Petrarch, drawing from a medieval courtly tradition, set a theme recognizable and echoed by Gerard de Nerval's flaneur five hundred years later. One poet watches a young woman on a riverbank, the other a young woman-could it be the same one? -passing in a public garden.
About the same time, Nerval's exact contemporary in Russia, Yevgeny Baratynsky, observes his own muse more closely, but speaks with a similar combination of engagement and detachment. In this quartet of poems, only the twentieth-century poet Nikolai Gumilev closes with the woman of whom he writes, doing so here with a distancing metaphorical and mystical framework that might have been taken from his own fourteenth century.
These are, all four, savory poems of small consequence, still fun to read, even more fun to translate. Or the other way around.
Nova angeletta sovra l'ale accorta scese dal cielo in su la fresca riva, la 'nd'io passava sol per mio destino. Poi che senza compagna et senza scorta mi vide, un laccio che di seta ordiva tese fra l'erba, ond'e verde il camino. Allor fui preso; et non mi spiacque poi, si dolce lume uscia degli occhi suoi.
Gerard de Nerval
UNE ALLEE DU LUXEMBOURG
Elle a passe, la jeune fille Vive et preste comme un oiseau A la main une fleur qui brille, A la bouche un refrain nouveau. C'est peut-etre la seule au monde Dont le coeur au mien repondrait, Qui venant dans ma nuit profonde D'un seul regard l'eclaircirait !... Mais non,--ma jeunesse est finie... Adieu, doux rayon qui m'as lui,-- Parfum, jeune fille, harmonie... Le bonheur passait,--il a fui !
A LITTLE SONG
A novice angel winged her way on down from heaven to the open riverbank where I, by chance, was walking all alone, and, seeing me without a friend or guard, she set a springnet, woven out of silk, hidden in the greenery of my road. Then I was snared, but not unwillingly, so sweet the glow her eyes bestowed on me.
A PATH IN THE LUXEMBOURG GARDEN
She's just gone by, a lively girl Bird-like in her gaiety, In her hand a daffodil, Singing a song unknown to me. In all the world there's no one else Perhaps, who could engage my heart, Or, with a single look, dispel The heavy night upon my spirit. But no, my youth is also gone. Farewell, sweet light, a fleeting ray-- A scent, a girl, a snatch of song-- And happiness--has fled away. [phrase omitted]
I am not blinded by my Muse: She couldn't be called beautiful, And young men, seeing her, don't lose Their minds or hearts head over heel. She doesn't have the skill to flaunt The come-on of a teasing taunt, A fetching hat, a playful eye-- But still, her face is lightened by A subtle, unexpected glow Disarming scornful denigration, Her way of speaking--quiet, slow-- Invites an easy admiration. [phrase omitted]
In that forest tree-stumps loomed Abruptly whitish in the gloom, From earth, root after root emerged, Hands of inhabitants locked in prayer. Under the shade of fiery leaves Giants, pygmies, and lions lived, While fishermen saw lines in the sand Of a six-fingered human hand. Never had Charlemagne's peers guessed This place, or those on Arthur's quest. No outlaw perched among these thickets, No monk retreated to these rocks. Once, only once, on a threatening wind Came a woman with a feline head, But crowned with a cast silver crown, She sighed and whimpered all night long, And died a quiet death at daylight Before a priest could bring last rites. This all occurred, all in those years Of which no trace or track appears, This all occurred, all in that realm You will not find even in your dream. I thought it all up, looking at your Hair, in rings like snakes of fire, [phrase omitted] And at your intensely blue-green eyes As full of pain as Persian turquoise. Maybe that forest is the soul in you, Maybe that forest is my love for you, Or it may be, when we come to die, We'll go there together, you and I.
Petrarch * Nerval * Baratynsky * Gumilev
Translations from Italian, French, and Russian by J. Kates
[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article]
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|Author:||Petrarch; Nerval; Baratynsky; Gumilev|
|Publication:||Delos: A Journal of Translation and World Literature|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
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