with Gill Storey

French poems

Holiday times in France and England are not so different.

In England, many poems were written about the pleasure of going “Maying” – going out into the country to gather may blossom with your girlfriends, and meeting young men and bringing them home.

Dancing around the maypole was an important part of the celebrations, and continues today.

Here in the Mediterranean south of Europe, celebrations start sooner, as the may trees or hawthorns are already bursting into bloom in April.

The beauty of the hedgerows and of single trees, is to be seen everywhere at present.

As in England, it is a time for falling in love and making new relationships, for seeking a new home and for building nests.

 Bel Aubépin Verdissant (Hawthorn bursting into flower)

Original French

English

Bel aubépin verdissant, Lovely hawthorn bursting into leaf
Le coucou a chanté : Flowering
Le long de ce beau rivage, Along this fine stream bank
Tu es vêtu jusqu’au bas You are clad to the end
Des longs bras Of your long arms
D’une lambruche sauvage, With a wild vine,
Deux camps drillant de fourmis Two teeming troupes of ants
Se sont mis Have made a
 En garnison sous ta souche; Barracks under your stem
 Et dans ton tronc mi-mangé And in your half-eaten trunk,
 Arrangé The bees
  Les avettes ont leur couche, Have arranged their lair,
 
Le gentil rossignolet The noble nightingale
Nouvelet Newly joined
Avecques sa bien-aimée, With his beloved,
Pour ses amours alléger To enable his amours
Vient loger Comes to live
Tous les ans en ta ramée. Each year in your branches.
Sur ta cime il fait son nid, Under your shade he builds his nest
Bien garni Well furnished
Ou ses petits écloront, With wool and fine silk,
Qui seront Where his little ones will hatch,
De mes mains la douce proie. The gentle prey of my hands.
Or vis, gentil aubépin, Now live,  gentle may tree,
Vis sans fin, Live for ever
Vis sans jamais tonnerre, Live without ever thunder
Ou la cognée, ou les vents, Or the axe, or the winds
Ou le temps Or the weather
Te puissent ruer par terre Making you fall to the ground

This poem was written in 1556 by Pierre de Ronsard  the first really great poet in modern French.

He was the leader of the group, La Pléiade, to which Joachim du Bellay (see last month) also belonged.

They adapted from the Italian poets of the 15th century and developed theories of poetry, from Aristotle’s Poetics, which led to the theorizing of English 16th and 17th century poets.

Ronsard develops the idea of the hawthorn tree sheltering the ants and the nest-building nightingales, and asks that it may continue to do so, undamaged by lightning, the axe or the winds and weather.

He uses a series of clearly defined pictures to convey the notions of beauty, shelter and permanence.

There are not many hawthorn trees in flower in the Agly valley, but the road running from Padern through Cucugnan and Bugarach to Quillan, where the topography is quite different, is giving a splendid display of may blossom at the present.

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