“Le Cimetière marin”
luh seem-teeYAIR maa-RAA. Click below to hear part of this poem.*
“The Graveyard by the Sea”
Why am I writing about a cemetery? Am I being morbid?
Not at all. This is a very famous poem, written in 1920 by the brilliant French poet Paul Valéry. True, it takes place in a graveyard in Sète, a small coastal town on the Mediterranean Sea, but it is first and foremost a poem about life.
I love this poem, because it is beautiful, deep and many-layered, and nearly perfect. I struggled with it in graduate school. It is difficult and I was young, but more than 40 years later, it makes great sense to me. Life experience really does count for something!
The poem is very long, so I’m just going to quote the first stanza here:
Ce toit tranquille, où marchent des colombes,
Entre les pins palpite, entre les tombes;
Midi le juste y compose de feux
La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée.
Ô récompense après une pensée
Qu’un long regard sur le calme des dieux!
And here’s a lovely translation of that stanza by C. Day Lewis:
This quiet roof, where dove-sails saunter by,
Between the pines, the tombs, throbs visibly.
Impartial noon patterns the sea in flame —
That sea forever starting and re-starting.
When thought has had its hour, oh how rewarding
Are the long vistas of celestial calm!
You can read the entire poem and its translation at this link, and I invite you to read it all the way through.
Tomorrow, I’ll say more about this life-affirming poem. In the meantime, let it get inside your head. You won’t be sorry.
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: