Imprint

Simonne* translated this poem today. I breathe these poems in and they reveal themselves to me like the resonance of a dream I am sharing with the poet. They encapsulate a moment in time or an emotion like a memory held in a raindrop that seeps inside me as Simonne reads me her translation and I transcribe the words into into the computer. We are painting in mental imagery together, the poets, Simonne and I. Once it is in the computer, we read at least one other translation to inspire us, line by line comparing it to her own, sometimes adapting her version minimally to make sure her very direct translation expresses in English grammar what we feel the poet was articulating in French, sometimes adopting a more precise word if we happen upon one. We then read this almost final version together, she reading a line in French and then I in English, back and forth, to make sure we like the final image it presents. 

This is a very sad and beautiful poem by Jacques Prevert, a French poet and playwright of the twentieth century. He was one of the original members of the surrealist movement, who eventually rejected both the movement and its founder Andre Breton. Perhaps more on this as I research further, I am fascinated by the sudden intimacy I feel with these deep, sensitive and passionate writers. 

This particular poem published in 1945 reflects, to me, the imprint of a sense memory of an amorous moment, of an experience of beauty that touches us deeply and allows a sense of connection that stays with us even if the encounter is brief, even if the encounter is only witnessed rather than directly shared. And perhaps if and when remembered is a tether to that beauty, to that connection, that can transcend erasure, even from the shadow of war, from the pouring rain that rots and washes everything away until nothing remains, nothing but maybe the resonance of memory.  

Barbara
de Jacques Prevert
translated by Simonne Guillerm Allen

Remember Barbara
It was raining on Brest that day, constantly,
And you went walking, smiling
Radiant, delighted, dripping under the rain
Remember Barbara
It was raining continuously on Brest
And I crossed you on Siam Street
You were smiling
And as for me, I was smiling also
Did you remember Barbara
You whom I did not know
You who did not know me
Do you remember
Do you remember at least that day
Don’t forget
A man was sheltered under a porch
He shouted your name
Barbara
And you ran towards him under the rain
Dripping, delighted, radiant
And you threw yourself in his arms
Do you remember that, Barbara?
And no hard feelings if I use the familiar “tu” with you
I say “tu” to all that I love
Even if I’ve seen them only once
I say “tu” to all that love each other
Even if I do not know them
Remember Barbara
Don’t forget
This rain wise and happy
On your happy face,
On this happy town
This rain on the sea
On the arsenal
On the boat from Ouessant
Oh, Barbara
What stupidity the war is
What has become of you?
Under this rain of iron,
Of fire, of bloody steel
And the one who holds you tight in his arms
Amorously
Is he dead, vanished, or still alive?
Oh, Barbara
It is raining constantly
Like it was raining before
But it is not quite the same and
Everything is damaged
It’s the rain of terrible and desolate mourning
Its no longer a storm
Of iron blood
But quite simply clouds,
Which die like dogs
Dogs which disappear
In the course of the water towards Brest
And go to rot far off
Far off, very far off from Brest
Of which nothing remains.

Prevert often collaborated with musician Joseph Kosma to turn his poetry into music, this version is performed by one of Simonne’s favorites, Yves Montand.

*For more on SImonne and the work we are doing together reference ~
https://deniseporterkemp.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/translation/

Translation

I was initially introduced to Simonne Guillerm Allen in order to teach her pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques. This was recommended by her doctors in France as a way to develop core strength and support her deteriorating back.

Simonne is an 87 year old French woman who grew up in Vietnam and spent her adult life between France and the United States, making her career as a university French language teacher. She moved from Brittany, France to New Hampshire to live with her son about a year ago.

At first we met once a week.  Over time, the breathing exercises evolved into a meditation practice. Then we started integrating yoga and movement adapted to her physical condition, accompanied by some of her favorite French music from the internet. We discussed the transition into both her new living situation and the changes in her body and independent mobility. We contemplated Yogic and Buddhist psychology and philosophy to help her adapt and find a way to access her best quality of life with things exactly as they were. It was during these meetings that she began sharing tales from her life story. I became fascinated and she became more comfortable. Her seated posture, range of motion, mood and energy level improved significantly as we continued to meet. I currently see her four to five times a week, and there is always more to do than we have time.

