Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Translation of Paul Verlaine's Poem "Clair de Lune"



The Original ("Clair de Lune"):

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune,
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune.

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.

My Translation ("Moonlight"):

Your soul is a landscape fair and fine
Where charming masqueraders swarm
Playing the lute and dancing and being almost
Sad beneath their fanciful costume.

Singing together in a minor key
Of love conquests and the life of risks,
In their fortune they do not seem to believe;
And their song melts into the lunar beam.

The quiet moon beam, sad and beautiful,
That lulls the birds in the trees to dream
And makes the fountain jets sob in a spree,
The tall slender jets that soothe the marbles.

This poem is from Paul Verlaine’s 1869 collection of poems “Fetes Galantes”. Paul Verlaine was a French poet associated with the Symbolist movement.

The poem inspired Claude Debussy’s famous piano piece “Clair de Lune”, the third movement of Suite Bergamasque. (Richard Clayderman's rendition of "Clair de Lune")

[Note: The word “bergamasques” in the poem refers to a rustic dance (of the buffoonery kind) originating in Bergamo, Italy. The dance, also known as “bergamask”, is apparently the dance that the clown Bottom refers to in Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.]


I love the various moods that this poem evokes, ranging from a mix of gaiety, melancholy and insouciance in the first two stanzas, to a sense of redemption in the last line of the 2nd stanza, and to peace and harmony in the last stanza.

My interpretation of the poem is that the poet is doing some soul searching under the moonlight. He likens his soul to a pretty landscape, which invites all kinds of superficial distractions (masquerades and dancing and singing) and temptations (love conquests and the life of risks), but which is often engulfed in a sense of emptiness (in their fortune they do not seem to believe). But somehow, the soul’s voice finds an audience in Nature (And their song melts into the lunar beam). Peace of mind can readily be found if he can abandon himself to Nature’s embrace (the entire last stanza, where the quiet moon beam symbolizes Nature).


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