Friday, March 02, 2012


Dying Soldiers and Trees: Gautier, Horace, Simonides

Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), Wanderings in Spain, anon. tr. (London: Ingram, Cooke, and Co., 1853), p. 11 (Chapter II):
On leaving Bordeaux, the Landes recommence, if possible more sad, more desolate, and more gloomy than before. Heather, broom, and pinadas (pine forests), with here and there a shepherd squatted down, tending his flocks of black sheep, or a miserable hut in the style of the Indian wigwams, offer a very lugubrious and by no means diverting spectacle. No tree is seen but the pine, with the gash in it from which the resin trickles down. This large salmon-coloured wound forming a strong contrast with the grey tones of the bark, gives the most miserable look in the world to these sickly trees, deprived of the greatest portion of their sap. They have the appearance of a forest unjustly assassinated, raising its arms to Heaven for justice.
French text, from Gautier, Tra Los Montes, Tome I (Bruxelles: Meline, Cans et Compagnie, 1843), pp. 21-22:
Au sortir de Bordeaux, les landes recommencent plus tristes, plus décharnées et plus mornes, s'il est possible; des bruyères, des genêts et des pinadas (forêts de pins); de loin en loin, quelque fauve berger accroupi gardant des troupeaux de moutons noirs, quelque cahute dans le goût des wigwams des Indiens; c'est un spectacle fort lugubre et fort peu récréatif. On n'aperçoit d'autre arbre que le pin avec son entaille d'où coule la résine. Cette large blessure dont la couleur saumon tranche avec les tons gris de l'écorce, donne un air on ne peut plus lamentable à ces arbres souffreteux et privés de la plus grande partie de leur séve. On dirait une forêt injustement égorgée qui lève les bras au ciel pour lui demander justice.
Théophile Gautier, The Pine of the Landes Country, tr. Norman Shapiro, in Gautier, Selected Lyrics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), p. 281:
In passing through the barren Landes, one sees—
Over the French Sahara's sand dust-white
Poking among the brackish pools, no trees
In the parches grass, save pine, with slashes right

And left, ripping their bark...For man, creation's
Villain, who lives on what he kills, will steal
Their resin tears, furrow his depredations
Along their flanks. And yet, the pine will feel

No loss of sap-blood, trickling drop by drop;
Yielding his bubbling balm, with held held high,
By the road, upright, proudly, toe to top,
Like wounded soldier who stands tall to die.

Landes-like, the poet with his poetry,
Unwounded, holds his treasure well controlled.
But he must bear a deep heart-gash if he
Would spread his verses' heavenly tears of gold!
French text (Le Pin des Landes, id., p. 280):
On ne voit en passant par les Landes désertes,
Vrai Sahara français, poudré de sable blanc,
Surgir de l'herbe sèche et des flaques d'eaux vertes
D'autre arbre que le pin avec sa plaie au flanc,

Car, pour lui dérober ses larmes de résine,
L'homme, avare bourreau de la création,
Qui ne vit qu'aux dépens de ceux qu'il assassine,
Dans son tronc douloureux ouvre un large sillon!

Sans regretter son sang qui coule goutte à goutte,
Le pin verse son baume et sa sève qui bout,
Et se tient toujours droit sur le bord de la route,
Comme un soldat blessé qui veut mourir debout.

Le poète est ainsi dans les Landes du monde;
Lorsqu'il est sans blessure, il garde son trésor.
Il faut qu'il ait au coeur une entaille profonde
Pour épancher ses vers, divines larmes d'or!
The final stanza is omitted in the following translation by Henry Carrington, Anthology of French Poetry, 10-19th Centuries (London: Henry Frowde, 1900), p. 262:
As the long desert downs you pass between,
  That French Sahara, bleached sands far and wide
'Mid the sere grass, and water ditches green,
  You see no tree, but pine with wounded side.

For, to deprive him of his resinous tears,
  Man, Nature's murderer, slave of avarice,
Who only lives by what he kills and tears,
  In his pained trunk cuts a large orifice.

Ne'er grudging that his life-blood flows away,
  The pine his balsam yields till all is lost,
And holds himself upright in full array,
  Like wounded soldier dying at his post.
I prefer Gautier's poem without the final stanza about the poet.

There is also a translation by Thomas J. Corr in Favilla: Tales, Essays and Poems (London : Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1887), pp. 458-459. Everything is supposed to be on the World Wide Web now, but Corr's book isn't, except in bits and pieces from a 21st century reprint. Only the first two stanzas of Corr's translation are visible in Google Books, not worth transcribing.

Homer sometimes compares fallen warriors with felled trees. The same comparison appears in Horace, Odes 4.6.9-12 (describing the death of Achilles):
Like a pine tree struck with the biting steel or a cypress blown over by the East Wind, he fell on his face, covering much ground, and he laid his neck in the dust of Troy.

ille, mordaci velut icta ferro
pinus aut impulsa cupressus Euro,
procidit late posuitque collum in
    pulvere Teucro.
We now know that Horace was influenced here by Simonides, fragment 11, lines 1-12, tr. M.L. West, Greek Lyric Poetry (1993; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 168:
str[uck you ... and you fell, as when a larch]
    or pine-tree in the [lonely mountain] glades
is felled by woodcutters ...
    and much ...
[A great grief seized] the war-host; [much they honoured you,]
    [and with Patr]oclus' [ashes mingled yours.]
[It was no ordinary mortal] laid you low,
    ['twas by Apoll]o's hand [that you were struck.]
[Athena] was at [hand, and smote the famous t]own[n]
    [with Hera; they were wro]th with Priam's sons
[because of P]aris' wickedness. The car of God's
    Justice o'ertakes [the sinner in the end.]
I'm too lazy to transcribe the Greek, which can be found (among other places) in Alessandro Barchiesi, "Simonides and Horace on the Death of Achilles," Arethusa 29 (1996) 247–253 (at 247). Barchiesi makes an interesting observation on p. 251 (footnotes omitted):
At the risk of sounding too rationalistic, I would note that tradition has it that Achilles was not struck at the throat or the breast—as is usually the case with Homeric warriors who fall to the ground "like a tree"—but at the heel or ankle. Achilles' fall is modeled on that of a tall pine, not only because of its height, but also because his body was felled by a blow to the base, just like a tall trunk assailed almost at its root by the woodcutters.


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