The great Marcel Proust honed his writing skills with parodies and imitations of other great French writers. He had a published collection of these pieces with Pastiches et Melanges. And then, of course in the Recherche there is the famous extended parody of the Goncourt brothers reportage of social events. Today’s readers may not be so familiar with the original models that these were based on, but you can clearly see that Proust is writing in a style which is not his own.
In this vein, today’s poem is Proust’s pastiche of the poems of Anna de Noailles, the socialite countess and poet who moved in the same aristocratic and literary circles as Proust himself. I posted a poem by Anna de Noailles on this blog on May 21st. See if you can see traces of the style of that poem picked up here by Proust.
Marcel PROUST (1871-1922)
Petit pastiche de Mme de Noailles
Mon coeur sage, fuyez l’odeur des térébinthes,
Voici que le matin frise comme un jet d’eau.
L’air est un écran d’or où des ailes sont peintes ;
Pourquoi partiriez-vous pour Nice ou pour Yeddo ?
Quel besoin avez-vous de la luisante Asie
Des monts de verre bleu qu’Hokusaï dessinait
Quand vous sentez si fort la belle frénésie
D’une averse dorant les toits du Vésinet !
Ah ! partir pour le Pecq, dont le nom semble étrange,
Voir avant de mourir le Mont Valérien
Quand le soigneux couchant se dispose et s’effrange
Entre la Grande Roue et le Puits artésien.
I guess pastiche is really an affectionate exaggeration of the characteristics of someone’s style, gentle rather than aggressive, affectionate rather than envious. And I think Proust draws attention to the low-key nature of this exercise in the title, “Petit Pastiche…”
The poem could indeed be set in a garden such as we saw in the genuine de Noailles poem from May 21st. The first stanza certainly evokes some similar elements, with the scent of the flowers and the water fountain. The poet asks why would someone want to leave for more exotic locations from such a beautiful place. A terebinth is a turpentine tree by the way, so I guess this adds a minor element of ridiculousness to the opening of the poem.
The poem continues in this vein, comparing favourably the here and now with the charms of distant places, familiar to the readers of the time such as in the fashion for Japanese woodblock prints. Hokusai was one of the most famous of these and his pictures of breaking waves or Mount Fuji were very popular.
I think it is the mix of the exotic and the mundane, with the same elevated, slightly precious language used for both, which Proust is gently mocking here. But if he didn’t announce it as a pastiche, I wonder if we would pay any attention to this poem?
The Poetry Dude