Week 224: Je me souviens, by Jules Supervielle

The French poet Jules Supervielle (1884-1960) wrote many tender love poems to his wife Pilar, whom he married in Montevideo in 1907, Uruguay (the country ‘fort au sud’ referred to in the poem) being the country of his birth. This is one of them. 

The translation that follows is my own. I confess to not quite understanding the words in the fourth line ‘lui donne son nom’ – did Supervielle think that the French words ‘coeur’ and ‘carrefour’ were etymologically connected? This does not in fact seem to be the case. 

Je me souviens

Je me souviens – lorsque je parle ainsi
Ah saura-t-on jamais qui se souvient
Dans tout ce chaud murmurant carrefour
Qui fait le coeur et lui donne son nom –
Je me souviens, c’était dans un pays
Qu’on aperçoit fort au sud sur les cartes,
Le ciel mouillait à tort et à travers
Le grand matin noir et plein d’innocence.
Je me souviens – cette fois je suis sûr
Qu c’est bien moi qui hume ce temps-là –
Je vous trouvai durant une accalmie
Vous qui deviez devenir mon amie
Pendant vingt ans, et c’est encor vrai.

Jules Supervielle

I Remember 

I remember – ah, but when I speak this way
Can we ever know for sure what memories
Meet at that warm murmuring crossroads within
We call the heart, which gives it its name? –
I remember, it was in another country
You see on maps a long way to the south.
It rained as if the rain would never cease
That great dark morning full of innocence.
I remember – and for once I am quite sure
That it is I who breathe in that time’s air –
I found you as the sky began to clear
You who would become my wife, my friend
These twenty years gone by, and are still here.

Week 44: Ce Pur Enfant, by Jules Supervielle

I confess that I find much of twentieth-century French poetry rather impenetrable – it could of course just be that my French isn’t up to it, though I suspect that the same could be said for many native Frenchmen. But I do find many of the poems of Jules Supervielle (1884-1960) both appealing and accessible. Here’s one of my favourites. I have attempted my own translation, which I append, but of course it’s no substitute for the French.

Ce Pur Enfant

Ce pur enfant, rose de chasteté,
Qu’a-t-il à voir avec la volupté?
Et fallait-il qu’en luxe d’innocence
Allât finir la fureur de nos sens?

Dorénavant en cette neuve chair
Se débattra notre amoureux mystère?
Après nous avoir pris le coeur d’assaut
L’amour se change en l’hôte d’un berceau,

En petits poings fermés, en courtes cuisses,
En ventre rond sans aucune malice
Et nous restons tous deux à regarder
Notre secret si mal, si bien gardé.

Jules Supervielle

This spotless child, this rose of chastity,
What’s he to do with our carnality?
And was our senses’ fury always meant
To find its end in such an innocent?

Henceforth in this new flesh, all turned about,
Shall our love’s mystery be acted out?
The passion that once took our hearts by storm
Finds in this cradled guest another form,

In tiny limbs, in little hands, so curled,
In belly, round and innocent of world,
While side by side we watch, for him to tell
Our secret, kept so badly, kept so well.