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Nerval, the dark, the widower, the inconsolable

I composed this sonnet in 2006, in homage to Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855). This one, to whom Goethe had written, after having read his translation of Faust: "I never understood myself so well as by reading you" died tragically, hanging from the bars of a sewer grate in the rue de the Old Lantern in Paris, on a winter night 1855.

Paul Delaroche (1797-1856) La jeune martyre, 1855 Détail. Paris, Musée du Louvre © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Tribute to Nerval

When my motionless thoughts, frozen in stalactites

The colors of my life, hanging in a swarm

Flow black and white through my hands

Before igniting with the vapors of my drunkenness

One evening, I had lost the north of my compass

And I wandered the streets looking for the gate

Where my friend Nerval was found hanged in winter

With his hat on his head in a comic halo

And my days pass filled with your absence,

Ophelia, where are you, my sovereign muse?

Your image is lost in distant infusion.

On the steps of oblivion, silence settles!

And drying my pen at the corner of the inkwell

Distress escapes me before it kills me

(c) Fabrice Roy 2006

This friend of Alexandre Dumas, Nadar and Théophile Gautier inspired, years after his death, the Symbolist and Surrealist currents.

André Breton will write: "Nerval marvelously possesses the spirit we claim", alike the "Chimères", poems written by Nerval a year before his death, while he was interned in the clinic of Doctor Emile Blanche in Passy.

Paul Sérusier. Baigneuses au voile blanc 1908 © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Paul Sérusier. Baigneuses au voile blanc 1908 © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski


Do you know it, Dafné, this ancient romance,

At the foot of the sycamore, or under the white laurels,

Under the olive tree, the myrtle, or the trembling willows,

This love song that always begins again?...

Do you recognize the Temple with its immense peristyle,

And the bitter lemons where your teeth were imprinted,

And the grotto, fatal to unwary guests,

Where of the vanquished dragon sleeps the ancient seed?...

They will come back, those Gods you always mourn!

Time will bring back the order of the old days;

The earth quivered with a prophetic breath...

However the Sibyl with the Latin face

Is still asleep under the arch of Constantine

-- And nothing disturbed the severe portico.

Gérard de Nerval. Les Chimères. Delfica.

Dans ses conférences d'Art et d'Histoire, Fabrice Roy conjugue le passé au présent, dans une évocation poétique et ludique du 19ème siècle français...


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