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Jacques Le Goff on History

This is the translation of an extract from the interview with the French historian, Jacques Le Goff, published in Le Figaro on December 7, 2006. The interview was done to mark the reprint of the book by Regine Pernoud, La Libération d’Orléans, 8 May 1429 (first edition – Paris, Gallimard, 1969), to which Le Goff wrote the preface, called The End of the English France. In it, he argued that the siege of Orleans in 1429 had not only been a turning point in the course of the Hundred Years’ War, but has also occupied a special place in the French national memory. Much of the interview examines this view, but towards the end Le Goff spoke on historical comebacks and the place of history in the context of today. The French text is by Jacques de Saint-Victoire and is printed in full here.

Don’t we also have this obscure interest in the Evil, in the most somber passions?
The comeback of the passions is one big trait of history. One could, for example, research into the history of the Crusades to explain the events in the Middle East. Bush is like one of the Western Crusaders, and the Arabs regarded the Crusaders as the first signs of the Western anti-Islamism. This is how I approached it. I was criticized a lot for being the first medievalist who has had a negative view of the Crusades. But we refer to them these days to measure the negative impact.

This reminds us of the ‘longue durée’, of which Fernand Braudel was so fond. André Burguière has just published his Intellectual History of the Annales. In your opinion, whatever happened to this ‘new history’? Isn’t it in a rut?
I am not the best person to answer your question, since the meetings of the committee of the Annales often happen at my place. But I don’t see the decline of the Annales. Didn’t they exaggerate, or even invent, the crisis of history? Yet its vigour rests within its process. I don’t see it either going backwards or stagnating. Admittedly, it’s a bit banal to say so, but the new doesn’t last forever. For all that, history continues, as Georges Duby would say.

Does it still have the same place it has once occupied?
It’s true that it’s no longer in the newspapers’ editorials, as it once used to be. But do notice that its position in the media interest is different not because history has declined or that it has stopped being interesting for the readers. On the contrary, what for me manifests itself as a real regress in the position of history, is that it occupies a place more and more marginal in the making of male and female politicians and in their cultural level. How could one govern France without taking its past much into account? I take the opportunity to mention an excellent posthumously published book by Yves Renouard, on the character types of France. I also deplore the fact that this historical dimension is hardly present in the making of Europe. History is necessary to give a soul and a foundation to politics.
You can read more about Jacques Le Goff at Wikipedia.
Pernoud, Regine, La Libération d’Orléans (8 May 1429), preface by Jacques Le Goff, Paris, Gallimard, 2006 (Les journées qui ont fait la France).
Renouard, Yves, Leçons sur l’unité française et les caractères généraux de la civilisation française, édition François Renouard, Bordeaux, 2005.

Polnareff’s Holidays (Explanations – Part 2)

I also know that someone was looking for the English translation of this song by Michel Polnareff, called Holidays. The song is beautiful, yet melancholic, and carries a very deep meaning. I can imagine Polnareff writing it while on the plain, but I don’t know if it’s true or not. I didn’t attempt to adapt the English text to the music, though.

Holidays, oh holidays
C’est l’avion qui descend du ciel
Et sous l’ombre de son aile
Une ville passe
Que la terre est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
Des églises et des H.L.M.
Que fait-il le Dieu qu’ils aiment?
Qui vit dans l’espace
Que la terre est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
De l’avion, l’ombre prend la mer
La mer comme une préface
Avant le désert
Que la mer est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
Tant de ciel et tant de nuages
Tu ne sais pas à ton âge
Toi que la vie lasse
Que la mort est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
C’est l’avion qui habite au ciel
Mais n’oublie pas, toi si belle
Les avions se cassent
Et la terre est basse

English translation

Holidays, oh holidays
It’s a plane that comes down from the sky
And the shadow of its wing
Covers a city below
How close is the ground

Holidays, oh holidays
Churches and council flats,
What is their beloved God doing?
He who lives in the space
How close is the ground