The first spark that led to our current project came as we were dancing to Charles Trenet videos on YouTube. We had begun dancing together, she holding my arms for balance, in order to make range of movement exercises more interesting and invigorating. While scrolling through the videos, I happened upon Trenet’s version of the poem Chanson d’automne by Paul Verlaine put to music. Simonne freestyle translated the words as we listened to the song so I could understand what what he was singing. We were both inspired by this, so we started looking through French poetry on the internet.

Simonne mentioned that she had memorized some poetry throughout her life, which gave me an idea. Although her recall of past events is often extremely precise, her ability to imprint new memory is waning. I recalled hearing that some people find “passage meditation” in the tradition of Eknath Eswaren improves memory. Passage mediation utilizes a memorized passage silently recited internally as a focus point for the mind, the way we often use the breath as a point of concentration in meditation. Although this style of meditation typically employs spiritual writings from a wide range of traditions, I knew it would be difficult for Simonne to memorize a new passage. I asked if she remembered any poetry enough to try it. She said yes, and immediately recited aloud Harmonie du Soir by Charles Baudelaire. In full, en francais.

We each brought our head, neck and spine into alignment so that our posture felt somewhat weightless and stable, and sat for awhile. She in her chair and I on the floor, she internally reciting the poem and I the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra – a Shaivite predecessor of sorts in meaning to the Serenity Prayer. It went well. I asked her to translate the poem so I could understand, and so she did, aloud, as I typed it into the computer. Our excitement was palpable. I left her with a copy of the translation to edit, and another poem to translate while I was gone.

She has been at it ever since. She direct translates first and then plays with it to make it sound clear in English, while staying as close to the original text as possible. We look at other English translations sometimes for inspiration and as a dictionary of sorts, and yet her versions are often unique and I typically prefer them to what we find in books and online.

And the poetry is beautiful; Baudelaire, Verlaine and Victor Hugo are our favorites so far. She recently translated a Verlaine, En Sourdine, which I discovered was the inspiration for a song composed by Debussy – one of my favorite composers, who we had been listening to while doing slow range of movement yoga in her chair. Looking further, I realized that poetry was often a muse for Debussy, which has led us into an interesting inquiry into the social history of the time period in which these artists were creating, gleaned from their personal histories and the medium of their art. Clair de lune, one of Debussy’s most famous compositions, is also a musical interpretation of a Verlaine poem. This translation is less distinct than many of her other efforts, as the original French is more straightforward than some of the other poems she has worked with, most notably Mallarmé, another muse of Debussy. Yet it is one of our favorites.

Enjoy! We sure do.

Moonlight
translated by Simonne Guillerm Allen

Your soul is a chosen landscape
Where charming masqueraders and jesters go
Playing the lute, and dancing, and almost
Sad beneath their fanciful disguises

All sing in a minor key
of victorious love and the opportune life
They do not seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight

With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful
That sets the birds dreaming in the trees
And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy
The tall slender fountains among marble statues.

Clair de lune
de Paul Verlaine

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.

Mahamrityunjaya Mantra महामृत्युंजय मंत्र

ॐ त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनम् ।
उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान् मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात् ।।

Aum tryambakam yajāmahe sugandhim puṣṭi-vardhanam ǀ
urvārukam-iva bandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya māmṛtāt ǁ

I relate to this as a prayer of protection and surrender, to remind us when we are trying to hold onto something that is passing…
It means to me…may we be released from our attachments, when we are ready, like the cucumber is released from the vine, without scar, when it is ripe.
The protection – may we be held by what nourishes us until it is our time to be let go.
The surrender – once we are let go there is no reattaching. When it is our time, may we have the grace and courage to let go.
One thing transforms into the next.

Samhain

It’s Samhain, summers end, balanced between the Autumnal Equinox and Winter Solstice. Harvest completes and we and the natural world turn in towards the dark time of the year. Barren skeletons of trees dance against the backdrop of grey stormy skies, their fallen leaves rotting into the ground below them as fodder for summers yet to come.

