cao Na-Úy trận cuồng phong

Đã quyến rũ nàng tự do siêu thoát

Cơn gió lốc thổi tóc nàng bay dạt

Vọng tiếng đồng trong cơn mộng triền miên

Để tim nàng nghe giọng hát Thiên nhiên

Đêm thở dài, quyện lời than cây cỏ

Biển cuồng điên thét gào theo sóng vỗ

Vỡ tan rồi tim trẻ dịu thơ ngây

Một sáng Xuân nguời dũng sĩ đẹp trai

Im lặng duới chân nàng như ngây dại

Trời hỡi! Yêu! Tự do! Ôi cuồng mộng!

Yêu chàng như tuyết rã truớc lửa hồng

Lời nghẹn ngào khi cảm xúc đuợm nồng

Hư vô đó mắt xanh đầy kinh dị


Thi sĩ bảo duới ánh sao huyền bí

Nguời đi tìm hoa đã hái trong đêm

Đã thấy nàng trên nuớc phủ khăn im

Ô-Phê-Ly trắng bồng bềnh như hoa huệ

Traduit par David Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, 6 June 2005



Upon the dark, calm waves where sleep the stars

Fair Ophelia floats, lissome lily

Slowly drifting veiled for eternal hours

While faint howlings echo through woods moody.

Over a millenium sad Ophelia

Sleeps through ghost white upon the dark river

Over a millenium mad Ophelia

Whispers romance to the breeze’s vesper.

Kissing her breasts the wind unfurls a crown

Of veils that are gently rocked by the wave.

Shivering willows weep on her shoulders down;

On her dreamy broad brow the bent reeds lave.

The bruised water lilies around her sigh;

Sometimes she wakes by the sleeping alder.

A nesting fledgling beats its wings well nigh

From golden stars the secret songs bestir.


O pale Ophelia! lovely as snow!

You died a child and soon was river-born,

Because the Norwegian mountain winds blow,

Tempt you with rugged freedom in their bourn.

It is a wind that teases your great hair,

Your mind of dream that sounds its strange delight

That your heart hears the song of nature fair

In yonder trees’ laments, the sobs of night.

The mad seas’ billows roar deep-throated howl

Shatter your child’s human and tender heart.

One April morn a shining knight goes on the prowl

Silly poor guy, at your knees sits apart.

Gosh! Love! Liberty! What a dream, poor Fool!

You rush to him as snow dashing towards fire:

Your great visions stifling your wise words cool,

Boundless terror fills your blue eyes with ire.


And the poet said in the starlight

You came at night to seek the flower tote,

He saw her on the water in veils bright

The white Ophelia, a lily float.

Translated by Thomas D. Le

19 May 2005

Return to Featured Authors

François Villon (ca. 1431 – after 1463)

A master of arts, a ruffian, a gang leader, a robber, a killer, a gallows bird, a poet.

If ever there was a highly educated man, whose life rarely rose above the most sordid layer of society, whose fortune was tied to crime and poverty, whose genius won the admiration of contempaneous poets and eminent personalities, such as the Duke of Orleans, and whose immortal fame rested on about 3000 verses of stark realism, it is this unusual man about whom we know little except through his unsavory judicial records and his own poems: François Villon.

From the meager records available, François Villon was born ca. 1431 to a poor family in Paris in one of the most turbulent periods of French history. The Black Death of the thirteenth century had decimated French population. Then came The Hundred Years War with England. which had by the time of Villon’s birth dragged on for almost a hundred years. Joan of Arc, the Maid of Domremy, had delivered Orleans thereby saving the country, but was captured by the Burgundians in 1430, who sold her to the English for 10,000 livres. She was burned at the stake at Rouen for heresy, a sentence pronounced by the court of Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais the year Villon burst into the world . France was wallowing in economic and social shambles, prostrated by this fitful war of succession and economic ambition, which had another quarter century to run its course, brigandage, and lawlessness. The University of Paris was churning out graduates with degress but no jobs. Criminal behavior was rampant from the the nobles, and public hangings abounded..

Also known as François de Montcorbier and François des Loges, Villon took his surname from Guillaume de Villon, chanoine and chaplain of the Church of Saint-Benoît-le-Bétourné and professor of canon law, who sent him to the University of Paris, where he obtained the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1449 and the Master’s degree in 1452. Little is known of Villon’s life from this date to 1455, when he killed the priest Philippe Chermoye or Sermoise in a barroom fight, after the latter had drawn a dagger and injured him. Villon fled and was banished from Paris. In January 1456 he obtained a pardon from King Charles VII acting on exculpatory evidence that the priest Sermoise had forgiven Villon on his deathbed.