Holidays, oh holidays
The plane’s shadow covers the sea
The sea is like a preface
To the desert
How close is the sea

Holidays, oh holidays
So much sky and so many clouds
At your age you don’t know
That life is boring
How close is death

Holidays, oh holidays
It’s a plane that lives in the sky
You’re so beautiful, but don’t forget
That planes crash
And that the ground is close

Chidiock Tichborne (1558-1586). Elegy

I was once browsing the blogs that I read, and on ReadySteadyBook I came across a sad poem, written by one Chidiock Tichborne ‘on the eve of his execution’. I found his name remotely familiar, and later realised, why: he took part in the Babington conspiracy against Elizabeth I in 1586. As some of you may know (or guess by the dates), this conspiracy was also the one that had brought Mary Queen of Scots to her tragic end. However, I dare say, the end of the conspirators, including Tichborne, was far more tragic, since their execution was carried out in the *best traditions* of punishment for treason. They were hung, drawn and quartered. The execution was usually a gruesome one; it would include a criminal being cut open, and their insides being taken out and burnt in front of their eyes. Normally, they would die at this stage, but sometimes they were still alive by the time they had begun being cut into four parts. The sources say that such was the case of one of the Babington conspirators (not Tichborne, though). The rider in the verdict stated that the severity of punishment could be increased upon the authorities’ discretion. Nevertheless, having been reported about the popular dismay, the authorities allowed the next group of conspirators to hang until dead before being drawn and quartered.

Although Tichborne’s Elegy is not the only work that has reached us, this poem, written in such dramatic circumstances, has attracted much attention from the scholars. Indeed, the use of antithesis and paradox – the two popular Renaissance literary figures – suggests that Tichborne was definitely not new to the art of poetry. Some further information can be found over here, in The Leeds Review, where you can see the first imprint of Elegy, Tichborne’s letter to his wife Agnes, and a response to Tichborne’s poem, specially composed to diminish the creative effort of this young man.

Along with the English text, I also include my translation of it into Russian. I was immediately captivated by the text, and the chance to render all literary figures into my native language was impossible to miss. And when you consider the age of Tichborne and the severity of his execution, you probably begin to read the whole poem differently.

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and found it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

Chidiock Tichborne, 1586

Мою весну мороз невзгод овеял;
На радости пиру вкусил я боль;
Растил зерно – собрал охапки плевел;
Тщета надежд – достаток скудный мой.
День пролетел, – не видел солнца я.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

Слух обо мне разносят пустословы;
Листвою зелен, наземь плод упал;
Промчалась юность, – я остался молод;
Я видел мир, а он меня не знал.
Прервали нить, кудели не спрядя.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

К себе вернулся я, пойдя за смертью;
Я жизнь нашел в забвения тиши;
Могилу чувствовал, когда бродил по тверди;
И умираю, путь свой не свершив.
Иссякло время до исхода дня.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

To * * * (E. A. Poe)

As many readers have unanimously declared, this is everyone’s favourite poem by E. A. Poe – after The Raven, of course! However, the Russian translations of which I was aware did not convey the poem’s original rhythm and meter, so this became my challenge. After several different attempts I hope I have succeeded. And it is a good addition to the Literature label.

I heed not that my eathly lot
Hath little of Earth in it;
That years of love have been forgot
In the hatred of a minute.
I mourn not that the desolate
Are happier, sweet than I,
But that you sorrow for my fate,
Who am a passer-by.

Пусть слишком тяжек для Земли
Вес моего удела;
Отвергнуты года любви
В одну минуту гнева;
Пускай отчаянные все
Счастливее меня;
Жалеешь странника во мне, –
Об этом плачу я.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

Procession (by Jacques Prévert)

As I said in the previous post, I couldn’t find the translation of Prévert’s poem Cortège on the web, so I decided I would have a go at translating it. I finished one of my projects, so I had the right amount of time to immerse in the process of rendering the French text into English. I’ll republish both French and Russian versions in this post, so that those who possibly know all three languages could compare the translations.

