Week 56: Clara d’Ellébeuse, by Francis Jammes

I love this poem’s wistful sensuality coupled with its autumnal regret for long gone summers. I have never quite figured out, though, why a shipwreck off Newfoundland makes an appearance in the fourth verse: is this just offered as a random memory of the period or does it have some deeper significance for the poem as a whole that eludes me?

There are many translations of this poem into English, but I don’t find any of them satisfactory, so append an unsatisfactory one of my own.

Clara d’Ellébeuse

J’aime dans le temps Clara d’Ellébeuse,
l’ecolière des anciens pensionnats,
qui allait, les soirs chauds, sous les tilleuls
lire les magazines d’autrefois.

Je n’aime qu’elle, et je sens sur mon coeur
la lumière bleue de sa gorge blanche.
Où est-elle? Où etait donc ce bonheur?
Dans sa chambre claire il entrait des branches.

Elle n’est peut-être pas encore morte
– ou peut-être que nous l’étions tous deux.
La grande cour avait des feuilles mortes
dans le vent froid des fins d’Etés tres vieux.

Te souviens-tu de ces plumes de paon,
dans un grand vase, auprès de coquillages?
On apprenait qu’on avait fait naufrage,
on appelait Terre-Neuve: le Banc.

Viens, viens, ma chère Clara d’Ellébeuse:
aimons-nous encore si tu existes.
Le vieux jardin a de vieilles tulipes.
Viens toute nue, ô Clara d’Ellébeuse.

Francis Jammes

I loved long ago Clara d’Ellébeuse,
The pupil of old boarding-schools, who came
To sit beneath the lime trees on warm evenings
Reading the magazines of other days.

I love her still, and only her. I feel
The blue light of her white throat on my heart.
Where is she now? Where was that happiness?
Branches would come into her bright room.

Perhaps she is not yet dead, or perhaps we both were.
Dead leaves used to blow about the great courtyard
In the cold wind at the end of long-lost summers.

Do you remember the peacock feathers in the vase
Next to the shells?… we heard there had been a shipwreck.
They spoke of Newfoundland: The Banks.

Come to me now, Clara d’Ellébeuse.
Let us love each other still, if you still live.
Old tulips may yet bloom in the old garden.
Come quite naked, Clara d’Ellébeuse.