This poem by Francis Jammes has a Baudelairean feel to it, because of the evocation of a tropical island, and the sentiment of nostalgia for a paradise lost. Both poets were clearly smitten by the sights and sounds of an island in the sun – in Baudelaire’s case because of his travels to such islands, and in Jammes’s case, or at least so we learn from this poem, that his forebears lived on such an island.
The title and first line of Jammes poem brings this home right away – he is expressing a longing to see the islands, the islands where his parents, or ancestors lived.
Quand verrai-je les îles…
Quand verrai-je les îles où furent des parents ?
Le soir, devant la porte et devant l’océan
on fumait des cigares en habit bleu barbeau.
Une guitare de nègre ronflait, et l’eau
de pluie dormait dans les cuves de la cour.
L’océan était comme des bouquets en tulle
et le soir triste comme l’été et une flûte.
On fumait des cigares noirs et leurs points rouges
s’allumaient comme ces oiseaux aux nids de mousse
dont parlent certains poètes de grand talent.
Ô Père de mon Père, tu étais là, devant
mon âme qui n’était pas née, et sous le vent
les avisos glissaient dans la nuit coloniale.
Quand tu pensais en fumant ton cigare,
et qu’un nègre jouait d’une triste guitare,
mon âme qui n’était pas née existait-elle ?
Était-elle la guitare ou l’aile de l’aviso ?
Était-elle le mouvement d’une tête d’oiseau
caché lors au fond des plantations,
ou le vol d’un insecte lourd dans la maison ?
Choü, mai 1895
Following the initial question, full of longing and sadness, we find the poet standing outside at the edge of the ocean, presumably in France, smoking cigars, wearing a blue fisherman’s smock, listening to the sound of a guitar and looking at the rainwater lying in the tubs in the yard. It is evening, the ocean looks like an artificial flower bouquet and the moment is sad like the plaintive notes of a flute. The poet is looking out over the ocean, thinking of the islands where his parents and grandparents lived, warm, vibrant, sunny and exotic. He goes on smoking cigars with an unidentified companion, comparing the lighted cigar ends to birds described by certain talented poets. I don’t know which poets he was referring to here.
The poet then gets to pondering about his father and grandfather, in a time before he was born, watching the dispatch boats depart from the colonial waters of the island – and he gets to pondering whether he was already there in some latent form – in the sound of the guitar or the sail of the dispatch boat, the head of a bird hidden in the plantation, or the flight of an insect. The questioning here represents a deepening of the sense of loss and longing.
But this is a gentle melancholy, not deep anguish or distress. We feel that the poet can go on smoking his cigar, watching the ocean, and finding consolation n his own surroundings and circumstances.
The Poetry Dude