Verlaine : Il Pleure dans mon coeur



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Il pleure dans mon cœur…

 

                         Il pleut doucement sur la ville.

                                    (Arthur Rimbaud)

 

Il pleure dans mon cœur

Comme il pleut sur la ville :

Quelle est cette langueur

Qui pénètre mon cœur?

 

O bruit doux de la pluie

Par terre et sur les toits!

Pour un cœur qui s’ennuie

O le chant de la pluie!

 

Il pleure sans raison

Dans ce cœur qui s’écœure.

Quoi! nulle trahison? …

Ce deuil est sans raison.

 

C’est bien la pire peine

De ne savoir pourquoi

Sans amour et sans haine

Mon cœur a tant de peine!  

 

                                                 

            This is probably the most famous poem by Paul Verlaine, the French nineteenth century poète maudit who is today better known for his turbulent liaison with the adolescent Arthur Rimbaud than for his actual writings. I render it as

 

Tears fall from my heart….

 

Tears fall in my heart

Like rain on the town —

What is this dull smart

That transpierces my heart?

 

The sweet sound of the rain

On roofs and on the ground!

For a spirit in pain,

O the song of the rain !

 

Tears come for no reason,

To this heart sick of life,

Neither parting nor treason,

My sadness has no reason.

 

And the worst is not to know

Why, without love or hate,

Tears do not fail to flow,

But why I do not know. 

 

            [I am indebted to Claude Mignot-Ogliastri, the critic and biographer, for pointing out to me that Verlaine did not write that tears were flowing from his heart, which would be commonplace, but in his heart, causing me to emend my original translation.]   

 

            As far as I am concerned, poetry should essentially be

                 “what oft was felt but ne’er so well expressed”

to slightly adapt Pope’s famous line — he actually wrote “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed”.  Here, Verlaine gives perfect expression to a mood or feeling which I, and countless other people, have occasionally experienced : a sort of sadness which has no raison d’être, or not as far as one can make out. Even, it is not clear whether it really is sadness. I remember one whole summer  when, though not having any particular reason for depression, rather the contrary, I found myself afflicted by recurrent periods of continual weeping (after which I felt a  hell of a lot better), and I have met people in ‘Workshops’ of the psychological type who have recounted identical experiences.  The whole point of Verlaine’s poem is that this sadness “has no reason” and the poet is almost as much puzzled as he is afflicted.

     An article recently appeared in the New Scientist discussing whether depression can/should be cured by ‘happiness’ drugs, provoking varied reactions amongst correspondents. Currently, although almost everyone in this country, including or especially the best off, seems to spend most of their time moaning and whinging, there is a positive obligation to always be  photographed not only smiling but laughing uproariously. If the current government had another term (which currently seems unlikely) it would probably end up by making it punishable by law to appear despondent in public — a £50 fine, say, for a first offence and a warning of more serious penalties for recidivism. One envies the Victorians their right to view life as a serious  business.

 

                                                                                                               Sebastian Hayes    


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1 Comment

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