A golden oldster with a watch in grief
A labourer of England with an unskilled queen
And the workers of peace with the guardians of the sea
A hussar of cat with a paw of death
A coffee serpent with a bespectacled grinder
A tight-rope hunter with a head walker
A Meerschaum marshal with a retired pipe
A brat in tuxedo with a gentleman in undershirt
A composer of gallows with a bird of music
A spiritual collector with an advisor of cigarette butts
A sharpener of Coligny with an admiral of scissors
A nun of Bengal with a tiger of Saint Vincent de Paul
A professor of pottery with a repairer of philosophy
A controller of the Round Table with the knights of the Gas Company
A duck in Saint Helena with a Napoleon in orange sauce
An inspector of Samothrace with a Winged Victory of cemetery
A tug of many with a father of the tides
A member of prostate with an enlargement of the French Academy
A large horse in partibus with a great circus bishop
A comptroller of the Wooden Cross with a little singer of the bus
A dentist terrible with an enfant surgeon
And the general of oysters with an opener of Jesuits.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

Un vieillard en or avec une montre en deuil
Une reine de peine avec un homme d’Angleterre
Et des travailleurs de la paix avec des gardiens de la mer
Un hussard de la farce avec un dindon de la mort
Un serpent à café avec un moulin à lunettes
Un chasseur de corde avec un danseur de têtes
Un maréchal d’écume avec une pipe en retraite
Un chiard en habit noir avec un gentleman au maillot
Un compositeur de potence avec un gibier de musique
Un ramasseur de conscience avec un directeur de mégots
Un repasseur de Coligny avec un amiral de ciseaux
Une petite sœur du Bengale avec un tigre de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul
Un professeur de porcelaine avec un raccommodeur de philosophie
Un contrôleur de la Table Ronde avec des chevaliers de la Compagnie du Gaz de Paris
Un canard à Sainte-Hélène avec un Napoléon à l’orange
Un conservateur de Samothrace avec une Victoire de cimetière
Un remorqueur de famille nombreuse avec un père de haute mer
Un membre de la prostate avec une hypertrophie de l’Académie française
Un gros cheval in partibus avec un grand évêque de cirque
Un contrôleur à la croix de bois avec un petit chanteur d’autobus
Un chirurgien terrible avec un enfant dentiste
Et le général des huîtres avec un ouvreur de Jésuites.

(Courtesy of http://perso.wanadoo.es/joan-navarro/tigre/tigre5/prevert.htm).

Скорбящие часы с золотым стариком
Потная королева с английским ломовиком
И труженики мира со стражами моря
Надутый эскадрон с индюком смерти
Очковая мельница с ветряной змеей
Канатный охотник с плясуном за черепами
Пенковый маршал с трубкой в отставке
Дитя во фраке с джентльменом в пеленках
Сочинитель сволочи с последней музыкой
Собиратель лиц с духовными окурками
Уличный адмирал с точильщиком флота
Бенгальская монашка с католическим тигром
Профессор по фарфору с художником по философии
Инспектор Круглого Стола с рыцарями Газовой Компании
Утка под Ватерлоо с Наполеоном под соусом
Самофракийская крыса с церковной Никой
Крестный буксир с морским отцом
Член простаты с гипертрофией Французской академии
Приходская лошадка с цирковым священником
Контролер на похоронах с плакальщиком в автобусе
Вопящий хирург с ребенком-дантистом
И магистр улиток с поедателем Ордена кармелиток.

(Courtesy of http://anch.info/reader/french_poetry/prevert/)

A few comments on the translation. Although Prévert”s poem is seemingly absurd, its play on words is sometimes exemplary in re-discovering of some familiar idioms or collocations. I tried, for the most part, to remain faithful to the text, except for when I decided to translate ‘dindon de la farce‘ as ‘cat’s paw‘, actually reversing it, to make it ‘a paw of cat’, so that to mix it with ‘hussard de la mort‘. I also reversed the parts of the second line, because in the French text one can find some occasional (and mostly acoustic) rhymes, so I tried to do just that in the English text.

