|Paris: home of the unfortunate Telfour Tremble.|
If any of you followed the extraordinary story of Dominic Rivron unearthing the neglected work of little-known English poet Margery Clute, you may also be intrigued by my own similar tale of literary detection.
I was rummaging through some dimly-lit poetry shelves in the basement of a local second-hand bookshop the other day when, as chance or perhaps destiny would have it, I came upon a slender, leather-clad volume of verse bearing the gold-blocked inscription: Signes et Symboles: Poèmes Melancholiques. A closer inspection revealed the name of the author printed below the title in much smaller Gothic letters — a certain M. Telfour Tremble, Poète. Immediately a sharp frisson of excitement ran from my coccyx up my spine then into my neck. Just to be doubly sure, I took this rather tattered-looking book from the shelf and turned over a few mildewed pages. A short foreword written by none other than Paul Verlaine confirmed my original suspicion that this was an incredibly rare copy of the only published work of obscure French Symbolist poet Telfour Tremble, contemporary of Rimbaud and Mallarmé, and close friend of Jean Moréas, author of the Symbolist Manifesto of 1886.
I knew from my specialised knowledge of the period that Tremble had lit up the Parisian literary salons like a shooting star when this, his first and only collection of poems, was published; but the initial excitement seemed to quickly wear off and, after a particularly malicious review of the book had appeared in the literary journal, the Mercure de France, sales of the small print run plummeted, and Tremble vanished without trace. It was generally assumed that he joined the ragged ranks of the army of down-and-out poets who thronged the whorehouses and drinking dens of Paris at the time, and that he died in squalor — a poverty-stricken, absinthe-addicted dipsomaniac. All we know for sure, however, is that he expired, coincidentally, on his thirty-first birthday, 1st April 1900, and was buried in an unmarked grave in a remote suburban graveyard — not, as you might think befitted the status of a gifted Symbolist poet, in the cemeteries of either Père Lachaise or Montparnasse.
I bought the volume at a ridiculously cheap price from the unsuspecting bookseller and returned home gleefully with my prize. The collection contained forty-six poems in all, and I began at once the pleasurable task of translating them. Indeed, I have high hopes that eventually these English translations of mine may eventually be published in their own right — perhaps in a bilingual edition. At any rate, come what may, I'm delighted to present in this blog a sample of the work of the late M. Tremble, thereby rescuing him from obscurity at last.
Idyll In A Sylvan Hut
How can I leave it all behind?
This slice of moon —
This wedge of Camembert —
This hot and clamorous night
With its chorus of frogs
And symphony of mosquitos
And angelic choir of nightingales?
This sturdy cabin at the woodland edge,
Its windows open
To the still air, heavy with thunder?
This humble, splintered table,
This slick knife
Which hacks at a stale baguette,
Then scores an orange skin
Quarter-wise — peasant thumbs
Peeling it like unfolding petals?
This bitter wine,
Cinnamon-spiced, with a hint of gall,
And thick and red as oxblood?
This sultry woman by my side,
Her skin gleaming with sweat,
Sticky as the summer night itself?
Her body, slight as a young boy’s,
With buttocks scarcely rounded
And breasts like tangerines?
Her animal eyes
Darting from moon to table
Then back to moon again?
This moonlit path
Winding through forests
On and on and on
And even further —
From this cabin’s portal
To the mighty Pyrenees?
How can I leave it all behind?
Yet leave it I will
For when the morning sun
Bathes the east in a diaphanous pink glow,
I’ll lift the latch and set off in the dawn
Whistling a melancholy tune.
Telfour Tremble (1869-1900)
Translated from the French by The Solitary Walker