Saturday, July 13, 2013


Nothing That Brings Man to Mind

Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), "Dans la Sierra," my translation (not in verse, but with line divisions corresponding to the French original):
With a crazy passion I love mountains, proud and majestic!
Plants dare not place their delicate feet
On the silver shroud covering their summits;
The plowshare would blunt itself on their crooked peaks.

No vine there with twining arms, no golden wheat, no rye,
Nothing that brings man and accursed toil to mind.
In their free and pure air swim convocations of eagles,
And the echo of the rock whistles the outlaw's song.

They produce nothing and are not useful,
They have only their beauty, not worth much, I know,
But as for me, I prefer them to rich, fertile fields
So far from heaven that God is imperceptible there!
The French, from Gautier's Poésies complètes (Paris: Charpentier, 1862), p. 332:
J'aime d'un fol amour les monts fiers et sublimes!
Les plantes n'osent pas poser leurs pieds frileux
Sur le linceul d'argent qui recouvre leurs cimes;
Le soc s'émousserait à leurs pics anguleux.

Ni vigne aux bras lascifs, ni blés dorés, ni seigles,
Rien qui rappelle l'homme et le travail maudit.
Dans leur air libre et pur nagent des essaims d'aigles,
Et l'écho du rocher siffle l'air du bandit.

Ils ne rapportent rien et ne sont pas utiles,
Ils n'ont que leur beauté, je le sais, c'est bien peu,
Mais, moi, je les préfère aux champs gras et fertiles,
Qui sont si loin du ciel qu'on n'y voit jamais Dieu!
A verse translation by Henry Carrington:
I love the glorious mountains, proud and bleak!
    No tree, not e'en a flower, dares set its foot
On the white shroud that clothes the lofty peak,
    Whose bare crags give no holding to a root.

No vine's love-clinging arm, no golden wheat,
    Nothing that tells of man and servile toil;
In their pure air and free, sail eagles fleet,
    No vulgar sound their majesty to spoil.

They are not useful. True! No profit yield.
    Their might, their beauty is their only boast;
Yet please me more than the fat fertile field
    So far from heaven, that sight of God is lost.
Another verse translation, by Charlotte Fiske Bates:
Wild is my passion for these summits proud!
Their shivering feet plants never dare to set
Where lofty heads hide ’neath a silver shroud;
On these sharp peaks how blunt the plough would get!

No wanton vine, no golden grain is here;
Naught hints of man or of his curse of care;
An eagle-host sails their free atmosphere,
And echo hisses back the bandits’ air.

Their dower, beauty, only pleasure yields,
They are not useful, send no gifts abroad,
But I prefer them to the fertile fields,
So far from heaven we never can see God!

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