Two of the many things I have slated for April are reading Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way with Arti and reading more poetry for National Poetry Month. A lovely combination of these two goals meets within this newly released book: The Collected Poems by Marcel Proust.
It’s thrilling to open the aqua cover and discover 104 poems. The left hand side of the book contains each poem in its original French; the right hand side is the English translation. Personally, I loved testing my many years of foreign language by reading them first in French, then following that often bumbling effort with my native tongue. Still, it gave me opportunity to imagine that the French version was even more beautiful than the English, though I could more perfectly understand the later.
As I read Swann’s Way, I find myself reading more for the vision Proust creates than the plot; such it is with his poetry as well. Yet to help the reader, there are included within this edition a section of drawings as well as notes. “These notes are meant to give the reader the information that the poem’s reader (or, when the poem was sent to an individual, the recipient) would have had at the time or a bit of relevant archival information. Because many of them were scrawled on envelopes, on the back of letters from other people, and even in books, they often included “variantes,” possible differences that resulted from Proust experimenting with the verses and neglecting to erase his abortions.” Harold Augenbraum
I leave you with #22 and its accompanying note:
Ocean of sighs, and just above the waves
a flight of butterflies pauses…no, passes,
circling above the melancholy sea…
Dream, love, suffer, sleep it off!
And between each throb of pain produce
the sudden oblivion of your whim-
don’t butterflies proceed from flower to flower?
Thus your joy becomes your grief’s accomplice
(the whirlpool’s thirst is only for more tears).
Prince of despair? A noble lord betrayed?
The moon’s pale companion and the sea’s,
you still exult, the paler the handsomer,
in the sun that floods your sickroom, weeping
at your smile and suffering at the sight…
the smile is for Regret, the tears for Hope!
Translated by Richard Howard
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was one of the foremost composers of the first half of the nineteenth century. According to P. F. Prestwich’s The Translation of Memories, at one point early on when Proust and Hahn met they thought about jointly writing a biography of Chopin. In RTP (Remembrance of Things Past), Chopin appears most prominently in a discussion of his work by the seaside. This poem was dedicated to the pianist Edouard Risler (1873-1929), a close friend of Reynaldo Hahn who specialized in the music of Chopin, touring Europe and playing the composer’s complete works.
The Collected Poems by Marcel Proust, to me, is a celebration of all the things we love about the arts: language and poetry, music and friendship, the imagery and odes that poetry can best convey.