Sunday, September 11, 2005

Literary cross-currents ...

Yesterday (Sept. 10) was the anniversary of the birth, in 1890, of Franz Werfel, a writer sadly neglected today. Here is an interesting piece about him by George Weigel.
Today is the anniversary of the birth in 1524 of the French poet Pierre Ronsard.
Here is a translation of one of Ronsard's better-known poems:


When you are very old, at evening
You'll sit and spin beside the fire, and say,
Humming my songs, 'Ah well, ah well-a-day!
When I was young, of me did Ronsard sing.'
None of your maidens that doth hear the thing,
Albeit with her weary task foredone,
But wakens at my name, and calls you one
Blest, to be held in long remembering.

I shall be low beneath the earth, and laid
On sleep, a phantom in the myrtle shade,
While you beside the fire, a grandame grey,
My love, your pride, remember and regret;
Ah, love me, love! we may be happy yet,
And gather roses, while 'tis called to-day.

If this seems familiar, it is because William Butler Yeats took it and turned into one his better-known poems:

When You Are Old and Grey

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

1 comment:

  1. Franz Werfel! What a treat to see him remembered. He is a favorite of mine. "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh" will for many Armenians always be the best, if not the final, word on the genocide perpetrated on them by the Turks. I confess that I also "use" his novels, reading them in German, to try and keep up my constantly slipping grasp on the language. The novels are tremendously interesting, including "The Song of Bernadette," though here I also confess that I liked the novel, but not Bernadette. Among Werfel's many literary accomplishments is the play, "Me and the Colonel," which was made into a so-so movie starring Danny Kaye. There are a half-ton of forgotten German novelists from the early to mid-20th century who are well worth reading today -- among them Lion Feuchtwanger, Erich Kaestner, and my favorite, Hans Fallada ("Little Man, What Now?"). Thanks again for bringing this up.
    Willis Wayde