Translation by Michael Coy

The Lake

Thus, ever driven onward to new shores, borne constantly away,
Can we never, in the Ocean of the Ages, drop anchor for a day?

Oh, this beautiful lake!  The year has hardly flown,
yet here am I, beside these so-beloved waves of hers. Here, but alone.

Waves! You crashed against these rocks for her, white-blazing, beat
your heads against the wind, but also caressed her lovely feet.

One night—do you remember?—we lay here and felt
the rhythmic swish of oarsmen, slicing through your pelt.

That night was so enchanted, I swear to you I heard
accents never known on earth, as she let fall these words:

“Oh, Time, stop your flight!  Hours, don’t run away!
Allow us to savor this delight, the best of life’s brief day!

So many unhappy ones implore you. Run, run for them.
Take, too, the cares which eat them up. But leave us, please, in pacem.

It’s fruitless to complain, but these moments aren’t enough:
I beg shy Night to linger, but look – bold Dawn scares her off.

So let us love, then. Let us love!  Time cannot be caged.
Make haste: we’ll strut our tiny hour, and then must quit the stage.”

Jealous Time! Why do you rob with such frank eagerness
our days of joy, but dawdle when you see us in distress?

Why is it that we live and love, but leave no trace?
Why give us these raptures, which you then efface?

Eternity. Nothingness. The Past. Such somber chasms!
Where do you hide our human fire, our passion-prompted spasms?

Lake! Tall rocks! Oh, deep and secret woods! Nos amis!
Won’t you keep of us at least some memory?

We live on in your calm, Sweet Lake, your storms, your laughing shores,
your gloomy pine trees, craggy rocks, through which the water roars.

It’s in the summer wind we’ll live, which ruffles as it kisses,
and in the single thoughtful star, which reflects and reminisces.

The rose which droops, the oak in ivy gloved,
the fragrance of the forest. These will tell the world, “They loved!”



Le Lac

by Alphonse de Lamartine (1790 – 1869)

Ainsi, toujours poussés vers denouveaux rivages,
Dans la nuit éternelle emportés sans retour,
Ne pourrons-nous jamais sur l’océan des âges
Jeter l’ancre un seul jour ?

Ô lac ! l’année à peine a fini sa carrière,
Et près des flots chéris qu’elle devait revoir,
Regarde ! je viens seul m’asseoir sur cette pierre
Où tu la vis s’asseoir !

Tu mugissais ainsi sous ces roches profondes,
Ainsi tu te brisais sur leurs flancs déchirés,
Ainsi le vent jetait l’écume de tes ondes
Sur ses pieds adorés.

Un soir, t’en souvient-il ? nous voguions en silence ;
On n’entendait au loin, sur l’onde et sous les cieux,
Que le bruit des rameurs qui frappaient en cadence
Tes flots harmonieux.

Tout à coup des accents inconnus à la terre
Du rivage charmé frappèrent les échos ;
Le flot fut attentif, et la voix qui m’est chère
Laissa tomber ces mots :

” Ô temps ! suspends ton vol, et vous, heures propices !
Suspendez votre cours :
Laissez-nous savourer les rapides délices
Des plus beaux de nos jours !

” Assez de malheureux ici-bas vous implorent,
Coulez, coulez pour eux ;
Prenez avec leurs jours les soins qui les dévorent ;
Oubliez les heureux.

” Mais je demande en vain quelques moments encore,
Le temps m’échappe et fuit ;
Je dis à cette nuit : Sois plus lente ; et l’aurore
Va dissiper la nuit.

” Aimons donc, aimons donc ! de l’heure fugitive,
Hâtons-nous, jouissons !
L’homme n’a point de port, le temps n’a point de rive ;
Il coule, et nous passons ! “

Temps jaloux, se peut-il que ces moments d’ivresse,
Où l’amour à longs flots nous verse le bonheur, 
S’envolent loin de nous de la même vitesse
Que les jours de malheur ?

