Saturday, July 11, 2020

Saturday Poetry Corner 41: El Desdichado


Today, a bit difficult sonnet written by Gérard de Nerval and published in 1853. 
The poem and the English translation is taken from this website that offers an analysis, because it is not an easy poem, trust me:
As its title indicates, El Desdichado is a poem about loss of love due to fate: when Nerval first wrote it, it was called Le Destin. The final title refers to Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, where a mysterious knight whose fief was stolen appears at a tournament with an uprooted tree as his coat of arms, and El Desdichado as his motto. The Spanish word actually means "unhappy" and Scott may have wanted to use desherado, which means disinherited. But the difference doesn't matter, because both notions apply to Nerval's feelings. Like all poems, this one works by playing with juxtaposed opposite notions. The first quatrain focuses on how miserable he is while the second one retells his memories of happiness. The source of his past happiness is a woman, and he reminisces about his love for her in the final two tercets. All of this is done in dense, obscure verses which combine his experience with cultural references (literature, poetry, mythology, alchemy, astrology...), giving a really intense result.
Click on that link and you will get the analysis line by line.

El Desdichado

Je suis le ténébreux,- le Veuf, - l'inconsolé,
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie:
Ma seule étoile est morte, et mon luth constellé
Porte le soleil noir de la Mélancolie.

Dans la nuit du Tombeau, Toi qui m'as consolé,
Rends-moi le Pausilippe et la mer d'Italie,
La fleur qui plaisait tant à mon coeur désolé,
Et la treille où le Pampre à la rose s'allie.

Suis-je Amour ou Phoebus ?.... Lusignan ou Biron ?
Mon front est rouge encor du baiser de la Reine ;
J'ai rêvé dans la grotte où nage la Sirène...

Et j'ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l'Achéron :
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d'Orphée
Les soupirs de la Sainte et les cris de la Fée.


I am the dark one, the widower, the unconsoled,
The prince of Aquitaine whose tower is destroyed:
My only star is dead, and my constellated lute
Bears the black sun of the Melancholy.

In the night of the Tomb, You who consoled me,
Give me back Mount Posilipo and the Italian sea,
The flower my desolate heart liked so much,
And the trellis where the grapevine unites with the rose.

Am I Amor or Phoebus?.... Lusignan or Biron?
My forehead is still red from the kiss of the queen;
I have dreamed in the grotto where the Mermaid swims...

And two times victorious I have crossed Acheron:
Modulating turn by turn on the lyre of Orpheus
The moans of the Saint and the screams of the Fairy.