Sunday, July 12, 2009

Emile Nelligan

Emile Nelligan (Dec 24 1879- Nov 18, 1941) was a Quebecois poet born to an Irish father and a Quebecois mother.

After dropping out of school at 17 to write full-time, Nelligan rose to a certain prominence, but was only really beginning his career. At age 20, after reciting his poem La Romance du Vin ("I'm alive! Give me more! More life, more love, more wine! Women, I embrace you! Men, I embrace you as well! I am joyous!") to an audience of leading French writers and scholars, the crowd roared their approval and carried him on their shoulders out into the rainy night. (This was at Chateau Ramezay, right around the corner from where I work, btw).

Three months later, Nelligan was confined to a mental hospital, and when his collected works were published four years later to great acclaim, confirming him as one of Quebec's leading poets, he never knew it, and spent the rest of his life in the hospital.

Christ on the Cross (1898)

Translation by Konrad Bongard

The gypsum Jesus always stalled me in my steps
Like a curse at the old convent door;
Crouching meekly, I bend to exalt an idol
Whose forgiveness I do not implore.

Not long ago, at the crickets' hour, I roamed dim
Meadows in a restful reverie
Reciting 'Eloa', with my hair worn by the wind
And no audience save for the trees.

But now, as I lie with knees bent beneath Christ's scaffold,
I see his crumbling mortar cross
With its plaster buried in the roses, and am saddened -

For if I listen close enough, I can almost hear
The sound of coal-black nails being wrung in
To his wrists, the savage piercing of the soldier's spear.

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