Belle épousée,

Gerard de Nerval was writing in the mid-nineteenth century when Gothic influences were quite in fashion – think Edgar Allan Poe, even quite a lot of Dickens, also the newly rich building creepy looking castles with false battlements etc. Anyway, this poem is announced as a Gothic song, so perhaps folks would let me know what are its most Gothic features…

Chanson gothique

Gérard de Nerval

Belle épousée,

J’aime tes pleurs !

C’est la rosée

Qui sied aux fleurs.

Les belles choses

N’ont qu’un printemps,

Semons de roses

Les pas du Temps !

Soit brune ou blonde

Faut-il choisir ?

Le Dieu du monde,

C’est le Plaisir.

Gérard de Nerval, Odelettes

From <>

As the poem is quite short and simple, I will attempt a translation into English:

Gothic Song

Beautiful bride,

I love your tears!

They are the dew

Which waters flowers.

Beautiful things

Have spring but once,

Let us sow roses

In the cadence of Time!

Be a brunette or a blonde

Why must we choose?

The God of the world

Is Pleasure.

The Poetry Dude

Il a vécu tantôt gai comme un sansonnet,



Il a vécu tantôt gai comme un sansonnet,
Tour à tour amoureux insoucieux et tendre,
Tantôt sombre et rêveur comme un triste Clitandre.
Un jour il entendit qu’à sa porte on sonnait.

C’était la Mort ! Alors il la pria d’attendre
Qu’il eût posé le point à son dernier sonnet ;
Et puis sans s’émouvoir, il s’en alla s’étendre
Au fond du coffre froid où son corps frissonnait.

Il était paresseux, à ce que dit l’histoire,
Il laissait trop sécher l’encre dans l’écritoire.
Il voulait tout savoir mais il n’a rien connu.

Et quand vint le moment où, las de cette vie,
Un soir d’hiver, enfin l’âme lui fut ravie,
Il s’en alla disant : ” Pourquoi suis-je venu ? ”

Gerard de Nerval


Here is a sonnet from Nerval, attempting to write an epitaph, presumably for himself, as a way of assessing his own life and legacy. Sounds like a useful exercise for anyone at any stage of his life. It does not have the intensity of Ronsard’s deathbed sonnet, posted here on September 25th, but it is focused on death, its meaning and the poet’s view of himself. Interestingly, Nerval uses the third person throughout the sonnet, lending a slight degree of ambiguity as to the subject, but I have no doubt he was referring to himself, it would be much harder to be so introspective about another person.

The first four lines reflect on the life experience of the poet, sometimes happy and carefree, sometimes in love and tender, sometimes sad and depressed. And then one day the doorbell rings.

The second four lines announce the visitor – it  is death (presumably wearing a hooded cloak and carrying a scythe like in the Woody Allen movie, Love and Death, his parody of War and Peace). So like Ronsard, the poet begs death to wait while he finishes his last sonnet.And when it is done he goes to lie down in a cold coffin.

The final six lines sum up his legacy, the verdict of posterity and ultimately his own view of his life. It is not a very flattering portrait – lazy, unproductive (as a poet he let the ink dry  in the inkwell, rather than keep on writing), curious but ultimately ignorant. Adding all this up, Nerval comes to his final conclusion – “Why was I alive?”, finding nothing worthy of celebration or remembrance.

Clearly, Nerval was too hard on himself, he is remembered as one of the  great post-Romantic French poets. But the sonnet is a reminder that most of humanity does indeed die without leaving a trace, and is soon forgotten.


The Poetry Dude



Voici trois ans qu’est morte ma grand’mère, 

The death of a close relative is usually a sad and emotional event. The phenomenon of delayed reaction to it is quite common. The surviving family members may go through the motions of grieving for a while, and then, much later, fully realise what has happened and only then are they able to grieve completely, Readers of Proust will remember this process is exactly what is described in the narrator’s reaction to the death of his grandmother.

In this poem, Nerval describes almost exactly the same process as Proust was to write about 50 years later. And it is also about the death of a beloved grandmother.

Gérard de NERVAL   (1808-1855)

La grand’mère
Voici trois ans qu’est morte ma grand’mère,
La bonne femme, – et, quand on l’enterra,
Parents, amis, tout le monde pleura
D’une douleur bien vraie et bien amère.

Moi seul j’errais dans la maison, surpris
Plus que chagrin ; et, comme j’étais proche
De son cercueil, – quelqu’un me fit reproche
De voir cela sans larmes et sans cris.

Douleur bruyante est bien vite passée :
Depuis trois ans, d’autres émotions,
Des biens, des maux, – des révolutions, –
Ont dans les murs sa mémoire effacée.

Moi seul j’y songe, et la pleure souvent ;
Depuis trois ans, par le temps prenant force,
Ainsi qu’un nom gravé dans une écorce,
Son souvenir se creuse plus avant !

From <;

The first stanza establishes the time since the poet’s grandmother’s death – three years – and recalls the whole family crying over her coffin at the moment of her funeral.

The second stanza sets the poet apart, unable to share the grief, more surprised than sad, and he is the subject of reproaches from other members of the family for not crying. (Another parallel here with Camus’s L’Etranger, where Meursault is condemned, not so much because of the person he shot on the beach, but because he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral).

In the third stanza, the poet describes how everybody has moved on in the three years since his grandmother’s death – other concerns, the cares of everyday life, have downgraded her memory in favour of more pressing preoccupatons.

But now, after three years, in the final stanza, it is the poet himself who is crying and who now has the strongest sense of her memory, like a name carved on a tree it is deeply embedded within him.

A touching, very human poem from a poet who could often be obscure and intellectual. Here he shows his inner self.

