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French | English

by Émile Nelligan (1879-1941)

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Tout se mêle en un vif éclat de gaieté verte
O le beau soir de mai! Tous les oiseaux en choeur,
Ainsi que les espoirs naguère à mon coeur,
Modulent leur prélude à ma croisée ouverte.

O le beau soir de mai! le joyeux soir de mai!
Un orgue au loin éclate en froides mélopées;
Et les rayons, ainsi que de pourpres épées,
Percent le coeur du jour qui se meurt parfumé.

Je suis gai! je suis gai! Dans le cristal qui chante,
Verse, verse le vin ! verse encore et toujours,
Que je puisse oublier la tristesse des jours,
Dans le dédain que j'ai de la foule méchante!

Je suis gai! je suis gai! Vive le vin et l'Art!...
J'ai le rêve de faire aussi des vers célèbres,
Des vers qui gémiront les musiques funèbres
Des vents d'automne au loin passant dans le brouillard.

C'est le règne du rire amer et de la rage
De se savoir poète et objet du mépris,
De se savoir un coeur et de n'être compris
Que par le clair de lune et les grands soirs d'orage!

Femmes! je bois à vous qui riez du chemin
Ou l'Idéal m'appelle en ouvrant ses bras roses;
Je bois à vous surtout, hommes aux fronts moroses
Qui dédaignez ma vie et repoussez ma main!

Pendant que tout l'azur s'étoile dans la gloire,
Et qu'un rythme s'entonne au renouveau doré,
Sur le jour expirant je n'ai donc pas pleuré,
Moi qui marche à tâtons dans ma jeunesse noire!

Je suis gai! je suis gai! Vive le soir de mai!
Je suis follement gai, sans être pourtant ivre!...
Serait-ce que je suis enfin heureux de vivre;
Enfin mon coeur est-il guéri d'avoir aimé?

Les cloches ont chanté; le vent du soir odore...
Et pendant que le vin ruisselle à joyeux flots,
Je suis gai, si gai, dans mon rire sonore,
Oh ! si gai, que j'ai peur d'éclater en sanglots !

Song of Wine
Translation by
Fred Cogswell (1917-2004)

Fresh in joy, life, light - all things coincide,
This fine May eve ! like living hopes that once
Were in my heart, the choiring birds announce
Their prelude to my window open wide.

O fine May eve! O happy eve of May!
A distant organ beats out frigid chords;
And long shafts of sun, like crimson swords,
Cuts to the heart the scent of dying day.

How gay, how glad am I! Pour out, pour out
Once more the wine into the chiming glass
That I may lose the pain of days which pass
In scorn for all the wicked human rout.

How glad am I! My wine and art be blest!
I, too, have dreamt of making poetry
That lives, of poems which sound the exequy
For autumn winds that passing far-off mist.

The bitter laugh of rage is now good form,
And I, a poet, must eat scorn for food.
I have a heart but am not understood
Save by the moonlight and the great nights of storm.

Woman ! I drink to you who mock the path
where the rose-dream calls with arms flung wide;
I drink, too, to you men with brows of pride
Who first refuse my hand then scorn my life!

When the starry sky becomes one glorious roof,
And when a hymn resounds for golden spring,
I do not weep for all the days' calm going,
Who wary grope within my own black youth.

How glad am I! May eve all eves above.
Not drunk but desperately glad am I !...
Has living grown at last to be a joy?
Has my heart, too, been healed of my sick love?

The clocks have struck and the wind smells of night
Now the wine gurgles as I pour it out.
So glad am I that I laugh and shout
I fear I shall break down and sob outright.

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Émile Nelligan was born in Montreal in 1879 on Christmas Eve. His father was Irish and his mother was French Canadian. His literary talent manifested itself at an early age and he chose to pursue this profession against his father's wishes.

Between the ages of 16 and 19, Émile composed some 170 poems, sonnets, rondels, songs and prose poems.

In a reading on May 26, 1899, he fervently recited his poem "La Romance du Vin", an impassioned reply to detractors of poetry. The audience responded with a resounding ovation, and Nelligan was carried home in triumph.

Unfortunately, this was to be his last public appearance, and the following August, he suffered a psychotic breakdown. He remained confined to hospitals for the remainder of his life and died on November 18, 1941.

Today, he is one of French Canada's most beloved poets.

In 1983, Canadian poet,
Fred Cogswell translated
all Nelligan's poems in
The Complete Poems
Of Emile Nelligan

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