Ophelia [Ophélie], by Arthur Rimbaud

Posted: September 1, 2010 in Rimbaud, Ophélie, Translations
Tags: , , ,

“Ophélie” was written by Arthur Rimbaud in 1870 and accompanied a letter sent to the poet and critic Théodore de Banville, who was an important figure of the Parisian literary scene and whom Rimbaud admired and imitated, even if he soon began to satirise this kind of poetry.

Although this poem, among the first we know of Rimbaud’s, is a little schoolboyish (Rimbaud was 16 when he wrote it) and considerably less personal than his later poetry, essential features and themes can be found in this adaptation of the myth of Hamlet.

The original version is followed by a translation in English, based on the Gallimard edition of the poem. (Poésies – Une saison en enfer – Illuminations, NRF Poésie/Gallimard)

I

Sur l’onde calme et noire où dorment les étoiles
La blanche Ophélia flotte comme un grand lys,
Flotte très lentement, couchée en ses longs voiles…
– On entend dans les bois lointains des hallalis.

Voici plus de mille ans que la triste Ophélie
Passe, fantôme blanc, sur le long fleuve noir
Voici plus de mille ans que sa douce folie
Murmure sa romance à la brise du soir…

Le vent baise ses seins et déploie en corolle
Ses grands voiles bercés mollement par les eaux;
Les saules frissonnants pleurent sur son épaule,
Sur son grand front rêveur s’inclinent les roseaux.

Les nénuphars froissés soupirent autour d’elle;
Elle éveille parfois, dans un aune qui dort,
Quelque nid, d’où s’échappe un petit frisson d’aile :
– Un chant mystérieux tombe des astres d’or…

II

O pâle Ophélia! belle comme la neige!
Oui tu mourus, enfant, par un fleuve emporté!
C’est que les vents tombant des grand monts de Norwège
T’avaient parlé tout bas de l’âpre liberté;

C’est qu’un souffle, tordant ta grande chevelure,
À ton esprit rêveur portait d’étranges bruits,
Que ton coeur écoutait le chant de la Nature
Dans les plaintes de l’arbre et les soupirs des nuits;

C’est que la voix des mers folles, immense râle,
Brisait ton sein d’enfant, trop humain et trop doux ;
C’est qu’un matin d’avril, un beau cavalier pâle,
Un pauvre fou, s’assit muet à tes genoux!

Ciel! Amour! Liberté! Quel rêve, ô pauvre Folle!
Tu te fondais à lui comme une neige au feu :
Tes grandes visions étranglaient ta parole
– Et l’Infini terrible effara ton oeil bleu !

III

– Et le Poète dit qu’aux rayons des étoiles
Tu viens chercher, la nuit, les fleurs que tu cueillis;
Et qu’il a vu sur l’eau, couchée en ses longs voiles,
La blanche Ophélia flotter, comme un grand lys.

******************

I

On waters still and black where the stars are sleeping,
White Ophelia is floating like a great lily
Floating most slowly in her long veils laying…
– In distant woods one hears the call of the hallali.

For more than a thousand years Ophelia with sadness
Has gone, a white ghost, down the long black river
For more than a thousand years, her soft madness
Does to the evening breeze her romance whisper.

The wind kisses her breasts and unfolds a corolla
Of great veils rocked smoothly by the water’s flow;
The shivering willows weep on her shoulder
Over her great dreamy brow the reeds bend low.

Creased nenuphars are all around her sighing;
She disturbs sometimes in sleeping alder trees
Some nest where the shiver escapes from a wing
– From golden stars there fall strange melodies.

II

O pale Ophelia! Beautiful as snow!
You died a child by a stream taken violently
For winds had spoken to you soft and low,
Falling from Norway’s mountains, about harsh liberty.

For a breath of air, twisting your locks thick and long,
Brought strange noises to your spirit dreaming tight
For your heart listened to nature’s song
In the pleas of trees and the sighs of night.

For the mad sea’s voice, immense groan of the dying,
Shattered your childish breast too human and too sweet,
For a pale and handsome rider, on an April morning,
A poor fool, sat dumb at your feet!

Heavens! Love! Liberty! Poor mad girl, a dream is each!
You melted with him as the snow in a blaze,
Your great visions were strangling your speech
– And terrible Infinity alarmed your blue gaze!

III

– And the poet says that under stars all shining,
For the flowers you gather you come lately,
And that he has seen on the water, in her long veils laying,
White Ophelia floating like a great lily.


translated by James Harriman-Smith begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting and Anne-Charlotte Husson

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