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Richard Bleksley
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The Prince of Aquitaine
« : 02.05.07 at 16:34 »
Quote

Back in January, when we were discussing Andrew Curry's annotation of this song, I suggested that the ruined tower (la tour abolie) in de Nerval's poem might be a reference to the Tarot card The Tower. Well, it seems I am by no means the first person to make that connection.
 
I've been rereading a novel I bought quite a few years ago, Lindsay Clarke's Whitbread Award winning The Chymical Wedding. I'd completely missed the reference first time around, but when I read it this time I got that little tingling of the hairs on the back of the neck.
 
An old poet is talking with a young poet about how the tower card symbolises the recent break-up of the young man's marriage:
 
"If you're right why aren't I more cheerful about it all?"
 
"Because you like the taste of your wounds?" he suggested. "Because you're infatuated with the role of Aquitainian prince? Because your abolished tower once felt safe? Because freedom scares you? Because you have not yet recognised that you're a lucky man?"

 
Aha!
 
I'm not surprised I missed it, though, as neither de Nerval or the poem are mentioned. (Neither are PA or CJ, but that's hardly surprising....)
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Kevin Cryan
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Posts: 1111
Re: The Prince of Aquitaine
« Reply #1: 07.05.07 at 14:11 »
Quote

This following account of reading De Nerval's poem chimes well with my own:
 
But the line I had discovered at the end of The Waste Land "Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie", spoke (to me at least) in another mode of repetition: once I had heard it in my mind's ear, I could not get it out of my memory, for it possessed that quality of "iterability" (as Valéry called it) or "mnemonic adhesiveness" (in Eliot's phrase) that lies at the most archaic core of poetry or music. Nerval himself, in an early "Odelette" much admired by Proust and Aragon, is perhaps one of the first to evoke the way in which a snatch of song can immediately transport or translate you into some former life, melody triggering the metempsychosis of memory:
*
Il est un air pour qui je donnerais
Tout Rossini, tout Mozart, tout Weber,
Un air très vieux, languissant et funèbre,
Qui pour moi seul a des charmes secrets!
 
Or, chaque fois que je viens à l'entendre,
De deux cents ans mon âme rajeunit…
C'est sous Louis treize; et je crois voir s'étendre
Un coteau vert, que le couchant jaunit . . .
 
Hieronymo's Mad Againe: On Translating Nerval
 
Richard Sieburth

 
Richard Siebert quite correctly describes how De Nerval’s poetry works. Those whose ear for the French language is much better than mine  assure me that all De Nerval’s poetry is marked by its musicality. However, in leaving off quoting from the Fantaisie “odelette” where he does, Sieburth actually neglects an very good example of not just what happens in the De Nerval poetic imagination, but how it manifests itself in a De Nerval poem. This transported imagination of this poem goes on to describe in some detail the scenes to which it has been transported.
 
**
Puis un château de brique à coins de pierre,
Aux vitraux teints de rougeâtres couleurs,
Ceint de grands parcs, avec une rivière
Baignant ses pieds, qui coule entre des fleurs.
 
Puis une dame, à sa haute fenêtre,
Blonde aux yeux noirs, en ses habits anciens...
Que, dans une autre existence, peut-être,
J'ai déjà vue -et dont je me souviens!
 
We should not be altogether too surprised that that same imagination which can conjure up a blonde woman, with dark eyes, in a high-window whom the speaker thinks he’s seen before is also capable of asserting with some conviction:
 
***
Je suis le ténébreux,- le Veuf, - l'inconsolé,
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie.
 
It can be said that the poet’s transportation, in this particular case, may very have been much helped by his reading of novels of Sir Walter Scott. The title De Nerval finally settled on for this poem, El Desdichado, comes from Scott’s novel Ivanhoe, a novel set in the late Middle Ages.  
 
In chapter eight, the hero, Ivanhoe, a knight whose father deprived him of his lands, returns from the Crusades disguised. This is how Scott describes his first appearance at a joust: “the device on his shield was a young oak-tree pulled up by the roots, with the Spanish word Desdichado, signifying Disinherited” (Page 96 Penguin Modern Classics).  (Actually desdichado means unhappy in Spanish but neither Scott nor De Nerval seem to have noticed –or to have had it pointed out to them - that the Spanish word for disinherited is desheredado)
 
Again with the Scott connection in mind, we might recall that the man whom Ivanhoe serves in the Crusades, and on whose side he fights when he returns to England, King Richard the 1st better known as Richard the Lionheart, or the troubadour king who had his roots in Aquitaine.  
   
