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POEMS T H AT S I NG BY F R E NCH M A S T E R S t I X

FOREWORD I

n conformity with the principle that lyric poetry should be lyrical, i.e. musical, and delight not only by its imagery and language but by its sounds and rhythms, a principle advocated and illustrated by Edgar Allan Poe, and, after him, especially such great 19th-century French poets as Baudelaire and Verlaine, it is my strong belief that the translation of a lyric poem should attempt to be as musical as the original, adhering to its rime scheme, rhythm, and play of sounds. I therefore take issue with the common practice of translating the twelve-syllable French alexandrine, the classical French verse form, into ten-syllable iambic pentameter, which happens to be the classical verse form in English but alters the poem’s rhythmic effect, thereby altering the feeling conveyed by the poem. Even worse, as far as I am concerned, is a translator ignoring the rime, or rhythm, or sound play of the poem altogether and turning the lyric poem into something that sounds more like prose.

In this collection, for better or worse, I have applied the Poe principle of musicality to all the translations, remaining as faithful as I could to the particular schemes of rime and meter, as well as the sound play, imagery, and meaning of each poem.

I have chosen these fifteen poets as representative of their times and their stature in French poetry. I have selected poems that I especially enjoy reading, irrespective of their themes, but, as it happened, three themes stand out in them: the themes of life’s beauties; the emotions of love, paternal or romantic; and the pain of loss. There are also in these poems a variety of parallel or subthemes, as, for example, aging inRonsard andDesbordes-Valmore, patriotism in Du Bellay, exoticism and “correspondences” in Baudelaire, and war in Rimbaud and Aragon.

Most of the poems in this collection were taken from Henri Clouard and Robert Leggewie’s Anthologie de la littérature française, 2 vols. (Oxford University Press: 1975). The rest were taken from collections of the works of the individual poets.

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