Jacques Prevert


Jacques Prevert is a kind of minimalist poet that normally I don't care for. Perhaps because it is in French, or perhaps for other reasons, I find Prevert quite, quite different and quite beautiful. I've appended a rough translation to the following poem.

Déjeuner du matin

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s'est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu'il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
Et moi j'ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j'ai pleuré.

My poor translation:

He put the coffee
in the cup
He put milk
in the cup of coffee
He put sugar
in the cafe au lait
With a small spoon
he stirred
He drank the cafe au lait
and he replaced the cup
without speaking to me
He lit
a cigarette
He made rings
with the smoke
He put the ashes
into the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put
his hat on his head
He put on
his raincoat
because it was raining
And he left
Under the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And me I put
my head on my hand
and I cried.

I love the very short lines, the gray repetition of phrase. Particularly I love the fact that in French pleuvait (it was raining) and pleure (past participle of "to cry") are such similar words. This poem reminds me very much of the work of such French cineastes as Francois Truffaut. When I read Prevert's work I see Fahrenheit 451 or L'enfant Sauvage or Le Quartre Cent Coups. I see Parisian gray, and I also see the despair of a life not centered in God, but centered and isolated completely within the self. We don't know the cause of the silence we observe, but we seem to know that it is quotidian, and this scene probably has few variations in its playing. I think this is the art of quiet desperation and of conventionality.

Please, once again, excuse my poor translation, but I tried to convey as literally as possible what was being said and still remain true to the strangely formal and yet colloquial French. Too many translations change words. For example to construct a sort of formal poetic parallelism, "sans me parler" and "sans une parole" are often both translated to--"Without a word." I don't think that is true to the spirit or intent of Prevert's poem. But then, I probably should be a little cautious about such statements, as I am by no means an expert in poetic French.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 7, 2002 6:10 PM.

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