You are currently viewing you who lured me for so long

Language: French 
Poet: Raoul Ponchon 
Translator: Mark Lager


you who lured me for so long

Two poems by Raoul Ponchon translated by Mark Lager

“Then [Ponchon] went alone, along the waterfront, pondering…he stopped at booksellers’ boxes…then the Boulevard Saint-Michel…where he fashioned his absinthe…he returned home to the Hotel des Grands Hommes, near the Sorbonne. He pulled out of an old trunk a green coat of an old-fashioned cut, too big for him, and whose embroideries were tarnished…donned an old gardener’s hat…all night he drank, reading the manuscripts of his unpublished works, which so few people know. They contain masterpieces…”

Guillame Apollinaire

Raoul Ponchon was born on December 30, 1848 in La Roche-sur-Yon, France. After several changes in employment, Raoul eventually embraced his status as a bohemian. in Paris He had a routine every day of the week: breakfast in the café of Cluny, a meal of inexpensive broth from Racine Street, and a return in the afternoon to enjoy his glass of absinthe. In October 1871, Raoul Ponchon was part of the circle of “Zutistes” (a group of poets who met at Hotel Foreigners on Boulevard Saint-Michel, at the corner of Racine Street, which is now the Hotel Belloy Saint-Germain.) André Gill, Léon Valade, Camille Pelletan, and Paul Bourget were some of those involved. Raoul Ponchon was a friend of Arthur Rimbaud and at that time Ponchon was writing his first poems (“drinking songs”) while living in a room made of crates. In October 1873, Raoul Ponchon was one of seven recipients of the first edition of A Season in Hell. Jean Richepin became Raoul Ponchon’s closest friend. Ponchon spent many holidays in Richepin’s house at Brittany and considered Richepin as his second family. (He would later be buried next to his friend at the cemetery in Pléneuf-Val-André.) Along with their mutual friend Maurice Bouchor, they nicknamed themselves the “Vivants” or “Three Musketeers” of poetry. Raoul Ponchon also attended painting exhibitions and was in the large literary circle surrounding Nina Villard de Callias, woman of letters, poet and musician, mistress of Charles Cros. H On December 3, 1876 (the same date he died over sixty years later), Raoul Ponchon published his first poem in The Republic of Letters entitled “Vinous Song.” Ponchon’s love affair with alcohol was chronicled by Guillaume Apollinaire (dubbing him “our last Bacchic poet”). Raoul Ponchon did not think highly of himself as a poet. In fact, he considered himself unworthy of an official publication. Nonetheless, he finally published his first collection of poems (the only collection published during his lifetime) in 1921 at the age of 72. La Muse au Cabaret (“The Muse in the Tavern”) is a series of Ponchon’s musings on Parisian life, food, wine, absinthe, as well as unrequited love, melancholia, time, and death. He spent his last days at the Hotel des Trois Collèges and died on December 3, 1937 at the age of 88, having outlived Mallarmé, Verlaine, Rimbaud, as well as his friends Bouchor and Richepin.  
Apollinaire, Guillaume. Le Flaneur des deux rives, Gallimard, 1929.
Coulon, Marcel. Raoul Ponchon, Bernard Grasset, 1927.
Robb, Graham. Rimbaud, W.W. Norton & Co., 2000.
Mark Lager is from St. Louis, Missouri with a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Philosophy/Religion from Truman State University. He is currently pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at the Arkansas Writers MFA Workshop. His poem “Pocahontas, Arkansas: June 2, 2001″ was published in issue 99 (spring 2015) of Chiron Review and his translation of “La Chanson de la Lune” (“Moon Song”) by Raoul Ponchon was published in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art.

Fleur de Péché

Comment, c’est encore toi, chiffon?         
Petite gringalette                
Grosse comme un quart de siphon,    
Ou deux liards de galette!         

Pour faire un corps comme le tien,                  
Statuette fragile,         
La recette est commode: rien 
Fournit d’abord l’argile;        

A force de pétrir ce rien,
On obtient quelque chose:        
Je ne distingue pas très bien,  
Mais cela paraît rose;             

On le barbouille de printemps,
De champagne qui mousse,     
De fanfreluche, on bat longtemps,                      
Et c’est là ta frimousse.                

