Help a French student find a poem to memorize.
March 13, 2008 9:55 PM   Subscribe

I need some help finding French poems that meet some specific guidelines. I'm currently in my 5th year of high school French. I'm going to a competition where I'll be reciting some memorized poetry, but I haven't had much luck finding anything good to memorize. I need some suggestions of French poems that are *good*, fairly long but not too long, and use moderately advanced vocabulary. I've looked, but I need some guidance from people who know more about this than me.

I'm having problems, I think, because looking online makes it hard to identify good poems, especially as I can't judge good French poetry very well. My comprehension is OK, but reading about every poet on the Wiki page about French poetry is tedious and takes a lot of time. English translations would make things very easy, but there's not a huge amount of them available. Anyway, here's some more info on my requirements:

-Fairly long is very important: approximately a page is what my teacher is telling us to look for. Keep in mind I'm memorizing this: a super long narrative style thing is no good.

-I'd like to have something I actually enjoy. I tend to like more modern poetry- I prefer Plath to Keats. I actually don't care for the Romantic style in general- it just isn't my thing.

-I'd like a poem with emotional impact, but anything with a lot of sex or violence might not make my teacher happy, and she has to approve my choice. I'm also female, so anything praising the female form in very specific detail might come across a little oddly.

I'd really appreciate anything you can point me towards- links are best, esp. w/ English translations. If you're linking to a French version and are feeling *very* generous, I'd love a quick recap. It's easy to get caught up in figuring out the words and miss the point, as I'm finding :P.
posted by MadamM to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to mention, don't not mention something because it's cliche. The old warhorses of literature textbooks are pretty much exactly what I'm looking for.
posted by MadamM at 9:57 PM on March 13, 2008

Baudelaire. All of his work appears to be here, in French. He's got a great reputation.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:11 PM on March 13, 2008

Do fables count? As my rusty brain remembers from French lit, Jean de la Fontaine wrote in verse.
Le corbeau et le renard and someone's line-by-line translation.

Sorry if this is redundant for you or not long enough. I think this is commonly memorized in French classes across the country.

Otherwise, I always liked Apollinaire, especially Le Pont Mirabeau. Translated here.
posted by Airhen at 10:11 PM on March 13, 2008

Oh, and as per Ironmouth, it should be easy to find a book of Baudelaire's poems with side-by-side English translations.
posted by Airhen at 10:12 PM on March 13, 2008

Rimbaud's Bateau Ivre has been a favorite of mine since I was doing those poetry-reading competitions back in the day. (translation link at the bottom)

Jacques Prevert would be the obvious poet that people wouldn't mention because he's a cliche. He's pretty awesome though, you'll just want to try and find something less traveled, so to speak.
posted by padraigin at 10:23 PM on March 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Gaston Miron, la marche à l'amour
Emile Nelligan, notably Le Vaisseau d'Or, Musiques Funèbres and so many others!
Baudelaire, Le Voyage, le Vin de l'Assassin and so many others!
St-Denys-Garneau, Accompagnement, On n'avait pas fini, Leur coeur est ailleurs and others available here (the interface does not allow for direct links)
posted by ddaavviidd at 10:23 PM on March 13, 2008

Response by poster: Bateau Ivre is one I looked at, but it's quite a bit too long. I think the time limit for reciting is about three minutes- I can go fast, but not that fast :). One that's up for consideration is another by Rimbaud- Roman, but my teacher may or may not approve it so I'd rather come to her with a few options.

Le Pont Mirabeau is too short- I found a lot of poems that approximate length, but I showed a few I liked to my teacher(one by Baudelaire, even) and she said they were too short.

I really like Prevert, but as padraigin says, they're a bit cliche. Any pointers on poems by him that aren't about painting birds and fit the length requirement would be appreciated.
posted by MadamM at 10:40 PM on March 13, 2008

Response by poster: Some of those Baudelaire ones are too long, ddaavviidd, but le Vin de l'Assassin might work. Merci :)

Oh, and also: it absolutely must be poetry, and afaik I can't take extracts. Multi-part narrative style poems are generally too long- we must, after all, consider my own laziness here :)
posted by MadamM at 10:44 PM on March 13, 2008

Well, if the Le Vin D'Assasin is too long, how about my favorite Le Fontaine De Sang?
posted by lumpenprole at 11:01 PM on March 13, 2008

Louis Aragon, 'Les lilas et les roses'. It's probably not too hard to memorise, either. Precis: it's Aragon responding to the sudden, devastating conquest of France by the Nazis in May 1940. Translation here.

(Did you catch the Apollinaire recordings here? It includes 'Le Pont Mirabeau'.)

'Voyelles' is also probably trop court, but Rimbaud in his early, bonkers, astonishing years is probably a good choice for high school, as long as its not the really dissolute stuff, which you can save for after class. 'A la musique', perhaps? Or Laforgue's 'Dimanches'? (Too male-gaze, perhaps.) Tzara's 'Sur un ride du soleil'?
posted by holgate at 11:23 PM on March 13, 2008

Texts: 'A la musique' (t); Laforgue; 'Sur une ride de soleil' [damn, it's late and I forget my genders], you'll need to find in a book. (Reading here.)
posted by holgate at 11:33 PM on March 13, 2008

Probably too long, but I like Valery's Le Cimetière Marin.

