Monday, September 5, 2011

Blog Intermission (entr’acte) no. 15 – The Seine Meets Paris

Jacques Prévert was born in Paris in 1900 and died in Normandie in 1977. He was France’s most popular poet of the 20th century. I remember buying his book of poetry called Paroles (Words) when I was a teenager and reading it again and again until I could recite many of the poems by heart. I also would read some of his poems to my friends. Many of his poems are about life in Paris – they are taught in schools in France and are published in many French language textbooks internationally.

Vintage style Paris poster, courtesy Steve Foreny

Prévert was a great screenwriter during the 1930s and 40s. He wrote the classic screenplay for the film Les Enfants du paradis (The Children of Paradise, 1945) which is one of the greatest films of all time. Some of his poems were set to music such as Les Feuilles Mortes (Autumn Leaves) and were made popular by famous singers like Yves Montand and Juliette Gréco. (See my post here to listen to Yves Montand singing this song.) Young people loved him I think because of his humour, his free spirit, anticlerical and satirical attacks on French institutions. He criticized stupidity, hypocrisy and war. His words were simple but powerful. All his life Jacques Prévert was a peace activist. By the mid-1960s more than one million copies of his poems were in print because many people who usually don’t read poetry would read his poems.

Jacques Prévert photographed by Brassaï in 1948

The American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, born in 1919, translated Prévert book Paroles into English. The book is published by San Francisco’s City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. Ferlinghetti who was raised by his French aunt was a co-founder of City Lights.

Sunflowers on the Banks of the Seine, Gustave Caillebotte, French 1848-1894

La Seine a rencontré Paris

Qui est la
Toujours là dans la ville
Et qui pourtant sans cesse arrive
Et qui pourtant sans cesse s’en va

Notre Dame from the River Seine - 1879, James Webb, English 1825-1895

C’est un fleuve
répond un enfant
un devineur de devinettes
Et puis l’œil brillant il ajoute
Et le fleuve s’appelle la Seine
Quand la ville s’appelle Paris
et la Seine c’est comme une personne
Des fois elle court elle va très vite
elle presse le pas quand tombe le soir
Des fois au printemps elle s’arrête
et vous regarde comme un miroir
et elle pleure si vous pleurez
ou sourit pour vous consoler
et toujours elle éclate de rire
quand arrive le soleil d’été

La Tour Eiffel et la Seine, Michel Henry, French contemporary born in 1928

Il était une fois la Seine
il était une fois
il était une fois l’amour
il était une fois le malheur
et une autre fois l’oubli

Il était une fois la Seine
il était une fois la vie

- Jacques Prévert, 1900-1977

Le Pont de la Concorde, Bernard Buffet, French 1928-1999

Ferlinghetti as I said above translated many of Prévert poems, but I could not find this one, so I translated it myself.

The Seine meets Paris

Who is there
Always there in the city
And yet constantly arriving
And yet constantly going

Les Quais de la Seine, Eugène Galien Laloue, French 1854-1941

It is a river
responds a child
a guesser of riddles
then with a twinkle in his eyes he adds
and the river is called the Seine
When the city is called Paris
and the river it’s like a person
Sometimes she runs she runs quickly
She hastens the pace at dusk
Sometimes she stops in the spring
and looks at you as if a mirror
She cries when you cry
or smiles to comfort you
and always bursts out laughing
when the summer sun arrives

Notre Dame et la Seine, Michel Henry, French contemporary born in 1928

Once upon a time there was the Seine
once upon a time
Once upon a time there was love
Once upon a time there was bad luck
and another time oblivion

Once upon a time there was the Seine
Once upon a time there was life

- Jacques Prévert, French 1900-1977

Le Quai du Louvre, Claude Monet, French 1840-1926


Note: Blogger Break - Post pre-programmed. Top picture taken in Paris last May 2011.


DJan said...

I will find this book, his poetry touches me, as it seems it touches many others. Thanks for the find. Last night I went to see "Sarah's Key" in French and English and have been unable to stop thinking about it. It is a beautiful, if tragic, story. I was profoundly moved by it.

Darlene said...

There has never been another river as romantic as the Seine. I am so glad I was able to take a Bateau Mouche ride on it.

Al things Parisian speak to me. I so wish I could return for a long stay. Thanks for the reminder of the wonderful time I spent there.

Fennie said...

When I read that Prevert died in Normandy I wondered if he might be interred in La Cimentiere Marin at Varengeville sur Mer which incidentally I have just blogged about. But no, he isn't. You are brave and valiant with your translation. I find translation impossible (and verse translation stellar impossible). Just today I was trying to translate the instructions on a Kilner jar (from French to English). Easy enough to translate literally but you are scratching your head and saying that we just wouldn't say it like that. To put the text into good English I'd have to throw the French away and start again.

Amanda said...

Prévert's poetry was eloquent and touching. No fancy, complicated words. Time to find his book again.

Anonymous said...

I found Ferlenghetti in the 70s while in college. I have lost my sense of poetry since then. I did not know that he had been influenced by Prevert. Thanks for bringing it back. The poem of the Seine is wonderful.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

It is all so lovely, my dear....The Poetry and the Paintings....! BEAUTIFUL!!

Hope you are enjoying yourself, wherever you are...!

claude said...

Bonjour Vagabonde !
J'en ai appris des poèmes de Prévert à l'école et au collège.
Ah ! Paris et la Seine !
Ah ! la Seine et Paris !
J'aime bien les peintures et le poster aussi.
Je vais rencontrer la Seine et Paris dans exactement dans 14 jours.
A bientôt et bises.

Pat said...

A delightful, illuminating post. So grateful for the translation. I feel he would have approved

Ginnie said...

Have you ever thought about being a translator, Vagabonde??? You do a magnificent job. Thank you.

Putz said...

you wrote this piece JUST FOR ME, now why don't you break down and goe to paris just with me<><><>we might even see your mom while we are there,.love

Vicki Lane said...

Lovely post -- lovely translation! Happy traveling, Vagabonde!

Jeanie said...

Oh, Vagabonde! What a marvelous translation -- and what a splendid post with such beautiful illustrations. I loved that river, how I could mark my location by a glance up or down its banks. You couldn't have picked lovelier illustrations if you tried!

Unknown said...

Great post! Lots to see and learn!

Marja said...

Oh I love it all so much the beautiful prints and the poetry. The french language is so romantic. Autumn leaves is a favourite of mine as well. I posted a while ago a video of the French singer Patricia kaas who sings this song.

Mary said...

I love to stroll along the Seine, or ride the Bateau Mouche - some of those bridges are low and you have to keep away from the sides as the boat goes beneath!!

Love Laloue's Les Quais de la Seine - hope to get back to Paris again, such a beautiful city.


Vagabonde said...

Thank you so much for coming to visit my blog while I was away, I appreciate it very much. I am finishing a post right now but will come and visit all your blogs, soon. Thanks again for commenting.

Margaret said...

Oh, I love the painting with the flowers and apple on the window sill. To be a tourist in Paris, with a room with a view like that... It would be heaven.

Lifecruiser Travel said...

Beautiful poetry and paintings indeed. I love your translation. I would have loved to be a tourist in Paris a bit back in time... how awesome.

We were there in 2004 - very romantic memories since hubby proposed to me there :-)

We expected to spot a lot of love couples beside ourselves, but no! Just 1 other couple and that of course were down at Seine!

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