Thursday, September 27, 2012

TOIA the Prudhomme Quest

Meet René François Armand (Sully) Prudhomme:

Monsieur Prudhomme has the singular distinction of having been awarded the 1901 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first year the prize was ever awarded. Not that that means much. Although I still have hope of running across him accidentally one of these days--I plan to check the index in every Norton anthology that crosses my path--I haven't been able to find a significant collection of his work by a verifiably competent translator. 

There are a few poems available online, most frequently "The Broken Vase," or, alternatively, "The Fissured Vase." The worst translation is certainly that available on "Don't touch! It's broken." Snork.

The best, in my opinion, is the one at the On Being website. It's the most contemporary, and the translator specified that the fan was "a lady's fan," which made a bit of difference to me because I had been imagining a ceiling fan. Please don't ask me how a vase would be broken by a ceiling fan; I hadn't made it that far in my musings. I like to think I would've gotten there on my own eventually, and I thank you kindly for humoring me in that belief. But once I realized what type of fan Prudhomme meant, the poem took on a slightly different tone. Obviously.

(It also started me on a train of thought about why only women used fans. Were men supposed to be too tough to get hot? But I digress. Again.)

The last two stanzas of the version posted at On Being are:

The quick, sleek hand of one we love
Can tap us with a fan's soft blow,
And we will break, as surely riven
As that cracked vase. And no one knows.

The world sees just the hard, curved surface
Of a vase a lady's fan once grazed,
That slowly drips and bleeds with sadness.
Do not touch the broken vase.

Nice, yes? The Nobel committee awarded the prize to Prudhomme "in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect." I'm looking forward to running across more Prudhomme some day, and the assignment still stands. If you find him somewhere, let me know.

Next up: 1982 winner Gabriel García Márquez for no other reason than that I've had Love in the Time of Cholera and News of a Kidnapping sitting in my to-read pile forever. Maybe I'll re-read One Hundred Years of Solitude again, too, just for kicks. 'Cause I'm crazy like that.

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