The veil between the worlds is thin, a time for remembrance of all those who have come before and those who have already passed. For we are but a moment in the collective evolution of all of us, the seed from whence future generations of our lineage still grows.

What will we pass on?

we are all part of the whole and whole in ourselves…

om purnamadah purnamidam purnat purnamudacyate
purnasya purnamadaya purnameva vashisyate

ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णश्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥

That, macrocosm, is whole. This, microcosm, is whole. If you take away a part of the whole, this from that, microcosm from macrocosm, the whole, macrocosm, is still whole and complete, and the part, microcosm, is still whole and complete. Never separate. We are all a part of the whole and whole in ourselves.

Wisdom that came to me while holding my Aunt Judy’s ashes as I lie upon the shores of White Lake, N.C.

  1. There is no one right way to do things.
  2. If something is uncomfortable, keep making tiny movements.  Letting the fire ant bite me so I can stay perfectly still is not being present to the experience, moving away from the ants is.  I’m not stuck with anything.
  3. I talk to myself inside my head so much it’s hard for me to listen, so I’ll just have to start listening more to myself because that is how the wisdom is going to have to speak to me.
  4. See the beautifulness in people, and recognize everything else about them too.  Perspective.
  5. I can be both strong and sensual.  And I don’t have to cow to anyone.
  6. Love is not rational.  It blooms wherever you are planted.  And you are not stuck there either.
  7. Believe in the signs.  They are teaching us things beyond what we can figure out.
  8. Appreciate.

And she always said, “It really is that simple”.  And I know from  my own experiences that simple does not mean easy.  Or painless.  Just that life is not as complicated as we tend to make it.  And I think she knew this from her own experiences too.  And yet she always reverted back into her “happy place”, the notion inside herself where she manifested that everything was going to be alright.  Which in some way it always is, even if it’s not what we want, or even what seems is best for us personally.  It’s all much bigger than that.

Thanks Great Judy,  I’m glad I can still feel you with me.

yoga, breath and meditation for going though traumatic or painful experiences

(I just want to put in a little caveat here – these are just my distillations of what I have been taught through time and what I have been practicing myself.  I don’t claim to be an expert on trauma, to know the exact right answers or the definitive way for working with painful issues.  These are techniques that are working for me right now, as clearly as I can currently explain them.  In sharing them with others my intention is for us to all experiment with the possibilities for healing and come up with ways that work uniquely for each of us.  I keep rereading it and updating it to try and make it clearer.
 
Working with painful experiences and especially trauma of any kind can be overwhelming, and I find these practices can help with the overwhelm so I don’t have to block the experiences and can move through them, and yet each of us is different and needs a different amount of support to handle the intensity of our own experience.  Seek help as you need it, I don’t mean for this to be a stand alone self help course.  I am here to correspond to the best of my ability, if that is of use.)
 

Deep steady breath, done anytime and especially in simple yoga postures, can help calm the body’s physiological response to stress and trauma and help us steady ourselves so that we can go through what we need to go through to allow the experience to integrate.  Instead of blocking or numbing our experience in order to feel ok, we can potentially allow ourselves to feel the rush of intensity when it comes through us, and release it so that it doesn’t get stuck inside of us, without getting too swept away by the overwhelm of our emotion.  If you can, practice with a friend you feel comfortable with, so you can support each other when the emotion is strong.  You may need to cry, you may need to talk, you may need to scream, let it out – we need to release the intensity of our response to traumatic experiences so the response can move through and the experience can integrate.  Then come back to the breath, especially when you start to feel yourself getting lost in self pity or the overwhelm.  The point is not to re-traumatize ourselves but to help ourselves go through it.  You always have the choice to let yourself bump up against what is uncomfortable, or to move back away from it until you are more ready.  Having compassion for the pain, and incrementally, the strength to go through it.  These practices can be helpful for re-integrating old, unresolved traumas, as well as for getting through rough times in the moment.

