This is the fifth poem by Marcel Proust that I have posted on this site. It is the second one dealing with an artist and his work, the other one being the Dutch master, Albert Cuyp. There was also a poem inspired by the composer and pianist, Chopin, a light-hearted pastiche of another poet’s style, Anna de Noailles, and a poem about the Dutch city of Dordrecht. Using his own art to comment on other art is a major feature of Proust’s work, with La Recherche du Temps Perdu full of detailed and insightful references to works of art, of music, of architecture, of great literature (French, English and German, primarily), as well as wonderfully well thought out analyses of human psychology, of botany, of anatomy and even the cutting edge technology of his age. I cannot for the life of me figure out why Sir Isaiah Berlin categorized Proust as a hedgehog. In my view he indubitably belongs with the foxes.
There was a very nice book published a few years ago, compiled by Eric Karpeles, who took most of the visual art references in La Recherche and paired them with reproductions of the paintings referred to. It is called “Painters in Proust” and I recommend it highly.
So this poem is inspired by Antoine Watteau, the French early eighteenth century master, who painted colourful scenes of people enjoying themselves in a countryside scene. I assume this poem is inspired by one such painting, but I do not know which one. But it is straightforward to recognise attributes of Watteau’s paintings in this poem – masked and costumed figures surrounded by trees at dusk, the remnants of a countryside entertainment with masquerades, music, a picnic, and the silence and languid kisses after a day of fun.
De Marcel Proust
Crépuscule grimant les arbres et les faces,
Avec son manteau bleu, sous son masque incertain ;
Poussière de baisers autour des bouches lasses…
Le vague devient tendre, et le tout près, lointain.
La mascarade, autre lointain mélancolique,
Fait le geste d’aimer plus faux, triste et charmant.
Caprice de poète – ou prudence d’amant,
L’amour ayant besoin d’être orné savamment –
Voici barques, goûters, silences et musique.
The Poetry Dude