Paul Verlaine : Colloque Sentimental

To continue – obliquely – the current Wicksteed Park season, here is the poem by Paul Verlaine  that I alluded to the other day.

I think the reason I had it in my head all those years ago was that it played a part in a late night film I’d seen on the TV.  I’ve never been able to find out what that film was, though I’ve an idea that it was pre-war and American rather than French.

Colloque sentimental

Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé
Deux formes ont tout à l’heure passé.

Leurs yeux sont morts et leurs lèvres sont molles,
Et l’on entend à peine leurs paroles.

Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé
Deux spectres ont évoqué le passé.

–Te souvient-il de notre extase ancienne ?
–Pourquoi voulez-vous donc qu’il m’en souvienne ?

–Ton coeur bat-il toujours à mon seul nom ?
Toujours vois tu mon âme en rêve? –Non.

–Ah! les beaux jours de bonheur indicible
Où nous joignions nos bouches! –C’est possible.

Qu’il était bleu, le ciel, et grand l’espoir !
–L’espoir a fui, vaincu, vers le ciel noir.

Tels ils marchaient dans les avoines folles,
Et la nuit seule entendit leurs paroles.

 

A rough literal translation might be –

In the old and frozen, lonely park / Two forms had just passed by.

Their eyes were dead, their lips were soft/ Their words could hardly be heard.

In the old and frozen, lonely park / Two spectres had recalled the past.

Do you remember our old ecstasy? / Why would you want me to remember it?

 Your heart stills beats at my name only? / Still see my soul in dreams? No.

Ah! Those fine days of unspeakable joy/ When we two joined our lips! Perhaps.

How blue the sky, how high our hopes! / Defeated, hope fled to the black sky.

So they walked on through the wild oats / The night alone could hear their words. 

The worlds of Paul Verlaine and Wicksteed Park aren’t quite as distant as you might think.  The later paintings of Thomas Cooper Gotch, the brother of the Gotch whose firm was responsible for the Park’s buildings, have been described as Symbolist (as was Verlaine’s poetry) and Verlaine lived for some time in Lincolnshire, in Boston and Stickney.

We have no evidence that he ever visited Kettering, but I like to think that he might have passed through on his way to Boston, and might have dropped into the George for a quick pint or two of absinthe.

Two Pints Of Absinthe And A Packet Of Crisps Please

This frozen park is not, in fact, Wicksteed’s itself, but the Waterworks Field, home to Desborough Town Football Club, where I happened to be yesterday afternoon to catch their unexpected 5-1 trouncing of Deeping Rangers.  I’m sure Verlaine would have found the scene inspiring.

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