It can help to start with a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, with or without sound, to release tension in the belly and remind ourselves to breathe.  Then moving into the ujjai (ooj-aye) breath, a yogic breathing exercise that when done calmly and subtly, can slow down your heart rate and nervous system, relaxing the physiological response to stress and trauma so that you are able to go through the experience as calm and aware as possible.  Take equal length and depth of inhale and exhale, expanding and contracting in the area of the lungs and heart, with a slight resonance or hum at the back of the throat at the whisper muscles.  Strict ujjai breath is mostly chest breathing, although I find it useful to also let your belly expand on the inhale, releasing tension in the belly and breathing into the fullness of the lungs.  If done aggressively for an extended period of time, the ujjai breath sometimes accentuates intensity or even anxiety.  Although if done very subtly, like a soft breeze at the back of the throat, the gentle vibration of the ujjai breath, along with the rhythmic movement of the diaphragm, gently stimulates the vagus nerve, which starts at the top of the spinal cord and connects your brain to your heart and lungs and organs of the torso.  This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms and balances your nervous system’s response to stress.  The hum also helps focus, and therefore calms, the spiraling out of the mind.

You can do this breath at any time without anyone noticing, which makes it a very useful technique for steadying yourself in the moment.  And it can be done in simple yoga postures to help release the intensity around stress and trauma so that we can feel what is coming through us, and be able to weather the overwhelm.  Instead of trying to stop our experience, we can allow the rush of intensity around the trauma to rise and release without getting swept away in our emotion.

The following postures are some possibilities to experiment with this.  The forward bending ones will especially help soothe the mind, the back-bending ones will help release tension in the chest and heart and help you get moving when you are stuck in depression.  The back-bending one on the floor can be done more gently, by just resting with a pillow or two under the hips.

          

Nadi Shodhana is another breathing technique for calming and balancing the body’s response to stress.  A simplified version of this is to bring your pointer and middle finger in towards your palm so that you have the thumb and the ring finger available.  Covering the opening of right nostril with the thumb, being careful not to squash it shut, inhale through the left nostril.  Then cover the left nostril with the ring finger and exhale through the right.  Do this at least 5 times.  After the final exhale through the right nostril, inhale through the right nostril and then exhale through the left.  Do this the same amount of times from right to left as you did on left to right.  If you aren’t sure of the exact amount, just do your best and approximate.  Potentially doing more or longer inhales through the left nostril will calm you, more or longer inhales through the right will wake you up.  When you are done, sit for a few moments if you can and just let the breath breathe you automatically.

 

Belly breathing can be done anytime too, although laying on your back with your knees up and feet apart, knees resting against each other, one hand on the belly and one on the heart, can be particularly helpful in times of overwhelm.  This can be done with the pillow or two under the hips as well.  As you breathe in, let your belly expand first and then your upper chest and lungs.  As you exhale, let your upper chest and lungs soften and condense first and then your belly.  If this feels complicated in your body, don’t try too hard, just let the belly expand on the inhale and the belly condense back into your body on the exhale.

After awhile you can let go of all the trying and just let the breath breathe you automatically, expanding and contracting in the area of your heart.  You have set up the conditions to calm your body and your mind and now get out of the way as much as you can and let the breath breathe you.  All this is metaphor too.

When your mind wanders, instead of following it or fighting the thought, bring your mind back to the breath and the sensations of the body as anchors to keep yourself present to the experience.  So the experience can integrate.  So you can get through it.  And when the emotion, the sensation, the thoughts, the intensity arises, breathe in the sensation to fully experience whatever comes up, with as little judgement as possible.  Noticing.  Experiencing.  Allowing.  Breathe out calm support to yourself, and to the rest of us, to be able to go through what is painful.  As much as you can now, it takes time to be able to really touch the things that are difficult.  When you find yourself spinning out, come back to the breath- automatic, belly or ujjai – and help calm yourself to go through it.

Love.

(With gratitude to the teachings of Sue Jones of yogaHope, Bo Forbes of The Center for Integrative Yoga Therapeutics, Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati, Pema Chodron and her teaching of tong lin, Matt Howe and his teachings of vipassana meditation, and all the other teachings and practices that have informed my own practice and teachings, and Thomas Devaney for the photos)

…any comments or information to make this more useful or accurate always appreciated…