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Skating (after Verlaine)

Paul Verlaine

Donald McGrath presents his new, original translation of “En patinant” (1869) by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), the renowned French fin de siècle poet. McGrath adds that “perhaps it’s more accurate to call [my translation of the poem] an adaptation since it’s a “loose” translation, meant to create an “equal music,” so to speak. It follows the original very strictly in terms of content and somewhat freely in terms of form.” Pictured above: “Paul Verlaine au café Procope” (1938) by Césare Bacchi. Image credit: Jobjoby


Skating (after Verlaine)

We were seduced, Madame, by
mutual machinations, duped,
you and I, by summer’s mayhem
pounding on our overheated craniums.
 
Spring did, of course, its little part
—if memory serves—to sow
confusion in our hearts. But
it wasn’t quite as lethal—not half so!
 
Because the air’s so fresh in spring, those
rosebuds Cupid seems so keen to open
exude innocent aromas…
—innocent, you say?  Almost!
 
And no matter how hard each lilac mouth
exhales its peppery breath into
the virginal heat—a stimulant, no doubt—
the mocking zephyr blows, routing
 
the aphrodisiac of that effluvium, and leaving
the heart idle and the mind a slate
wiped clean. Meanwhile, all five senses
join, titillated, in the fun, but each
 
on its own, entirely alone, which keeps
the malady from rising to the head. Do you
recall that weather, Madame? The superficial
kisses under blue skies, the peripheral emotions?
 
Free from the fool’s passion, full
of convivial goodwill, we
delighted in one another’s company, free
as well from grief as from enthusiasm.
 
Happy moments these… but, alas,
summer arrived and we bade
swift adieus to invigorating breezes
as our astonished souls bathed
 
in a wind voluptuously laden. Blood-red
calyxes tossed us overripe bouquets
and bad counsel’s ubiquitous boughs
rained down hard upon our heads.
 
To all of it we yielded, making a giddy daze
leading to tumultuous upheavals,
our companion through the long dog days.
Smiles, pointless smiles, ensued—as did,
 
for no apparent reason, tears, damp
despondencies, hand wringing, and
such empty heads! But fall, fortunately,
did come, cool-headed, and to the point
 
with its raw north wind, to wean us
off our bad habits, and to reinstate
us briskly in that elegance that is
the rightful claim of every blameless beau
 
and every beloved worthy of the name. Now
winter’s here, Madame; our bettors
are quaking for their purse. Already, some
dare to challenge us! But we’ll stay the course.
 
So hands in your muff, Madame, hold
on tight! Soon, Fanchon
will wreathe our heads in laurel.
So who cares what others croon?

Donald McGrath is a Montreal-based writer and translator. He has published three poetry collections: At First Light (Wolsak and Wynn, 1995); The Port Inventory (Cormorant Books, 2012); and Montreal Before Spring (Biblioasis, 2015), a translation of L’Avant-printemps à Montréal by Québec poet Robert Melançon, who twice received the Governor General’s Poetry Award. McGrath’s poems have appeared in periodicals in Canada and abroad. His poem “Biarritz” was selected for the Web anthology of the 2012 Montreal International Poetry Prize. And his translation of Robert Melançon’s poem “Elégie écrite dans le parc Notre-Dame-de-Grâce” was the winner in the first installment of the Malahat Review’s translation competition, Les poésies francophones du Canada.

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