Proust was such an elegant, incisive and precise prose writer in his descriptions of places, of artworks, of musical compositions and of literature, it is interesting to see whether he can replicate this in what is seemingly the even more rigorous medium of poetry.
This poem is about Proust’s vision of Dordrecht, (a town in the Netherlands). I read this like a poetic picture postcard (if there is anyone who still knows what a picture postcard is), recounting the scenes of a charming old Dutch town and how it makes the poet feel. I am tempted to compare this with all those sections of La Recherche, where Proust describes Vermeer’s View of Delft, with its little yellow patch of wall. But in fact, this is lighter and more accessible, and it almost seems as if Proust is playing with the rhyme scheme as much as conveying a sense of place.
Overall, it is an enjoyable piece, even if somewhat secondary compared to Proust’s major work.
Ton ciel toujours un peu
Le matin souvent un peu
Dordrecht endroit si beau
De mes illusions chéries
Quand j’essaye à dessiner
Tes canaux, tes toits, ton clocher
Je me sens comme aimer
Mais le soleil et les cloches
Ont bien vite resséché
Pour la grand-messe et les brioches
Ton luisant clocher
Ton ciel bleu
Mais dessous toujours un peu
Marcel Proust, Poèmes
Blue sky and rain, canals, rooftops, church belltowers, all this would be familiar to anyone who has wandered around a Dutch town. I have never been to Dordrecht, but can vouch that such scenes can be experienced in Utrecht, the Hague, Groningen, Scheveningen, Delpht and others. Proust throws up his hands at his failure to adequately portray these scenes (“Tombeau de mes illusions cheries Quand j’essaye a dessiner…), but is he talking literally about drawing or is he claiming his words on the page fall short of his aspiration. Could be either, although I never heard of him doing much drawing in the literal sense.
I will pull out this poem next time I go to the Netherlands…
The Poetry Dude