Friday 11 May 2012

Rene Char: Night chimera

Congé au Vent (Wind Away)

   Camped in the hillsides near the village are fields of mimosa. During the gathering season, it may happen that, some distance away, you meet an extremely sweet-smelling girl whose arms have been busy during the day among the fragile branches. Like a lamp with a bright nimbus of perfume, she goes her way, her back to the setting sun.
   To speak to her would be sacrilege.
   The grass crushed beneath her slippers. Give her right of way. You may be lucky enough to make out on her lips the chimera of the damp of night.

René Char, from Fureur et Mystère (1948)

A native of Provence, the poet René Char (1907-1988) had the gift of capturing expansiveness in the small frame of verse. It was freedom he valued, and he invited the reader to walk in the “great spaces of the self”, uniting the universal and the deeply personal.

Originally part of the French surrealist movement, Char reflected the complexities of the “fury and mystery” of World War II in occupied France. Directness and passion are coded into the landscape of his descriptive flow. For Char was no mere wordsmith: he was a man of action and astonishing bravery, commanding a Resistance cell from Céreste in the eastern Luberon.

The short prose-poem Congé au Vent  appears in René Char, Selected Poems, edited by Mary Ann Caws and Tina Jolas (pub. New Directions, New York). This is a superb introduction to his work, with English translations and the original on opposite pages.

You only have to go as far as the title of Congé au Vent to get a taste of Char’s wordplay – and the delicacy of these excellent translations. Wind Away is the English title, which is perhaps too lyrical quite to capture the holiday or 'day off' sense of “congé” – I think Off in the Wind, the more literal translation, would work better for me.

But to quibble is to engage, and that was above all, what René Char intended his poetry to do.

The painting used to illustrate the poem is Long Shadows – Provence by Maryanne Jacobsen which I’ve written about here. The richness of the evening colours and the path leading on seem to catch the essence of Char’s words. If you would like to find out more about the Surrealist Movement, there is an excellent article here on


Muriel said...

I I can't believe that you like Rene Char! May I just say that the English translation is better than the original? I used to find his work a bit hermetic from time to time. Maybe it is time for me to change my mind!

josina said...

lovely post did not know this poet will look him up

litlove said...

Oh I love Char and hardly anybody knows him. I particularly love his poems about ordinary things - a loaf of bread, a candle, a basket of oranges. Lovely post, Deborah!

Paintdancer said...

Beautiful imagery, and yes! my painting fits quite well with the sensual feel of the prose! Thank-you Deborah! You are so adept at putting these mosaics together!

Funny, I have had Provence on my mind lately. Dreamt I was there just last night, believe it or not! Have been listening to French Cafe on Pandora and watched A Good Year for the fourth time last week!

It's time to go back!

Kathleen said...

Would just like to say I have finished your book The Lantern and enjoyed it so much,a record for me,I couldnt leave it down and finished it in two days!Normally I start one and it takes days/weeks!Of course being familiar with some of the places mentioned from a memorable holiday in the area did help,but loved the storyline!

Deborah Swift said...

I love the texture of the painting as well as the colours. The quality of the light in Provence must make an enormous difference to painters. I had never heard of Char, but he sounds fascinating, and a man curious to explore the deeper parts of himself.

bright star said...

Hello Deborah,thanks for reminding me of Rene Char,I will get the book because I would love to read more of his work.I have read a little about him in a guide book to literary France.I am looking forward to your next book! Thanks for the blogger award x Angela

aguja said...

This is a must for me! Thank you for bringing it to light!
Have just completed my second reading of 'The Lantern', becoming totally immersed in the bewitching scents, perfumes and atmosphere - enchanting, literally.

Vanessa said...

Thank you for introducing me to Char. I must find out more and read some of his work.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...