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.
de Jacques Prevert
translated by Simonne Guillerm Allen
It was raining on Brest that day, constantly,
And you went walking, smiling
Radiant, delighted, dripping under the rain
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
A man was sheltered under a porch
He shouted your name
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
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
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
Is he dead, vanished, or still alive?
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 ~