Enfance is my fave Rimbaud, but it's too long and it's prosey-ness probably makes it not so good for reading aloud.
posted by juv3nal at 1:20 AM on March 14, 2008

Best answer: Baudelaire's L'invitation au voyage is the one I remember from my French Literature days. It's shortish and contains the famous lines "Luxe, Calme et Volupté". It's a love poem but would be fine for a woman to read.
posted by jontyjago at 1:22 AM on March 14, 2008

Thirding Baudelaire!
posted by fire&wings at 2:53 AM on March 14, 2008

Apollinaire, maybe La Jolie Rousse.
posted by dilettante at 3:23 AM on March 14, 2008

I personally love Verlaine. There are quite a few from Poèmes Saturniens that would fit the bill. Difficult to chose one, Cauchemar or Après Trois Ans could fit the bill. Croquis Parisien is one of my personal favorites.
posted by kepano at 3:32 AM on March 14, 2008

Prévert? Cliché?
Anybody who can recite Inventaire (last one on the page) wins a raccoon.
posted by bru at 5:34 AM on March 14, 2008

How about Cyrnano's dueling speech from Cyrano de Bergerac? This was required recitation at my high school, but I can't remember if it was French 4 or French 5. It's a great piece, gives you some room to ham it up a bit, and there's some nice dramatic tension that you can resolve forcefully at the end.

It's in Act 1, Scene iv. It properly starts "Je jette avec grace mon feutre" about 4/5 of the way down here, though when reciting we began a couple lines higher with Cynarno's line "Ballade du duel qu'en l'hotel bourguignon Monsieur de Bergerac eut avec un belitre"

Here's a YouTube clip of Gerard Depardieu in the recent French version of the movie. The "ballade" starts about 3:40, and is preceded by the equally famous "nose" speech.

Here's a YouTube clip of Jose Ferrar in the English language 50's version of the movie. The "ballade" starts about 5:13, and this clip also contains the "nose" speech.
posted by johnvaljohn at 7:38 AM on March 14, 2008


Or "Anywhere Out of the World" by Baudelaire or one of his other prose poems from "Le Spleen de Paris".

For Rimbaud? Uhh, I'm not sure, if Bateau Ivre is too long. Just check some of his stuff out. If you want complex language and great vocabulary (and often quite a few neologisms), Rimbaud is your man.

Otherwise...Gerard de Nerval has some BEAUTIFUL poems but he's more of a sonnet man. Though check out "Le Christ des Oliviers"'s a series of sonnets and if I recall correctly isn't too long.
posted by nonmerci at 7:51 AM on March 14, 2008

Whoops, make that Le Christ aux Oliviers. I feel like this would be a good one because of the regular mention not liking romantic poetry (what?!), so maybe this won't be for you, but Nerval is sort of in his own category in the romantic subset.

Anywhere out of the world, Chacun sa chimère, and Le gâteau (too long but one of my favorites) by Baudelaire.

Bal des Pendus, Le coeur volé (mostly as an example of his fucking genius, I think it's too short for your purpose), Mes petites amoureuses (so.amazingly.good), and Ophélie (clichéd but still pretty) are my Rimbaud suggestions. Can you tell I'm a fan?

My favorite Hugo poems (even after reading the enormous Contemplations): Souvenir de la nuit de 4, Puisque j'ai mis mes lèvres[...]..

Un rêve, Vision and Venise by Musset.

Ballade des pendus of Villon (total badass--wiki his biography for a good read).

Lastly, some Gautier: Etoiles, qui d'en haut voyer valser les mondes, A travers les soupirs, les plaintes et le râle and La spirale sans fin dans le vide s'enfonce.

Hope that helps!

Sorry for my Romanticism bias.
posted by nonmerci at 8:27 AM on March 14, 2008

I would suggest L'Albatross by Beaudelaire
posted by racingjs at 10:13 AM on March 14, 2008

Nthing Baudelaire more specifically, La chevelure.
Otherwise if you're into modern stuff Mallarmé is the way to go. His sonnet en X might be a little too short but it's considered a great achievement of modern french poetry being one of the only poem of the french langage using rhymes with words that ends with x.
From Rimbaud, check Le coeur supplicié, pronunciation might be a bitch on this one though.
posted by SageLeVoid at 11:38 AM on March 14, 2008

If you like the self-referential recursion (as I do) of the idea of a native speaker of a Germanic language reciting (great) poems written in French by a native speaker of a Germanic language, you could take a look at Rilke's poems in French.

He wrote more than 400, they are usually about a page in length, and they are a distillation of a distillation of the poetic possibilities of French to me, and I am intensely disappointed not to have been able to find a single sample of one online for us to sip away at this Friday afternoon.
posted by jamjam at 1:06 PM on March 14, 2008

I dunno about Baudelaire guys, I vote no. Reading him in high school made his work pretty much unreadable for me for about ten years afterward until I got to a level of fluency in French where.. I appreciated more all the nuances and shades of meaning instead of thinking he just sounded really goth. and if you're not big on Romanticism.. not that he fits in that precisely but I still think he's not going to be your cup of tea.

How about Yves Bonnefoy? also you could find something surrealist, which is always cool, Queneau, Breton, Jean Cocteau..
posted by citron at 2:47 PM on March 15, 2008

Response by poster: I ended up going with L'invitation au voyage, but thank you for all the great suggestions.
posted by MadamM at 7:28 PM on April 12, 2008

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