A Poem by Alain-Fournier – and a review!

Finally, a review   in the Manhattan Review of our versions of Alain-Fournier’s Poems


 xxxxxxxxx(To a young girl
xxxxxxxxxxTo a House
xxxxxxxxxxFrancis Jammes)
Awaited so
Through summers listless in each yard,
Summers which pour down their ennui in silence
Under the ancient sun of my afternoon
Made ponderous through silence,
By loners, lost in visions of love:
Loving beneath the wisteria, its shade
Gracing the yard of some peaceful house
Hidden beneath branches
Spread across my own distances
And my own infantile summers:
Those who dream of love or weep for childhood.
It is you, it is you who have come to me,
This afternoon which lies
Baking in its avenues,
Come with a white parasol
And with a look of surprise,
Quite solemn as well,
And a little bent over,
As in my childhood
You might be, beneath a white parasol.
And of course you’re surprised that,
Without planning to have come
Or intending to be blond,
You have suddenly found yourself
Here in my path,
And as suddenly you have brought
The freshness of your hands,
While bringing in your hair all the summers of the earth.



You have come
And even my sunniest dream
Could never dare imagine you so beautiful,
And yet, right here and now,
I recognise you.


 Right here and now, up close to you,
And how proud you are, and such a proper damsel,
A little gay old woman on your arm;
And it seems as if you choose to lead,
At a leisurely pace surely, and practically
Beneath your parasol, me to the summer-house,
Yes, and to my childhood’s dreamy place.*
To some peaceful house with nests in its roofs,
While, within its yard, wisteria shadows the doorstep,
Some lovely building with two
Turrets and maybe a name
Like the titles of those prize-awarded books
We used to enjoy in July.
See, you have come to spend the afternoon with me,
Where? Who knows? In The Turtle-Dove House?
You are going in, you are entering,
Through all the sparrows’ chit-chat on the roof,
Through the shadow bars of the gate that shuts behind us,
Shaking down the petals of a climbing rose:
Light petals, balmy and burning: snow-coloured,
Gold-coloured, flame-coloured, fluttering
Down onto flower-beds, borders with green benches,
And down each allée festooned as if for a saint’s day.
I’m coming too, we are tracing, together
With your dear old thing, this oh so lovely allée.
It’s where, this evening, your dress,
On our return, will gather up softly
Scents that are coloured by your tresses.


 And then to be allowed, the two of us,
In the dark of the drawing room,
Such meetings as enable us
To celebrate the ritual of sweet nothings.


Or beside you now, reading near the pigeon loft,
On a garden bench where the chestnut
Wafts its shade, using up the evening
Reading to the coo of those doves who are startled
Merely by the turn of a page.
Let’s choose a novel of some noble age,
Or Clara d’Ellébeuse,


Stay out there, till supper, until nightfall,
Right up to the time when pail gets drawn from well,
And on cooling paths the play of children can’t help but amuse.




It was there, to be near to my ‘far away’ fair
I was going, and you never came,Though my dream was to dog your steps,
But only my dream ever got to you,
Got to that castle, where sweetly vain,
You were the châtelaine.


 It was there that we were going surely,
That Sunday in Paris, along that lointaine
Avenue made to comply with our dream?
More silent, ever more lengthy, and empty ever after . . .
And then, on some deserted quay, on a bank of the Seine,
And then after that, even closer to you, in the boat,
To the quiet purr of its motor through the water . . .


Here is a link to Alain-Fournier’s Poems

and here is my short essay on Alain-Fournier published by the Journal of Poetics Research .

