Tuesday, February 6, 2007

"It is snowing."

A prose-poem from Pierre Reverdy (1889-1960):


Il neige sur mon toit et sur les arbres. Le mur et le jardin sont blancs, le sentier noir et la maison s'est écroulée sans bruit. Il neige.



It is snowing on my roof and on the trees. The wall and the garden are white, the path black, and the house has given way without a sound. It is snowing.
Reverdy's poems are often extremely difficult to translate. This one isn't. The only word that poses difficulty (for me) is écrouler. My little paperback French-English dictionary gives "to collapse," "to crumble," "to flop (as in a chair)." My ancient Harrap's Shorter is more helpful; it gives "to collapse, fall in, give way, tumble down." I like the idea of a house giving way to the snow. What about bruit? Noise seems too noisy here. For sans bruit, Harrap's gives "noiselessly, quietly." An adverb in this poem though would be too decorative. "Without a sound" goes better with the stillness of the scene. ("Without a sound," oddly enough, is Babel Fish's suggestion for sans bruit.)

I once brought "Souffle" into a grade-school class that I visited each month to share some poetry. I read the poem a couple of times and asked the children what sort of feeling they thought the poet had about the snow. I thought I would hear something about mystery and silence and stillness and whiteness. No; the mood of the poem, they said, was excitement. Why? Because Pierre can go out and play in the snow! It made me happy that those children thought of a poet as someone just like them.

[Note: Mary Ann Caws' bilingual edition of Selected Poems offers the same translation of "Souffle." But the above translation is mine. I didn't peek.]

comments: 2

matti said...

Hi! Just came here looking for that poem. Just a little fault: In the second line it's "et" instead of "and".
Thanks, Matthias and Flora (who has to lern that poem for school)

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Matti; I've corrected it.

It's a lovely poem, isn't it?