O fleur qu’un souffle peut former,         
Qu’une risette éclaire,                
Tu peux, à défaut d’art d’aimer,            
Avoir le don de plaire !

Peach Blossom

Why, it’s you again pretty young woman?
little slender lady
big as a quarter of a pipe
or two pennies of pancakes!

To make a body like yours                  
delicate statuette
the recipe is a tall order: nothing
rendered in clay

Has the strength to shape this nothing,
you obtained something:         
I can’t distinguish very well
but it seems pink

You a painting of spring
of foaming champagne
of fancy frills you bat a long time
and it’s your sweet little face

O flower a breath may form
a child’s smile illuminates
you have no lack of art of love
to possess the gift to please!

La Mort

Un vieillard râlait sur sa couche          
Souffrant tous les maux d’ici-bas;  
Déjà bleuissaient sur sa bouche   
Les violettes du trépas.    

Cependant, d’aurore en aurore,   
Trahi par le cruel destin,      
Pour souffrir davantage encore    
Il s’éveillait chaque matin.     

“O mort! Abrège mon martyre,”        
—Criait l’infortuné vieillard.— 
Il ne t’importe que j’expire     
Un peu plus tôt, un peu plus tard?    

“Je n’ai vécu que trop d’années,       
Et j’aspire à l’éternel soir;     
Car dans mes prunelles fanées       
Le Monde se reflète en noir.        

“Je n’attends plus rien de la Vie.       
Compte, au lieu de me l’acquérir,               
A la Jeunesse inassouvie             
Le temps qu’il me reste à courir.”        

Et voilà que soudain, blafarde,         
Sous son masque de carnaval,        
Il vit l’effroyable camarde,     
Debout sur son seuil, à cheval!      

“Enfin! dit-il. Que tu m’es bonne,         
Toi, qui si longtemps me leurras!”       
Et tout ainsi qu’à la Madone,      
Il lui tendit ses maigres bras.     

Mais elle éperonna sa bête,    
Et continua son chemin,       
Sans seulement tourner la tête   
Vers ce vieillard en parchemin.     

Plus loin, au milieu des prairies,              
Deux amants, ceux-là bien vivants,         
Couraient dans les herbes fleuries,    
Vous eussiez dit de deux enfants.     

Ils ne connaissaient de la Vie,        
Les pauvres petits! que l’Amour;     
Et leur âme était asservie      
L’une à l’autre, sans nul retour.   

Ils allaient, joyeux, par la plaine,         
Souriant de leurs yeux d’Avril;       
Le vent retenait son haleine        
Pour ne troubler point leur babil.         

Et voici que la Mort affreuse            
Rageusement fondit sur eux,          
Et d’un geste prit l’amoureuse                  
Dans les bras de son amoureux.


Old man throat rattling on his bed
suffering all the ills here below
already turning blue at the mouth
violets of death

Dawn after dawn
betrayed by cruel destiny
to suffer further anew
he awoke every morning

O death! cut short my martyrdom
cried the unfortunate old man
does it matter to you
if I die a little earlier, a little later?

I’ve lived too many years
and I long for the eternal night
for in my faded pupils
the world is reflected in black

I expect nothing of life
account instead of acquiring me
a youth unsatisfied
the rest of my time to run

And now suddenly pale
under his carnival mask
he saw the frightful snub nose
standing at his doorstep on horseback!

At last! he said. You’re good to me
you who lured me for so long
and so like the Madonna
he held out his thin arms

But he spurred his beast
and continued on his path
without even turning his head
towards this old parchment

Farther in the meadows
two lovers living well             
running in the flowering herbs
you would have said two children

They did not know life
poor children! what love
and their soul was enslaved
one to the other with no return

Joyously going through open country
smiling with their April eyes
the wind holding its breath
not to ruffle their babble

And now dreadful death
violently descended upon them
and a gesture took the lover
in the arms of her sweetheart