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.