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)
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 !
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