The Poetry Dude

Mon doux pays des Espagnes 

Here is a pleasing poem – one of my favourite mid-19th century French poets, Nerval, writing about one of my favourite countries – Spain. I don’t know any facts about occasions when Nerval might have visited Spain, but the visit must have certainly captivated him. At that time Spain was less economically and socially developed than its neighbours and so was approached with some trepidation by travellers. But here, Nerval plays up that country’s fascinations, its landscapes and walled cities and its exotic history.


Mon doux pays des Espagnes
Qui voudrait fuir ton beau ciel,
Tes cités et tes montagnes,
Et ton printemps éternel ?

Ton air pur qui nous enivre,
Tes jours, moins beaux que tes nuits,
Tes champs, où Dieu voudrait vivre
S’il quittait son paradis.

Autrefois ta souveraine,
L’Arabie, en te fuyant,
Laissa sur ton front de reine
Sa couronne d’Orient !

Un écho redit encore
À ton rivage enchanté
L’antique refrain du Maure :
Gloire, amour et liberté !

Gérard de Nerval.

From <;

It is interesting that the title of the poem is just Spain, in the singular, but the first line refers to the country in the plural. I have never seen this usage elsewhere, it reminds me of the French custom of referring to India in the plural (Les Indes). I suppose it is for similar reasons, to reflect the diversity of geographical features, cultures and civilzations which go to make up these countries.

The first stanza establishes the poet’s rapture from his experience of Spain, described as the country of beautiful skies, cities, mountains and eternal spring (Nerval was obviously not in Castille or Andalusia in July or August…). The second stanza goes further saying that Spain would be God’s residence if he left paradise, because of Spain’s pure air, her fields, and her days. He draws attention to Spain’s renowned night life, saying the days are less beautiful than the nights. I can imagine Nerval spending all night in some bar or bodega with music and dancers, enjoying the local tipple.

The final two stanzas remind us of the time in Spain’s history when much of the country, particularly the south and west were part of the Muslim world, having been conquered as part of the Islamic expansion in the eighth century. This lasted almost 800 years, until the Moors were finally defeated and expelled from Granada in 1492. But this is clearly a period which lives on in Nerval’s image and experience of Spain, and he imagines the Moorish cry of glory, love and freedom echoing out from the buildings and landscapes of Spain.

I think this poem could still be used on the tourist brochures for Spain.

The Poetry Dude

Déjà les beaux jours, – la poussière,

Since we are in the middle of April, why not a poem about April and the onset of spring. This is by Gerard de Nerval, and is a short poem, but not a sonnet.


Déjà les beaux jours, – la poussière,
Un ciel d’azur et de lumière,
Les murs enflammés, les longs soirs ; –
Et rien de vert : – à peine encore
Un reflet rougeâtre décore
Les grands arbres aux rameaux noirs !
Ce beau temps me pèse et m’ennuie.
– Ce n’est qu’après des jours de pluie
Que doit surgir, en un tableau,
Le printemps verdissant et rose,
Comme une nymphe fraîche éclose
Qui, souriante, sort de l’eau.

Gérard de Nerval, Odelettes

From <;

Paradoxically, the description of the weather in the first few lines seems more like the height of summer than the early spring – dusty days, blue skies, sunlit walls, long evenings, but the trees are not yet green. So this is an unpredictable, unreliable time of year – the poet’s reaction is one of perplexity and disappointment. He is waiting for the April rains which will bring forth the greenery and the freshness which characterises spring, or should characterise it.

As befits a poet in the romantic tradition, the poem finishes with the ideal of spring personified as a nymph emerging from the water with a smile. There are paintings like that..

The Poetry Dude

Elle a passé, la jeune fille

Here is a poem from Gerard de Nerval, dandy, dilettante, bohemian, the Boy George of mid nineteenth century Paris. He is writing about what he sees on a walk through the gardens of the Luxembourg Palace, then, as now, a favourite place for Parisians to take a stroll, particularly on a Sunday. In such a place it is easy to check out the pretty girls and imagine a contact.

Une allée du Luxembourg

Elle a passé, la jeune fille
Vive et preste comme un oiseau
À la main une fleur qui brille,
À la bouche un refrain nouveau.

C’est peut-être la seule au monde
Dont le coeur au mien répondrait,
Qui venant dans ma nuit profonde
D’un seul regard l’éclaircirait !

Mais non, – ma jeunesse est finie …
Adieu, doux rayon qui m’as lui, –
Parfum, jeune fille, harmonie…
Le bonheur passait, – il a fui !

Gérard de Nerval

From <;

Poet walking in the park – sees pretty girl with a flower and a song – cue fantasy of love and harmony – but no, she is gone and poet back to reality. Does that happen every time we see a girl?

The Poetry Dude

Ou sont nos amoureuses

Here is a somewhat enigmatic poem from Gerard de Nerval, called Les Cydalises. Certainly the title is mysterious, perhaps a made up word by the poet, perhaps a very obscure classical reference. The body of the poem itself describes the fate of abandoned lovers gone to heaven, presumably having died of grief.

In heaven, the lovers are transformed into angels singing the praise of the mother of God. Their earthly sufferings relieved by having gone to heaven, their light can shine again in eternity.

Les cydalises

Gérard de Nerval
Où sont nos amoureuses?
Elles sont au tombeau :
Elles sont plus heureuses,
Dans un séjour plus beau
Elles sont près des anges,
Dans le fond du ciel bleu,
Et chantent les louanges
De la mère de Dieu!
O blanche fiancée!
0 jeune vierge en fleur!
Amante délaissée,
Que flétrit la douleur!
L’éternité profonde
Souriait dans vos yeux…
Flambeaux éteints du monde,
Rallumez-vous aux cieux!

From <;

A good poem to send to a former girl friend after a break-up perhaps.

The Poetry Dude