There is no evidence that De Nerval ever read it, but it is interesting to note in a  Dedicatory Epistle to The Rev. Dr Dryasdust, F.A.S , with which Scott prefaced one edition of Ivanhoe, he writes that Englishmen, because they are not surrounded by castles built in the Middle Ages, find it difficult to imagine “that the shattered tower, which now forms a vista from his window, once held a baron who would have hung him up at his own door"
 
Kevin Cryan
 
Notes & Translations (mine, I'm afraid)
 
The is a useful analysis of the whole poem on pages 64 to 66 of Mary Lewis Shaw's The Cambridge Introduction to French Poetry. I mention the pages because judicious use of Amazon's Search Inside will actually save you having to buy the book or make a trip to your local library.
 
*
It is an air for that I would give  
All Rossini, all Mozart, all Weber,  
An air very much older, more languid and elegiac,  
That for me alone has secret charms!  
 
Now each time I come to hear it  
My soul recalls two-hundred years ago
It is under Louis XIII and I believe I to see spread itself before me
A green hill that is layered with yellow
 
**
Then a brick castle with stone corners
With Stained-glass of reddish colors,  
a circle of grand parks around it, with a river
bathing its feet, that flows among the flowers
 
Then a lady, at her high window,  
blond with dark eyes, in her old-fashioned clothes,
who in different  life, perhaps,
I have already seen...and whom I remember!
 
***
I am the Dark one, - the widower - the unconsoled one
The prince of Aquatainian prince of the ruined tower.
 
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Keith Busby
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Posts: 160
Re: The Prince of Aquitaine
« Reply #2: 07.05.07 at 16:46 »
Quote

One or two corrections to the translations:
 
It is an air for which I would give  
All Rossini, all Mozart, all Weber,  
An air very much older, more languid and gloomy,*
That for me alone has secret charms!  
 
Now each time I come to hear it  
My soul becomes two hundred years younger.+
It is under Louis XIII and I believe I see laid out before me
A green hillside rendered yellow by the setting sun.$
 
**
Then a brick castle with stone corners
With Stained-glass of reddish colors,  
A circle of grand parks around it, with a river
Bathing its feet, flowing among the flowers
 
Then a lady, at her high window,  
Blond with dark eyes, in her old-fashioned clothes,
Whom in a different  life, perhaps,
I have already seen...and whom I remember!
 
***
I am the Dark one, - the widower - the unconsoled one
The prince of Aquitaine at the ruined tower.  
 
*"funèbre" is a bit more sombre than "elegiac". If not "funereal", then perhaps "gloomy" or "dismal".
+ "rajeunir" = "to renew, to become young again"
$"le couchant" = "le soleil couchant"
 
There are phrases in this which anticipate Baudelaire (who admired Nerval greatly) and even Verlaine. As for Ivanhoe, there was a veritable cult of Walter Scott in 19th-century France; he was probably better known there than in Britain. It is odds-on that Nerval had read him.
 
Keith
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Commit THAT to Your Fragrant Memory!
Kevin Cryan
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Re: The Prince of Aquitaine
« Reply #3: 07.05.07 at 19:22 »
Quote

Keith, the amendments you have made are indeed improvements. "More languid and gloomy" is, I would say, the only marginal improvement on what I had, and that's because it's still falls very far short of what Nerval was conveying. Anyway, thank you taking the time to go though my feeble attempts and render them with a little more clearly.
 
It is pretty well established that he found his title in Scott's Ivanhoe. Of course, as I said, there is nothing I can find to suggest that the shattered tower phrase was lifted from Scott also. In fact, it is rather unlikely that he did. One imagines that the Dedicatory Letter I mention was probably in English editions of the novel only. Then, to be honest, I have not done a great deal of research into how the letter came about or where it was printed.
 
Kevin Cryan
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naomi
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Re: The Prince of Aquitaine
« Reply #4: 07.05.07 at 20:39 »
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I was fascinated to read Nerval's poem - and that it was much admired by Louis Aragon.  The work puts me in mind of Aragon's wartime poem "C.", which in Francis Poulenc's 1943 setting is one of the greatest of French songs (and very much part of my own repertoire).
 
The combination of Aragon's bitter and sad-eyed reproaches towards a dream-like chivalric past - which as a Marxist he sees as inexorably leading  to the Fall of France - ("c'est là que tout a commencé"), with Poulenc's lovingly nostalgic melody is incomparable.  
 
I see from a reliable website that the poem is copyright under US law, so I will not reproduce it here in full. But I am particularly reminded of Aragon's reference to "a song of past times" that speaks of the castle of a "mad duke" and of a meadow where an "eternal betrothed" dances ...
 
"C" has been recorded by several leading singers - and I'll give you a shout when I'm next to perform it !
 
Naomi
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