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Translation of Two Poems by Marie Krysinska from her Collection Rythmes Pittoresques

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Sandra Sokowski
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

Eve

Eve au corps ingénu lasse de jeux charmants
Avec les biches rivales et les doux léopards
Goûte á présent le repos extatique,
Sur la riche brocatelle des mousses.

Autour d'elle, le silence de midi
Exalte la pamoison odorante des calices,
Et le jeune soleil baise les feuillées neuves.

Tout est miraculeux dans ce jardin de Joie:
Les branchages s'étoilent de fruits symboliques
Rouges comme des c¤urs et blancs comme des âmes;

Les Roses d'Amour encore inécloses
                   Dorment au beau Rosier;
Les lys premiers nés
Balancent leurs fervents encensoirs
                   Auprès
Des chères coupes des Iris
Où fermente le vin noir des mélancolies;

Et le Lotus auguste rêve aux règnes futurs.


Mais parmi les ramures,
C'est la joie criante des oiseaux;
          Bleus comme les flammes vives du Désir,
          Roses comme de chastes Caresses
          Ornes d'or clair ainsi que des Poèmes
     Et vêtus d'ailes sombres comme les Trahisons.

Eve repose,
Et cependant que ses beaux flancs nus,
          Ignorants de leurs prodigieuses destinées,
Dorment paisibles et par leurs grâces émerveillent
La tribu docile des antilopes,

Voici descendre des plus hautes branches
Un merveilleux Serpent á la bouche lascive,
          Un merveilleux Serpent qu'attire et tente
La douceur magnétique de ces beaux flancs nus,

Et voici que pareil á un bras amoureux,
Il s'enroule autour
          De ces beaux flancs nus
Ignorants de leur prodigieuses destinées. (65-6)


Eve

Eve in a naïve body, weak from charming games
With the rival does and soft leopards
Presently tastes the ecstatic repose
On the rich brocatelle of the moss.

Around her, the silence of midday
Exalts the odorous rapture of the calyx,
And the young sun kisses the new leaves.

All is miraculous in this Garden of Joy:
The branches are starred with symbolic fruit
Red like hearts and white like souls;

The Roses of Love still unopened
          Sleep on the beautiful rosebush;
The first born Lilies
Balance their fervent censer
          Around
The precious cups of the Irises
Where the black wine of melancholies ferments;

And the august Lotus dreams of future reigns.

But among the boughs,
Is the screaming joy of birds;
          Blue like the vibrant flames of Desire,
          Pink like chaste Caresses
          Ornamented with pale gold like Poems
And dressed with somber wings like Betrayals.

Eve rests,
And while her beautiful naked sides
          Ignorant of their prodigious destiny,
Sleep peacefully and by their graces fill with wonder
The docile tribe of antelopes,


Here descends from the highest branches
A wondrous Serpent with lascivious mouth,
          A wondrous Serpent that the magnetic softness
Of these beautiful naked thighs attracts and tempts,

And here, like a loving arm,
He wraps himself around
          This beautiful naked womb
Ignorant of their prodigious destiny.

 


 

Les Javanaises

                   Les petites idoles
                            Animées
                            O mais
          Si peu, que cette danse évoque la folle
          Vision: d'un bas-relief aux vivants symboles
                            Hiératique et muet.

          Les mains délicates
          S'étirent comme des chattes
          Jaunes, et parfois
          Les pales doigts

          S'ouvrent et volètent près des seins graciles
                   Comme des papillons grises
          D'aromatiques soirs d'avril, --

                   Tandis qu'en rythmes brisés,
Pleuvent des musiques farouches et subtiles. (97)


The Javanese

                   The animated
                            Little idols
                            Oh, but
So slightly, this dance evokes the mad
Vision: from a bas-relief to living symbols
                   Hieratic and mute.

The delicate hands
Stretch out like yellow kittens,
And sometimes
The pale fingers

Open and flutter near swanlike breasts
          Like drunk butterflies
From aromatic April evenings, ---

          While in broken rhythms,
Savage and subtle music rains.

 


 

Explication

A Polish immigrant, Marie Krysinska was a recognized figure in the cabaret culture of Montmartre in the 1880's and 90's and is one of the very few female French symbolist poets. She was also one of the few women, next to Sarah Bernhardt, admitted to the Parisian artistic circles of the time, such as the "Zutists" ("zut!" being the French equivalent to "darn!"). An active participant at the Chat Noir cabaret, mostly as a pianist, Krysinska began to publish her first free verse poems in its literary magazine Le Chat Noir in 1882, making her the first French poet to publish in free verse. Although Arthur Rimbaud is lauded as the first French poet to write in free verse, he did not publish his early poem "Marine" until 1886 (Whidden 1-11). Due to the misogyny of the male-dominated artistic circles of this time, her pioneering work in the free verse form was not recognized by her contemporaries. She was an established musician and singer; the elegant repetition in her poetry resounds with a musical sensibility. She also plays with line breaks and indentation, revolutionary in her time, which serves to accentuate certain key phrases and to help articulate her subtleties of tone. Much of her poetry explores the depiction of women, from the biblical figures of Judith, Eve, and Mary Magdalene, to women in Greek mythology in "Helen" and "Ariana," to a man's superficial description of the female character in "Effigies" and "Nature Morte."1 Considering the rampant disregard in the 19th century of literature written by women and the burgeoning academic interest in this writing, the study of Krysinska's poetry reveals an uncompromising female voice in direct dialogue with the symbolist poetry of her time.

