Friday, March 5, 2010

Tristan Corbière, poet-toad, toad-poet - It sings. - Horrible!!

The Toad

Some song on an airless night...
The moon tin-plates clear and bright
The cut-outs of gloomy greenery.

... Some song; like an echo dies,
Buried alive in that clump it lies...
- Finished: there in the shadows, see...

- A toad! - Why ever this fear
Of me, you old faithful thing?
Look: a shorn poet, not a wing,
The mud lark... - Horrible to hear! -

... It sings. - Horrible!! - Horrible, why?
Don't you see its eye's bright look?...
No: gone, cold, to its stone nook.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Goodnight - that toad is me. Goodbye.

                                                  This evening, 20th July

This is again, Tristan Corbière via Peter Dale.  However much the translator indulges himself, Corbière indulges himself more.  Those double exclamation marks, for example, are Corbière's.

I hope this poem gives some idea of how much fun Corbière can be - the croaking toad as "mud lark" and "shorn poet," for example, or the foliage as tin-plate cut-outs.  Some of his virtues are those of many great poets.  

I perhaps overemphasized his incomprehensibility yesterday.  Or perhaps not.  Corbière was an amazing oddball.  But then the oddest thing is that he ends up in the main stream of French poetic tradition.  It's Corbière and Rimbaud and Apollinaire who are important enough that someone bothers to tote them over into English so I can read them.  Who were the normal French poets?  What happened to them?


  1. That poem sounds weirdly adorable. I don't know much about French poetry, unfortunately, so I couldn't tell you what happened to the normal ones. But aren't most poets supposed to be at least somewhat eccentric?

  2. Love "the mud lark"! Know nothing about French poetry, so can offer no definition of "normal" (is there one, really?). But enjoyed this poem. Thank you.

  3. In French poetry, there is a precise definition of "normal" - membership in the Académie française, and designation as an "Immortal".

    The first generation French Romantics - Lamartine, de Vigny, de Musset, Hugo - all became members of the Académie. Of the later 19th century greats, exactly none were members.*

    Meanwhile, the Académie accepted the likes of Émile Augier and Charles de Mazade and Joseph Autran, who, for all I know, were extraordinary poets. Extraordinary in a normal way.

    Here we see the shift that E. L. Fay identifies - "aren't most poets supposed to be at least somewhat eccentric?" That's exactly what Baudelaire et. al. wanted us to believe. And they won the argument. That's the history of the idea - we have that idea, agree with it or not, because of these poets.

    * One benefit of being an Immortal was that you received, and could wear, a sword. Ma femme suggests that the sword kept out most of the poets we now read. Who is going to trust Baudelaire or Verlaine or Rimbaud with a sword?

    1. It's interesting, not only in terms of poets, but artists in general, the cult of personality seems to be as essential as the work itself. Where did it begin? Certainly we see it in some of the Romantics but it seems to me it is in French poetry, beginning with Nerval and Baudelaire, that it becomes an essential part of the creative "pose". There was a rather odd article in the New York Times recently musing over whether art had lost the possibility to shock. The fact that it is assumed that one of the motivations of aesthetics is to shock the viewer out of complacency is indicative of how deeply ingrained in our culture this method of evaluating creativity has become. Like all forms of the vernacular be it linguistic or "cultural" it's simply a form of personal aesthetic laziness. That being said, these poets were incensed at what French culture had become: middle class, sedated and sanctimonious. I think for anyone trying to understand the modern stance of the artist it is essential to go back and look at the French poetry of the latter half of the nineteenth century. You will encounter a strange feeling of deja that I don't find all that pleasant even though I would say without hestitation that this same period of verse is one I absolutely adore.

  4. You caught his weird jovialness, or at least that's one of the things that strikes me about Corbiere. Although I think I may be missing the sadness that seems to underlie a lot of his verse. Maybe I'd rather believe he was content with his feeling an oddball rather than it causing feelings of isolation. Have you ever read Pariah? That's one of my favorites of his, reminds me a bit of Rimbaud in it being rambunctious and strident. Like most of my favorites poets I love his work but probably wouldn't like him...

  5. I do not remember if I read "Pariah." Your comments make me want to return to Corbière, not a bad idea at all, even though, like you, I do not find the poets of the period entirely pleasant. Fascinating, though, so very fascinating. You are right, I think, that many of our ideas about the "stance of the artist" come out of this French tradition.

    1. The fairly recent Penguin French Poetry from 1820 to 1950 is worth picking up. Laforgue is another interesting poet and of course was a major influence on Eliot. When you encounter some of the later 19th century poets his own work doesn't seem quite so solitary. Another interesting one is Charles Cros. Anyhow, you're site is clearly a labour of love, hat's off to someone labouring in the vineyard of the written word.

    2. Why thank you. Laforgue is wonderful. The creativity of that generation! Cros I have not read. I do not even remember the name, although I have leafed through that Penguin anthology. I should give it more attention.

  6. One more thing, I just noticed you are currently reading Robert Walser. Have you had a chance to have a look at New Direction's recent publication Microtexts? Framentary texts that he wrote on the back of envelopes, theatre tickets etc. Charming, odd little things. The book itself is very beautiful with pictures of the scraps on which he wrote as well as a series of paintings at the back by a painter. A very beautiful package. Finally, if you like Walser you should check out Bruno Schulz at some point. Street of Crocodiles has got to be one of the oddest and amusing things I've ever read.

  7. Oh yes, I love Schulz. Walser is someone I am just getting to - for a long time I had read nothing but a single three paragraph story. It is amazing that the Microtexts exist at all, or that they were edited and published, or that they are now translated, even in part.

  8. Thank you for this! A friend posted 'Le Crapaud' on my FB page (a toad had crawled into my sabot overnight so I put up a photo) and before I had a go at translating it I thought I'd see if anyone else had. Not sure I'd want to compete with the great Peter Dale! But I have found your blog, which promises to be rewarding.

  9. How nice, thank you. This blog has some of this and some of that. It has more French poetry, and if I get writing will soon have still more.