According to Pierre Jannet1, Villon got into trouble with the law for the first time after a love affair that turned bad. He fell in love with a woman of easy morals, whom he called variously Denise, Rose, Katherine de Vauzelles, who at first encouraged him then rejected him. Stung, he wrote a few biting ballads and rondeaus; she complained; and the ecclesiastical court condemned him to lashing. In the aftermath of this incident Villon decided to leave Paris, but not until after he had written in 1456 the Lais or Legs (Legacy), which became known as the Petit Testament. In this work, he facetiously bequeathed various imaginary possessions to equally imaginary friends and foes.

Then in December 1456 Villon and other members of a group of thieves known as the Coquille stole 500 gold coins from the chapel of the College of Navarre. A year later, one of the accomplices accused him of being the leader, and he was again banished from Paris. Now a wanderer, he was taken in for a period (in 1457) by the Duke of Orléans, an admirer and a poet in his own right, at his court in Chateau Blois. Here Villon wrote the Épître à Marie d’Orléans to celebrate the birth of the Duke’s daughter Marie d’Orléans, then disappeared from view shortly afterwards. When he next reappeared in 1461, he was in the prison of Meung for rather obscure reasons, condemned to be hanged. Thanks to a general amnesty accorded during King Louis XI’s visit in company of Charles d’Orléans to this city, he was released. And after an unsuccessful attempt to regain the good graces of the Duke with Requeste au prince and to gain favor of the King with the Ballade contre les ennemis de la France (Ballad against the enemies of France), Villon went to Paris, where he composed his most important work, Le Testament. (known as Le Grand testament), which included some ballads he had written earlier.

In November 1462, Villon was again arrested for petit larceny and detained in the Chatelet. Then the old charge of the College of Navarre was revived, from which he was released for a promise of restitution. It wasn’t long before Villon was again enmeshed in another street brawl involving the pontifical official Ferrebouc, who had been involved in the interrogation of Guy Tabarie, former member who.testified against La Coquille. This time recidivist Villon was incarcerated, tortured, and condemned to the gallows. He appealed the sentence, and while waiting in jail, he was believed to have written the Ballade des pendus (Ballad of the Hanged), full of touching realism about death and humanity. Finally, in January 1463, the parliament of Paris commuted his sentence to a ten-year banishment from the city. From this time on, Villon disappeared from history, feeding the emergence of the Villon legend.

Villon is the first poet to break with his medieval environment to herald the future in forms and themes not generally encountered in the courtly poetry of the day while reintroducing the realistic and personal tradition of the minstrels of the 13th century. In place of the courtly love and chivalric ideals of aristocratic poetry, his works.reflect the lives of criminals, including his own, regrets over his youthful misbehavior, the haunting of death, and remorse. Above all Villon rose beyond the abjection of his life to evince lofty sentiments such as filial piety, patriotism, human love, religious charity, all great timeless lyrical themes. Future generations, including the Romantics, recognized in him the first lyrical genius of French literature.

Yet rather than giving in to excessive sentimentality, Villon turned his irony upon himself, coloring his macabre obsession with death and his horrifying vision of the gallows. This criminal elicited sympathy by his candor, his utter humanity, and his direct appeal to our heart. His is a cri du coeur, which is at once touching and sobering in its invocation of the wretchedness of the human condition. His too is the tragic reality of a wasted youth and of a path to perdition and ruination of no return. His simple yet forceful language and the realism of his images pack a remarkable evocative power. From the brutality of the Ballad of the Hanged to the gracefulness of the Ballad of the Ladies of Yore, Villon exhibited a masterly grasp of the verse and his themes, to which later generations did not take long to render justice. Clément Marot edited his works in the 16th century; Boileau discussed Villon in his “Art Poétique” in the 17th; and the Romantics recognized Villon as their precursor. Villon is to us one of the greatest poets in French literature (Lagarde & Michard).


1. Oeuvres Complètes de François Villon, p.viii.


Jannet, Pierre. Oeuvres Complètes de François Villon, 3rd ed.. Paris: Alphonse Lemerre. 1873.

Lagarde & Michard. La Poésie de François Villon. 1 December 2007.

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Lagarde & Michard. Poésies diverses de François Villon : notes, 1 December 2007.

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Prompsault, J.H.R. (ed.) Oeuvres de Maistre François Villon, ed. Paris: Ebrard. 1835.

Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis

François Villon (ca. 1431 – after 1463)

Dictes moy ou, n’en quel pays,

Est Flora la belle Rommaine,1

Archipiades ne Thaïs,2

Qui fut sa cousine germaine,

Echo parlant quant bruyt on maine

Dessus riviere ou sus estan,

Qui beaulté ot trop plus q’humaine.

Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?

Ou est la tres sage Helloïs,3

Pour qui chastré fut et puis moyne

Pierre Esbaillart a Saint Denis?4

Pour son amour ot ceste essoyne.

Semblablement, ou est la royne5

Qui commanda que Buridan

Fust geté en ung sac en Saine?

Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?

La royne Blanche comme lis6

Qui chantoit a voix de seraine,

Berte au grand pié, Beatris, Alis,7

Haremburgis qui tint le Maine8,

Et Jehanne la bonne Lorraine9

Qu’Englois brulerent a Rouan;

Ou sont ilz, ou, Vierge souvraine?

Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?

Prince, n’enquerez de sepmaine

Ou elles sont, ne de cest an,

Qu’a ce reffrain ne vous remaine:

Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?

Ca Khúc Những Vương Nữ Thời Xưa


Anh có biết, xứ nào đang nương náo

Nàng Flo-Ra, người mỹ nữ Rô-manh,

Á-chi-nương và nàng Thái đẹp xinh,

Nét kiều diễm hai chị em đồng họ;

Nữ thần nào than vãn bên sông đó

Sắc hương còn trội hẳn những cơn mơ.

Nhưng tìm đâu tuyết trắng của năm xưa?


Tìm thấy đâu, nàng Hĩ-Lộ tài hoa

Yêu tha thiết chàng Pier Ê-bay-giã

Để chàng chịu đọa đầy thân tàn tạ

Cho khối tình mãi sống suốt ngàn năm;

Như chuyện tình Hòang hậu “Mạt” đa dâm

Mưu hạ sát tình nhân Bồ-Di-Đặng,

Chàng đã thóat khỏi Sông Sen tối vắng

Nhưng tìm đâu tuyết trắng của năm xưa?


Bạch Nữ Hòang đẹp như hoa huệ trắng

Tiếng ca ngân thánh thót tựa Ngư nhân

Nàng Bạc-thê, Bĩ-tích với Ái-ly

Đời còn nhớ quận Maine người kế vị;

Nhớ nàng Jeanne, hiệp nữ xứ Lô-ranh

Bị hỏa thiêu đến thác tại Ru-anh

Ôi, Đức Mẹ Đồng Trinh xin chứng giám.

Nhưng tìm đâu tuyết trắng của năm xưa?

Điệp khúc

Này Hòang tử, năm nay xin chớ hỏi

Các Nũ vương tôi nào biết ở mô;

Điệp khúc nầy lòng tôi còn mãi nhớ:

Nhưng tìm đâu tuyết trắng của năm xưa?

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân

Madison, AL., Juillet, 2007

Ballad of the Ladies of Yore


Tell me where, or in what country,

Is Flora, the lovely Roman,1

Archipiada or Thaïs,2

Who was her rival in beauty?

Or Echo whose voice remains

Over rivers and over ponds

With beauty beyond human reach?

But where are the snows of yesteryear?


Where is the learned Heloise3

For whom suffered mutilation

Pierre Esbailard at Saint Denis4

Who endured love’s tribulation?

And likewise where is the Queen5

Who ordered that Buridan

Be thrown in a bag into the Seine?

But where are the snows of yesteryear?


The Queen as white as a lily6

Whose songs are suchlike a siren’s.

Bertha the tall, Beatrix, and Alice7

Haremburgis, who held the Maine8

And Joan the maid of Lorraine9

Whom the English burned at Rouen.

Where are they, our sovereign Virgin?

But where are the snows of yesteryear?


Prince, inquire not this very week

Where they are, nor this very year

Lest you should get this refrain here:

But where are the snows of yesteryear?

Translated by Thomas D. Le

1 December 2007


1. Flora: a famous courtesan loved by Pompey.

2. Archipiada and Thais are equally famous courtesans. Thais arrived in Athens in the middle of the fourth century while Archipiada, likely to be Archippa, was Sophocles’ mistress.

3. Heloïse (1101-1164), niece of Chanoine Fulbert, whose secret love of her tutor Abelard resulted in a child. Upon their separation she entered a convent, where she maintained a correspondance in Latin with Abelard, which was translated in 1870.

4. Pierre Esbailard or Abelard (1079-1172), philosopher and theologian, whose passion for Heloïse and resulting emasculation gained notoriety. He taught theology and logic in Paris.

5. This is Marguerite de Bourgogne, Queen of Navarre then Queen of France, first wife of Louis X Le Hutin, who ordered her death by strangulation for adultery in 1315. She would have relations with students, and would order them thrown in the Seine when they became exhausted. One of them, Buridan, escaped and fled to Vienna, where he later founded a university.

6. It could be the Queen Blanche de Bourbon, married to Peter the Cruel in 1352. This princess is as beautiful as she is intellectual. Here the word “blanche” (white) seems to serve double duty as name and as quality.

7. Berthe ou Bertrade, daughter of Caribert, the Count of Laon, married to Pepin the Short. She is the mother of Charlemagne. Beatrice of Provence was married in 1245 to Charles of France, son of Louis VIII. Alice of Champagne was married the French King Louis The Young in 1160. She died in 1206.

8. Haremburgis or Eremburges, fille and sole heir of Elie de La Fleche, Count of Maine, died in 1110.

9. Joan of Arc was born in Dom Remy, Duchy of Bar, considered as part of Lorraine.

Updated 14. June 2008

Thomas D. Le