Eh quoi ! n’en pourrons-nous fixer au moins la trace ?
Quoi ! passés pour jamais ! quoi ! tout entiers perdus !
Ce temps qui les donna, ce temps qui les efface,
Ne nous les rendra plus !

Éternité, néant, passé, sombresabîmes,
Que faites-vous des jours que vous engloutissez ?
Parlez : nous rendrez-vous ces extases sublimes
Que vous nous ravissez ?

Ô lac ! rochers muets ! grottes ! forêt obscure !
Vous, que le temps épargne ou qu’il peut rajeunir,
Gardez de cette nuit, gardez, belle nature,
Au moins le souvenir !

Qu’il soit dans ton repos, qu’il soit dans tes orages,
Beau lac, et dans l’aspect de tes riants coteaux,
Et dans ces noirs sapins, et dans ces rocs sauvages
Qui pendent sur tes eaux.

Qu’il soit dans le zéphyr qui frémit et qui passe,
Dans les bruits de tes bords par tes bords répétés,
Dans l’astre au front d’argent qui blanchit ta surface
De ses molles clartés.

Que le vent qui gémit, le roseau qui soupire,
Que les parfums légers de ton air embaumé,
Que tout ce qu’on entend, l’on voit ou l’on respire,
Tout dise: Ils ont aimé !

Barrister, teacher and journalist, Michael Coy is an Irish poet who has settled permanently in the south of Spain.  He readily admits to a serious rhyme-and-rhythm habit.  Winner of various poetry prizes in Britain and Ireland, Michael has been published fairly regularly in the British poetry journal,”Orbis”.

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11 Responses

  1. Carole Mertz

    Bravo! The passion of de Lamartine is there and how well you’ve wielded the rhyming, Mr. Coy!

    • Michael Coy

      Hello, Allegra!

      Yes, the poem has long been a favorite of mine.
      I hope I did it justice.

      Thank you for your kind comments!


      • Ed Spaeth

        Thank you for your translation. Soon after my wife died my daughter and I cruised down the Rhone River. At Macon, once the home of Lamartine, this poem is etched in the stones along the quai. It was my first exposure to the beauty of his words and it was what I so needed at the time. Your translation brings the essence to life.

  2. David Watt

    Although my French is minimal, I believe that your translation retains the essence of beauty and passion present in the original. Thank you for this enjoyable piece.

    • Michael Coy

      Hello, David!

      I think that you have “nailed” the whole essence of translation.
      It’s about trying to preserve the original beauty, while saying
      something worthwhile in the second language.

      I want to thank you for your magnanimous remarks!


  3. C.B. Anderson

    Though I am nowise qualified to judge the faithfulness of the translation, I was glued to the fluidity of your lines to the very end, which was unusual for me, since I tend to be impatient with high sentiment. I think what made it for me was that the idea and mood were were carried forward with every stroke of your pen, and with utter clarity. The wistful poignancy presented here was unlike anything I am used to.

    • Michael Coy

      Hi, C.B.!

      What a magnificent comment! I’m delighted.

      “High” emotion is certainly not our preferred style
      these days. It’s an enormous thrill for me to learn
      that you felt I’d captured the mood adequately, and
      that you enjoyed reading it. Thank you very much!


  4. Bruce Wren

    A noble and quite successful translation of this beautiful poem, which I remember having studied way back in my college days. Not an easy task, but you have captured much of de Lamartine’s nostalgia and music. I especially enjoyed your lines 1-6, 11-12, 25-32. I would recommend to change lines 7-8, as “slicing through your pelt” doesn’t sound well to me, and doesn’t follow the French. Also, the Latin “in pacem” doesn’t sound appropriate. Still, it is easy to critique and say, and difficult to construct and do, so take that as you will. Beautiful effort, and thanks for posting.

    • Michael Coy

      Hi, Bruce!

      Solid, worthwhile criticisms, which I will take to heart.

      Thank you!



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