MIRACLES – the Poems of Alain-Fournier – a Few Remarks by Anthony Howell
Alain-Fournier died while fighting near Verdun, on the French/Belgian border, on September 22nd, 1914, one month after the outbreak of World War 1. His few poems seem drowned in outdoor light. We sense the breeze on our skin, the heat warming the stones and the grass, as much as it warms our bodies. It strikes me that he is a Fauve. The Fauve explosion culminated in the glorious paintings the group produced in 1905-7, just seven years before Fournier’s death. I look at the paintings André Derain painted near Cassis, and I sense from the smearing of orange on roofs and sunlit slopes, that the artist was painting the heat as well as the light. And Fournier is also evoking heat as much as light. He is more interested in the intensity of his perception than in some impression of reality.
He is very aware of colour in his poems, but his eyes are not divorced from the other senses. He celebrates texture – little dresses and dishevelled silks, a straw hat, a satin parasol – and sounds – the sobbing of a piano, the pealing of bells for weddings, the snoring noises of combine harvesters. Lavender is gathered to the sound of the bells, and thus we become immersed in his experience through all our senses. And very often this is an experience of the outdoors. Interiors are dusty, out of focus in their corners, the shadowy realm of the aged who maintain the hearth, often asleep behind lowered curtains.
What is extraordinary is how this small oeuvre – fourteen poems in all – so utterly engages us in a plastic world of light, sound and atmosphere, and since it’s nearly always a sunlit world, it seems that the greatest threat can only be a shower.
Alain-Fournier is well aware of his own typicality:
We were twenty then, in our thousands.
Our love-sobs strayed across the town.
His poems are unashamedly adolescent. They are often constructed like brief stories, and they unfold their own narratives, culminating in endings which are also always presenting us with the presiding image of the poem.
Nearly all these verses come across as pre-war, and they seem intent on invoking an idyll of remembered time, an idyll similar to the recalled but never to be revisited chateau of Le Grand Meaulnes – his novel that reads like a compulsive dream – a celebration of loss, where loss is some sweet nostalgia for an interval of erotic communion and juvenile adoration. The novel seems essential as the backdrop to many of these poems. Readers are advised to refresh their minds by returning to its pages in order to read ours with enhanced enjoyment.
However, an exception to this lyrical view of his poems is Road Song:
One invader, then all of them, sing:
We caught the fever
From your marshes,
Caught the fever and we went away.
We had been warned
That we would discover
Nothing but the sun
In the depths of your forests.
We have been through stories
Of broken stretchers,
Lost horseshoes, wounded horses…
Now in this poem the sun becomes incendiary, explosive, lethal, and it is through reading it that one begins to notice that for Fournier the sun is not always benign. Actually the hearth indoors has a more human warmth. The sun is always there in the poem, or noted for its absence, but there is the sense that what nourishes can also prove malignant, eager to destroy – and outside human control.
This malign sun is the dominant force of The Sun and the Road. The sun beats down on the road with a white heat, and:
Above all else it’s him I see, as the sun heats up for joy;
This boy who has lost to that dusty wind that blows,
His nice new hat, of crisp silk-banded straw,
And I see him on the road, chasing after it,
And lost to the march past of belles with their beaus
Runs after it – despite their jeers – runs after it, blinded
By the sun, and by the dust and by his tears.
There is often a woman who is the focus of attention, sometimes an old woman, a woman who epitomises the ways of the village, the spirit of the country existence that is being celebrated (and with hindsight we cannot help but sense the poignancy of this rendition of a world that will be gone before the war that kills the author has come to an end).
More often she who he addresses is at least as young as the poet, possibly younger. She is regularly spoken to in these adolescent poems, this girl by whom he is smitten. Again, there is a sense of his awareness of the typicality of all this: adolescent poems addressed to her, the one you have a crush on. But it is with considerable skill that Alain-Fournier gets us caught up in the imagined dialogue that could almost be a pastoral eclogue, for there is a sense of us inhabiting a terrain, of walking through it, going in and out of hedges, through gates or along little lanes. His poems are idyllic journeys through a landscape soon to be blown to smithereens.
Tale of the Sun and the Road
                                                            (To a little girl)
There’s a little more shade in the squares
Beneath their chestnut trees,
There’s a little more sun beating down now on the road.
In ranks of two, a wedding passes by
On this stifling afternoon  − a long bridal procession
In all its country finery, remarked upon by everyone.
Look how lost in the midst of it all are the children,
Their fears and upsets ignored.
I think about the One, and one little boy who resembles me.
A light spring morning, under the aspens,
Mild sky scented with dog roses.
He is alone, although he’s been invited,
And at this summer wedding he says to himself,
“What if they place me in line next to her,
The one who makes me whimper in my bed?”
(Mothers, do you wonder of an evening,
About the tears, the sadness, the passions of your children?)
“I’ll wear my big white hat made of straw,
My arm may be touched by the lace of her sleeve,
As I dream her dream in my Sunday best.
What a love-filled summer’s day we’ll see!
She’ll be sweetly leaning, on my arm.
I’ll take little steps – I’ll hold her parasol
And softly say to her, “Mademoiselle…”
But firstly, well, in the evening, perhaps,
If we’ve walked a long way, if the evening is fresh,
I will dare take her hand, I will hold it so tight.
I will speak the truth until I’m out of breath,
And closely now, without the need to fret,
I will say words so tender
That her eyes will go all wet,
And with none to eavesdrop, she will answer…”
So I dream, as my current glances fall
On a mundane groom together with his bride,
Such as one views on any baking noon,
Poised above the steps of a town hall
Then spilling out to music onto the blinding street,
Trailing several couples en cortège,
All in their first-time outfits;
Dream, in the dust of this processional affair,
Where two by two go by, the girls with their noses in the air,
Girls in their white, with lace-embroidered sleeves,
And the boys from the big cities, maladroit,
Gripping gauche bouquets of artificial flowers;
I dream about those small forgotten boys;
Panicked, placed last minute with no-one in particular;
Dream about the village boys, those impassioned lads
Jostled at a rhythmic pace in these absurd parades;
– Of others caught up in the rhythmical process, confident
And pulled along, heading for a liveliness
Which loves to make a noise, peal without a purpose.
– Of the very smallest – going up and down the rows,
Who can’t find their mummies, and one above all
Who looks just like me, like me. More and more,
Above all else, it’s him I see, as the sun heats up for joy;
This boy who has lost to that dusty wind that blows,
His nice new hat, of crisp silk-banded straw,
And I see him on the road, chasing after it,
And lost to the march past of belles with their beaus
Runs after it – despite their jeers – runs after it, blinded
By the sun, and by the dust and by his tears.


(Versions by Anthony Howell)




About anthonyhowelljournal

Poet, essayist, dancer, performance artist....
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1 Response to A Poem by Alain-Fournier – and a review!

  1. Pingback: A Poem by Alain-Fournier | anthonyhowelljournal

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