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Peter Valente translates Vers Dorés by Gérard de Nerval

In my early twenties when I started to study French, I listened to Edith Piaf, translated Le Petit Prince, and bought a bilingual book of Symbolist Poets that included Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine and Gérard de Nerval, whose poems were the first I read and still remember best: L’Albatros, Les Chercheuses de Poux, Il Pleure dans mon Coeur, and Vers Dorés. Remember them? I love them. The poet Peter Valente was in town recently, and after a reading, we got to talking about Nerval. Before he left town, he came over and recorded his translation of Vers Dorés for me. Enjoy.




Vers dorés

Eh quoi! tout est sensible.
– Pythagore

Homme! libre penseur! te crois-tu seul pensant
Dans ce monde où la vie éclate en toute chose?
Des forces que tu tiens ta liberté dispose,
Mais de tous tes conseils l’univers est absent.

Respecte dans la bête un esprit agissant:
Chaque fleur est une âme à la Nature éclose;
Un mystère d’amour dans le métal repose;
‘Tout est sensible!’ Et tout sur ton être est puissant.

Crains, dans le mur aveugle, un regard qui t’épie:
A la matière même un verbe est attaché…
Ne la fais pas servir à quelque usage impie!

Souvent dans l’être obscur habite un Dieu caché;
Et, comme un oeil naissant couvert par ses paupières,
Un pur esprit s’accroît sous l’écorce des pierres!


GOLDEN LINES

What! everything is sensitive.
– Pythagoras

Man! free thinker – do you believe yourself the only one who thinks
In this world where life bursts forth from everything?
Your free will disposes of the forces in your possession,
But from all your councils the actual universe is absent.

Respect the active intellect in a beast:
Each flower is a soul that blossoms in Nature;
A mystery of love dwells in metal;
“Everything is sensitive!” And everything has power over your being.

Beware of blind walls behind which there are eyes watching you:
Matter itself is verbal if man knows the language…
But do not use it for some unholy purpose!

Often in an obscure being dwells a hidden God;
And as a nascent eye covered by its lids,
A pure spirit grows beneath the flesh of stones!



Peter Valente



Gérard de Nerval

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