Poetry Friday Returns

My daughter grows like a weed, summer comes sweltering to the Midwest, and poetry comes back to your Fridays here, courtesy of Following Pulitzer.  And yes, for you fans of mediocre award-winning mid-century American fiction, in its wake will trail (hopefully) more thoughts from me on Upton Sinclair, whose Pulitzer winner I’m chewing slowly through where I can find time when the child sleeps or I’m on my lunch break at work.  And likely here and there a musing or two from me on reading and life, maybe another installment or two of “The Way I Read”, maybe even another First Line Friday challenge.  How rapidly this goes will depend on lots about my life that remains hard to predict, but I promise not to abandon you all again for as long as I have—my daughter will never be zero to six+ months again, and for that she and I can both be grateful, I think.  For now, breathe deeply, welcome the arrival of the weekend, and have a poem, on me:

This is Paul Verlaine’s “Chanson d’Automne” (1867), as translated in 1902 by Arthur Symons:

When a sighing begins
In the violins
Of the autumn-song,
My heart is drowned
In the slow sound
anguorous and long.

Pale as with pain,
Breath fails me when
The hours toll deep.
My thoughts recover
The days that are over
And I weep.

And I go
Where the winds know,
Broken and brief,
To and fro,
As the winds blow
A dead leaf.

And for those fluent in French—in whose ranks I cannot be counted—the original lines by Verlaine:

Les saglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

A trivia question and a brief reflection: first, the trivia.  This poem probably strikes you as a very odd selection for us here, poised at the brink of summer.  But it was absolutely the only poem I even considered choosing for today.  Do you know why?  Offer your guess (or certain knowledge) in the comment section on this post, and I’ll come along in the comments later to either applaud the right guesses or fill you all in on what this poem means for us, today, in particular.

And my reflection?  Only that this poem captures all that is most melancholy about autumn in a way that works for me, and it makes me ponder what other poems are great at seasonal expression.  Is there a perfect “beginning of summer poem” I should be posting next week?  Was there a classic “spring poem” I missed in my absence?  Certainly I’ve identified here in the past some poems that capture the feeling of a snowy winter’s day, for me.  And it also makes me ponder how differently the calendar works for half the earth’s surface—in South Africa or Australia, I might have grown up with all the same holidays but just the opposite experience of seasons.  Am I a big autumn fan because I like the season, or because it aligns with the return of the school year (so much promise!) and my birthday and my wife’s birthday, and the lead-up to my favorite holidays?  How would all that be different if September was a spring month for me?  Anyway, this poem put me in an October mood here on a sunny June day: if it makes you think of other seasonal poems (or if you have some prolonged Southern Hemisphere life experience that might help me understand how the inverted seasons there would affect me), I hope you’ll comment as well.  Happy Friday, to you all!


3 comments on “Poetry Friday Returns

  1. Jeffrey P. Lupo says:

    D-day! It first came to my wife, who suspected that the imagery of the last verse especially might be akin to a veteran revisiting the battlefield. (We then cheated and googled it, finding out the true historical extent to which the poem is related to, nay part of, the invasion).

    A great read!

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Correct, Jeff! I posted my answer below before realizing I had a comment from you waiting for approval—I should have credited you with the right answer rather than charging in on my own. 🙂 And you mention your wife? Maybe my aging memory fails me, but I don’t think I knew of this happy news—congratulations (maybe MUCH belated!) and best wishes!

  2. jwrosenzweig says:

    The answer to my trivia question: in 1944, it was decided that the French Resistance would be signaled to prepare for invasion by messages broadcast via radio. For reasons I don’t know, personally, they chose the French text of the poem “Chanson d’automne” by Paul Verlaine—when the first lines of the poem were heard on the BBC, the Resistance knew the invasion would come within two weeks, and when they broadcast the whole first stanza, the invasion would come within 48 hours. The whole first stanza was broadcast late on the evening of June 5th—anyone who’s seen the film “The Longest Day” (and it’s a classic, so if you haven’t, I really recommend it—the cast is enormous and includes some of the century’s best-loved actors, and the detail it provides about D-Day is really remarkably accurate, given that it’s a Hollywood film) remembers the tension in a couple of scenes connected with the broadcast. So this isn’t just a poem—it was one of the many tools used by brave men and women (some of whom lost their lives that dark night) to organize against the Nazis and bring the second world war to its conclusion. On the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, I really couldn’t have picked anything else. 🙂

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