Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Proust and L'Ile Inconnue

Here is the 23-year old Proust describing the bleak and lonely last days of the young Baldassare Silvande,Viscount of Sylvania:

“ He turned his head away from the happy image of the pleasures that he had passionately loved and would never enjoy again. He looked at the harbour: a three-master was setting sail.

"It's the ship leaving for India" said Jean Galeas.

Baldassare could not make out the people standing on the deck waving their handkerchiefs, but he could guess at the thirst for the unknown that filled their eyes with longing; they still had so much to experience, to know, and to feel. The anchor was weighed, a cry went up, and the boat moved out over the sombre sea to the West, where, in a golden haze, the light mingled the small boats together with clouds and murmured irresistible and vague promises to the travellers."

As I read those words, I was haunted by echoes of Theophile Gautiere’s poem, L’Isle Inconnu, set so evocatively to music by Berlioz:

Dites, la jeune belle
Où voulez-vous aller?
La voile enfle son aile
La brise va souffler.
L’aviron est d’ivoire
Le pavillon de moire
Le gouvernail d’or fin.
J’ai pour lest une orange,
Pour voile une aile d’ange
Pour mousse un séraphin.
Dites, la jeune belle,
Où voulez-vous aller?
La voile enfle son aile,
La brise va souffler.
Est-ce dans la Baltique?
Dans la mer Pacifique?
Dans l’île de Java?
Ou bien est-ce en Norvège,
Cueillir la fleur de neige,
Ou la fleur d’Angsoka?
Dites, la jeune belle
Où voulez-vous aller?
Menez-moi, dit la belle,
A la rive fidèle, Où l’on aime toujours!
Cette rive, ma chère,
On ne la connaît guère
Au pays des amours.
Où voulez-vous aller?La brise va souffler.

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