In the section of her volume, Rythmes Pittoresques, entitled "Femmes," Krysinska is critiquing the myth of the feminine and takes a subversive look at these female figures with a focus on their agency, bringing to light the conventional bias attributed to these feminine archetypes by re-personifying them. In this first poem, Eve is represented in a passive state within the richly sensual description of the garden while all judgment of her actions is suspended. The poem leaves us to the biblical story we already know, but by depicting this incidence as naïve and almost instinctual, it is the possible bias in the biblical story that attracts our judgment and not the figure of Eve herself. The ambiguity of the repeated phrase "Ignorant of their prodigious destiny" also calls into question the culpability of these agents (Eve and the serpent). The French word "flancs" does not have a direct translati on into English; it refers to the thighs, sides, and womb of the female body.2 It may be the destiny of this womb and sexual body that is prodigious; however the plurality of the noun here may also refer to the serpent in conjunction with Eve's "flancs." It is arguable that the meaning of this ambiguous phrase progresses from referring to Eve's "flancs" to her body in conjunction with the serpent, which is what drives this present translation. In the description of the Garden of Eden, the capitalization of the names of flowers and poetic subjects ("Desire," "Caresses," "Betrayals"...) recalls the medieval garden and allegory. The assignment of meaning to the colors brings the signification of myth into the foreground, as this description is just as well a meditation on reading myth as it is a sensuous description of paradise. She also gestures beyond the traditional referentiality of these symbols with the lotus, who "dreams of future reigns," as a flower of eastern myth, blooming out of the inarticulate depths into a new paradigm.

Regarding the second poem, "Les Javanaises," it is important to note that in the singular form, "javanais" refers to "gibberish" as well as an inhabitant of the island of Java;3 thus the orientalist fascination is signified along side a reference to a plurality of meaninglessness utterances. In the mere title of the poem we see a joining of the decadent superficiality, an otherworldliness, and its manifestation in discourse. Maintaining the line breaks of the original is especially important in transferring the gestural movement of the words on the page, imitative of the Javanese dancers. The exclamation of "Oh, but" situated in its own line of the poem makes the gesture of surprise, either of the dancer or the poet, a gesture of poetry through its direct pronunciation. The rhyme of the original is sacrificed in this translation for the articulation of the line breaks and enjambment that more explicitly exemplify the gestural movement of the words and the dancers evoked through this free verse experimentation. The sublimated, visionary nature of the oriental image is simultaneously recognized as a mere fascination with form, where the living dancers are like foreign sculpture.

The abrupt movement in the visual appearance of the words on the page creates a form in which the signification of the words is mimed: the "Oh, but" is repeated with an unexpected indentation. Here is evidence of the movement toward the experimental word placement imitative of the form of the subject of the poem, not unlike Mallarmé's "Un coup de dès n'abolira jamais le hasard" [A Roll of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance] where the lines descend like the shipwreck he recounts. The revolutionary use of line length also creates a variegated speed of the line. The second stanza moves cautiously, feline-like, in even four-syllable lines, while the brusque introduction of the third stanza with two verbs indicating sudden movement creates a flurry which dissipates to the reminiscence of a spring evening. Although the even four syllable line is not possible in this rather direct translation, by n ot attempting to force the English lines into the same form as the French, the suddenness of the beginning of the third stanza is still held intact. Although the strategic pauses are not in the same place as in the original, the "broken rhythms" of this poem are inherent in the enjambment of the syntactically prosaic lines, where certain words are put in a "bas relief" through this seemingly haphazard juxtaposition, "the mad / Vision." The surreal 'vision' begs to be interpreted symbolically, yet it indeterminately morphs from one image to another, moving gradually from a visual aesthetic register to one of sound: from 'hieratic' sculpture to 'savage and subtle music.' There is neither causality to these images nor is there any for the music, 'raining' and emerging out of nothingness to leave only the impression and tangential signification toward exotic beauty.

Notes

1 The poems, "Judith" and "Effigies," do not appear in the republication of Rythmes pittoresques. They may be found in Gretchen Schultz's book, The Gendered Lyric: Subjectivity and Difference in Nineteenth-Century French Poetry, on pages 273 and 278-80, respectively.
2 This definition is taken from Collins Robert French Dictionary. Ed. Beryl T. Atkins et al. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995.
3 This definition is taken from Collins Robert French Dictionary. Ed. Beryl T. Atkins et al. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995.

Works Cited

Krysinska, Marie. Rythmes pittoresques. Ed. Seth Whidden. Exeter: Exeter UP,
        2003. 65-6, 97.

Schultz, Gretchen. The Gendered Lyric: Subjectivity and Difference in
         Nineteenth-Century Poetry
. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue UP, 1999. 273,
         278-80.

Whidden, Seth, ed. Introduction. Marie Krysinska. Rythmes pittoresques. Exeter:
         Exeter UP, 2003. 1-11.

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