Born at Constantinople in 1762 of a French father and Greek mother, André Chénier grew up in pre-revolutionary France and studied at Paris. Well-read, and enamored with ancient Greece, he is considered one of the last classicists in verse, and for his sentiment, a precursor to the romantics. He was executed by mistake in the Reign of Terror just two days before the fall of Robespierre. His poems, only two of which appeared during his lifetime, contain the famous Idylles, published 27 years after his death.

 

The Flute

Ever tender and touching the moment,
When pressing himself the flute to my mouth,
Laughing and pulling me close to his breast,
He named me his rival and soon to be
Master.  My stiff and timid lips were shown
To breathe an air pure and harmonious,
And my young fingers, by his practiced hands,
Being raised and lowered a hundred times,
Though ever so trying, were taught to close
The different holes of the sonorous wood.

 

La Flûte
By André Chénier

Toujours ce souvenir m’attendrit et me touche,
Quand lui-même, appliquant la flûte sur ma bouche,
Riant et m’asseyant sur lui, près de son coeur,
M’appelant son rival et déjà son vainqueur,
Il façonnait ma lèvre inhabile et peu sûre
A souffler une haleine harmonieuse et pure;
Et ses savantes mains prenaient mes jeunes doigts,
Les levaient, les baissaient, recommençaient vingt fois,
Leur enseignant ainsi, quoique faibles encore,
A fermer tour à tour les trous du buis sonore.

 

The Beloved Tarentina

Mourn Kingfisher, most sacred bird,
The waters deep, Kingfisher mourn!

She had lived, Myrto, the beloved
Tarentina!  Her ship set sail
For the shores of Camarina,
Where the wedding-march, with solemn
Flutes being led, awaited passage
To her lover’s bed.  For which day,
Within a cedar chest, a key
Had locked away her wedding-dress,
With all the gold that on her arms
The festal hour would adorn;
And also were distilled perfumes
To scent her golden hair anew.
But suddenly, upon the prow,
The raging winds with awful sound
Smothered her plea unto the stars,
And stunned, and yelling to the crew
Afar, she fell amongst the waves.
Amongst the waves fell the beloved
Tarentina and mermaid-like
Upon the swells her body rolled!
To a jutting rock, from swarming
Fish secure, the foaming waters
Drew the briny corpse; then high tides,
By the western winds being blown,
Found this sanctuary on shore
And dropped her softly.  The thunder
Loudly rolled through forest, river,
And mountain, and the lightning flashed,
While the rain came down upon her.

Never knew she her lover’s bed;
Her wedding-dress is ever cold;
Gold will never adorn her arms;
Nor wedding-band her hair console.

 

La Jeune Tarentine
By André Chénier

Pleurez, doux alcyons! ô vous, oiseaux sacrés,
Oiseaux chers à Thétis, doux alcyons, pleurez!
Elle a vécu, Myrto, la jeune Tarentine!
Un vaisseau la portait aux bords de Camarine:
Là, l’hymen, les chansons, les flûtes, lentement
Devaient la reconduire au seuil de son amant.
Une clef vigilante a, pour cette journée,
Dans le cèdre enfermé sa robe d’hyménée,
Et l’or dont au festin ses bras seraient parés,
Et pour ses blonds cheveux les parfums préparés.
Mais, seule sur la proue, invoquant les étoiles,
Le vent impétueux qui soufflait dans les voiles
L’enveloppe; étonnée et loin des matelots,
Elle crie, elle tombe, elle est au sein des flots.
Elle est au sein des flots, la jeune Tarentine!
Son beau corps a roulé sous la vague marine.
Thétis, les yeux en pleurs, dans le creux d’un rocher,
Aux monstres dévorants eut soin de le cacher.
Par ses ordres bientôt les belles Néréides
L’élèvent au-dessus des demeures humides,
Le portent au rivage, et dans ce monument
L’ont au cap du Zéphyr déposé mollement;
Puis de loin, à grands cris appelant leurs compagnes,
Et les nymphes des bois, des sources, des montagnes,
Toutes, frappant leur sein et traînant un long deuil,
Répétèrent, hélas! autour de son cercueil:
‘Hélas! chez ton amant tu n’es point ramenée;
Tu n’as point revêtu ta robe d’hyménée;
L’or autour de tes bras n’a point serré de noeuds;
Les doux parfums n’ont point coulé sur tes cheveux.’

 

Douglas Thornton is a poet and English teacher living in France.  Please visit his blog at http://www.douglasthornton.blogspot.com
Featured Image: “Flute Player” by Judith Jans Leyster

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