French Poem for Autumn

by Gill Storey

Now the end of summer slides imperceptibly into autumn.  At present, most of the trees are still green and fresh, although the horse chestnuts’ (conkers) leaves are beginning to turn.

The valley temperatures are still high, in the late 20’s or 30’s and the sun tempts one to the pool side in the afternoon.

However, the vine leaves are beginning to thin out and droop, and the grapes hang very heavy below the branches.

The vendangeurs (grape pickers) are working their way up the valley, and the rolls of the second crop of hay are scattered through the meadows.  The harvest is certainly here, as the apples (the latest fruit) ripen in the orchards.  The wind across the valley freshens the air as the dense heat of summer wanes and made me remember this poem.

Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560) wrote a series of poems Divers Jeux Rustiques (or Rustic Diversions) which are charming and light, depending on the use of flowers and rustic images.

The rural nature of France is borne out by these poems as in this example where the peasant winnowing his grain addresses the winds.

In his time, grain was not threshed with a flail, but separated from the husks by throwing it into the air from a special flat basket and catching it again, while the husks were blown away.

Vannes can still be bought today from any market and have many modern uses, but, just to add to the confusion, the word is also used for valves or stopcocks.

D’Un Vanneur du Blé aux Vents

 A vous trop légères

Qui d’aile passagère

Par le monde volez

Et d’un sifflant murmure

L’ombrageuse verdure

Doucement ébranlez,


J’offre ces violettes,

Ces lis, et ces fleurettes

Et ces roses ici

Ces vermeillettes roses,

Tout fraichement écloses

Et ces œillettes aussi.


De votre douce haleine

Eventez cette plaine,

Eventez ce séjour:

Cependant  que j’ahane

A mon blé, que je vanne

A la chaleur du jour.


The Winnower of Corn to the Winds

To you, too light and airy,

Which on a fleeting wing

Fly across the world

And with a whistling murmur,

Gently shake up

The shady green foliage,

I offer these violets,

These lilies, these florets,

And these roses here,

These scarlet roses

All freshly opened

And these pinks as well.

With your sweet breath

Fan this plain,

Fan this home:

While I breathe upon

My corn, which I winnow

In the heat of the day.

Du Bellay and his contemporaries, the Pléiade, frequently made use of diminutives (violettes, fleurettes, vermeillettes, oeillettes) to add charm to their poems.


©  2011 Gill Storey

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