Pour un coeur qui s’ennuie, / Ô le chant de la pluie!
poor uh KUHR kee sah-NWEE / oh luh shah duh lah plWEE!
For a heart steeped in melancholy, / Oh, the song of the rain!
Ah, yes, we have another Double Meaning Alert here. The verb s’ennuyer (sah-nwee-YAY) is a loaded word!
The English verb annoy comes from this French word. So this is the word that describes what mosquitoes, cancelled appointments, spam, and younger siblings may do to you.
S’ennuyer also means to be bored. This is what long Power Point presentations with too much text on the slides, meetings that wander off track, and one-star movies may do to you.
But s’ennuyer also carries a meaning difficult to translate into a single English word. That’s why we have adopted the noun ennui (ah-NWEE) from the French. These words carry implications of boredom, yes, but also lassitude, languor, melancholy, emptiness, anomie (which is another good French word), all without reason. Depression is a medical term; ennui is a social term.
The end of the 19th century was in love with this sense of disaffection with the world. Another day, we’ll get around to Charles Baudelaire, another French poet whose word for this sentiment was le spleen (luh spleen!). For now, let’s stick with Verlaine.
Because of this multiplicity of meanings, and the lack of a single English word that conveys the “whole package”, a line of poetry like this is very difficult to translate. Verlaine’s (or rather, the poet’s) disaffection is so deep that he can hardly come up with complete sentences. Note how this whole stanza (strophe in French: STRUFF) is constructed of a series of exclamations. Pure feeling, without anything very concrete to pin down why the poet is experiencing them.
Le chant de la pluie is interesting, too. The sound of rain is pretty monotonous, in spite of the small changes in rhythm that we mentioned yesterday. That’s one of the reasons why we find rain so dreary, besides the lack of sunshine. Many of us would not choose to talk about the song of the rain, if we think of song as melody. But the “hushing” sound of chant evokes rain sounds, as does the “hissing” sound that tends to be produced at the end of the ui sound in s’ennuie and pluie.
Verlaine was a master at re-creating sounds and images in poetry!