Week 65: Le Convoi d’une pauvre Fille, by Auguste Brizeux

When reading poetry in another tongue it is natural to have a bias of sheer gratitude towards language we can understand and feelings we can relate to. I like this poem by the Breton poet Julien Auguste Pélage Brizeux (1803-1858) very much, finding it rich and stately. Do French readers find it naïve? I don’t know; I’m happy just to be grateful. The translation that follows is my own.

Quand Louise mourut à sa quinzième année,
Fleur des bois par la pluie et le vent moissonnée,
Un cortège nombreux ne suivit pas son deuil:
Un seul prêtre, en priant, conduisait le cercueil;
Puis venait un enfant, qui, d’espace en espace,
Aux saintes oraisons répondait à voix basse;
Car Louise était pauvre, et jusqu’en son trépas
Le riche a des honneurs que le pauvre n’a pas.
La simple croix de buis, un vieux drap mortuaire,
Furent les seuls apprêts de son lit funéraire;
Et quand le fossoyeur, soulevant son beau corps,
Du village natal l’emporta chez les morts,
A peine si la cloche avertit la contrée
Que sa plus douce vierge en était retirée.
Elle mourut ainsi. — Par les taillis couverts,
Les vallons embaumés, les genêts, les blés verts,
Le convoi descendit, au lever de l’aurore.
Avec toute sa pompe avril venait d’éclore,
Et couvrait, en passant, d’une neige de fleurs
Ce cercueil virginal et le baignait de pleurs;
L’aubépine avait pris sa robe rose et blanche,
Un bourgeon étoilé tremblait à chaque branche;
Ce n’étaient que parfums et concerts infinis,
Tous les oiseaux chantaient sur le bord de leurs nids.

When Louise died in her fifteenth year,
A woodland flower, plucked by the wind and rain,
No great procession followed after her:
A single priest, at prayer, led the train.
Behind him came a child, at intervals
Responding to the prayers in muted tone,
Because Louise was poor – even in death
The rich have honours to the poor unknown.
An ancient pall, a boxwood crucifix,
Such were the ornaments of her last bed
And when they came to bear her body off
From its first home to dwell among the dead
Scarcely a mortbell warned the country round
That its most gentle maid was gone away.
Such was her death. But as the convoy went
By furze and leafy copse, at break of day,
Through fields of young green wheat and fragrant vale
April in all its glory was made new:
The coffin of that maiden, as it passed,
Was snowed with blossom, bathed with tears of dew.
A starry bud was trembling on each bough,
The hawthorn, pink and white, was lately dressed.
All was sweet scents and endless harmony
And every bird was singing from its nest.


 

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