La connais-tu, Dafne, cette ancienne romance

Here is a neat poem from that eccentric Gerard de Nerval which is heady with atmospherics, classical references and no particular connection to anyone’s real life experience or preoccupations. As with many of Nerval’s poems, it is primarily an exercise in aesthetics, and I think it works just fine on that level.


La connais-tu, Dafné, cette ancienne romance,
Au pied du sycomore, ou sous les lauriers blancs,
Sous l’olivier, le myrte, ou les saules tremblants,
Cette chanson d’amour qui toujours recommence?…

Reconnais-tu le Temple au péristyle immense,
Et les citrons amers où s’imprimaient tes dents,
Et la grotte, fatale aux hôtes imprudents,
Où du dragon vaincu dort l’antique semence?…

Ils reviendront, ces dieux que tu pleures toujours!
Le temps va ramener l’ordre des anciens jours;
La terre a tressailli d’un souffle prophétique…

Cependant la sibylle au visage latin
Est endormie encor sous l’arc de Constantin
— Et rien n’a dérangé le sévère portique.

From <;

I assume the title, “Delfica” is a reference to the oracle at Delphi, where the ancients used to go and ask their burning questions about the future. But there is no further direct reference to the oracle in the poem, and indeed the only other reference to fortune-telling in in the last stanza, where the face of the Sibyl is mentioned (the books of Sibyl were supposed to foretell the future of Rome and were supposed to have been given to the founders of Rome).

Instead the poem addresses itself to Daphne, asking if she knows the ancient romance which keeps on re-occurring. But the descriptive parts of this poem are about aspects of place – the several trees mentioned in lines two and three, the temple and the grotto in lines four and six.

The third stanza declares that the old gods will return, the order of classical times will be re-established and the prophecies fulfilled – presumably continuing the ancient romance mentioned in the first stanza. But the last stanza immediately pours doubt on this – the Sibyl is sleeping and the gates of the Temple remain undisturbed.

So, the content doesn’t make much sense, but as an atmospheric evocation of nostalgia for classical times, their natural beauties and the comfort provided by sources of prophecy, it works just fine.

The Poetry Dude


One thought on “La connais-tu, Dafne, cette ancienne romance

  1. One of my faves as well – and one of the reasons I began to love poetry:

    You wrote a nice synopsis of this evocative yet hard-to-pin-down poem.
    There is room for a Nietzschean take on it – the Eternal Recurrence of events
    (Cette chanson d’amour qui toujours recommence…).

    It has such a majestic roll of syllables. Pronouncing the final E’s renders almost all the lines a perfect 12 count – yet some are not. I would like to hear a native speaker recite this one.


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