…Qu’il ne me reste plus rien de toi.
keel num rest PLEW reeYAA duh TWAH.
…That I have nothing left of you. I no longer have anything left of you.
I promised a few facts about this lovely, sad poem by Robert Desnos. Where to begin? (Click this link or scroll down in order to see the previous post, which includes the text, the audio file, and my English translation of the entire poem.)
Let’s have the history first. One of my sources (Le Livre d’or de la poésie française contemporaine de A à H, edited in 1972 by Pierre Seghers) says that this poem–according to papers found on Desnos the day after his death at Terezin–is an adaptation by Adolf Kroupa, a Czech friend and champion of Desnos. That may be.
But the fact is that it is also a drastic reworking of a much longer poem by Desnos, published in 1930 in his collection Corps et biens (koh ray beeYAA, Body and Goods), 15 years before his death. It’s called À la mystérieuse, and you can find it at this link. In my opinion, Le Dernier Poème is poetically far more effective, because it is so much more concise and leaves so much more to the imagination. Isn’t that what a poem is supposed to do?
Now, the language of the poem. Notice that it is entirely possible in French to use a double negative. Today’s line from the poem illustrates that use. Ne…pas doesn’t count as a double negative, because even though it is two words, you need them both to fully express the negative. But if you are using one of the substitutes for pas, you can line up a couple of them. Here we have plus (plew, no more or no longer) with rien (reeYAA, nothing). So, I no longer have anything left of you. More literally, There is no longer anything of you left to me.
And how effective the repetition of the word ombre is! The reader feels the darkness weighing down on him or her, and the contrast with ta vie ensoleillée, your sun-filled life, is all the more stark since there is no light anywhere else in the poem. Also notice that ombre can mean both shadow and shade, allowing for a bit of wordplay in the next-to-last line that is not completely obvious in English.
Finally: if you visit Paris, don’t omit the Holocaust Memorial. It’s tiny and simple, but very moving. You’ll find it behind la cathédrale de Notre-Dame on the tip end of the island. As you enter the small round space, you feel closed off from the outside world, which has ceased to exist. Inside, they have engraved this poem in large letters. There’s not much else to see, but there’s nothing else you need to see. You turn around to leave the Memorial, bringing this shadowy poem with you…and face the sun.