Also, in the line

Un contrôleur à la croix de bois avec un petit chanteur d’autobus

Prévert refers to Les Petits Chanteurs a la Crois de Bois, a boy choir that was founded in 1906 and exists until this day. As a matter of fact, this reference is omitted in Russian translation.
Bespectacled serpent‘ is, of course, a cobra; ‘gibier de potence‘ is translated as ‘a gallow bird’. ‘Un grand eveque in partibus‘ is a bishop of the see that doesn’t actually exist or is situated in the ‘unchristian’ part. In partibus is an abridgement of in partibus infidelium (Latin), i.e. in the lands of the unfaithful. Vincent de Paul is a well-known Catholic saint, who devoutedly supported and founded various charities, some of which continue to exist. His name is widely known in the West, including America, which is why I left a reference to him in the text. ‘Admiral of Coligny‘ is Gaspard de Coligny, whose brutal assassination was one of the acts of the dance macabre of St. Bartholomew’s Night of 1572.

A Day in the Life with the Blue Lyre

Yes, there was a post under such title already on this blog, but, since I took part in the History Matters campaign and my entry has been uploaded to their page, I thought I would post it here, too. You can read as many other entries, as you wish, by clicking here. I’ve got to say, some comments are totally amazing, especially those written by children.

You will notice that my ‘one day in history’ is anything, but down-to-earth. There’s no mention of how I brushed my teeth, ‘dragged the comb across my head’, and, since it was my day-off, I spent it at home. I noted what I had for tea, however. The major part of the entry is dedicated to my recalling of what I did in terms of reading, thinking and writing. I shall explain, why I did so. As you know, I am an historian, and for years I’ve been researching into intellectual history, or history of ideas (very broadly speaking). This field borders on both philosophy and art, which is one of the reasons why it fascinates me so much. Consequently, I jotted down, as briefly and clearly as possible, what I thought and felt on October 17th, 2006. What you’re reading, therefore, is a writer’s alienating themselves from their ideas and occupations and looking at these through an historian’s specs.

So, this is a retrospective view of one single day, 17th October 2006.

When I was an adolescent and tried to write a diary, I hated it. But recently I began to write a blog, and I am actually enjoying it. However, I don’t write about commonsensical things there. For this reason I’ll only briefly mention such unimportant details, as my getting up at 10am (because the 17th was my day-off, and the night before I stayed up late); having breakfast; checking my email; having lunch later on; then boiling chicken breasts and eating one of them for tea; and eventually going to bed. I don’t boil chicken breasts every day, and I don’t get up at 10am every day, but the rest I am doing day-in, day-out.

I have always been attracted to history, even before I went to study it. History was always linked to philosophy and art, and was about people, what and how they think and feel, and why. The arts, especially literature, have been my main interest and preoccupation since I was 6, so I ended up as a specialist in intellectual history. Back in 1997, in Moscow, and wanting to be a writer, I went to read History to gain the knowledge of life (in the broadest sense) and to generate my understanding of it, so I would have something to write about. Gradually I began to discover and sometimes to face the memories of my own past. Thinking about it, this is exactly what historians do – they collect information from elsewhere, whilst waiting for the archives to be opened. I don’t know exactly what has opened my archives, but perhaps I just forgot about it now?

This is what I thought on October 17. What did I feel? I felt love. Around that date I was in love with ‘Terrace in Rome’ by Pascal Quignard. The book was short enough to be swallowed in a couple of hours, but sometimes it is short or simple pieces that mesmerise you and touch your very core. Having finished it, I spent the next two days in a state close to cathartic. Even now I am not completely over it. For me as an artist, it is essential that I am in love, as love, whether shared or unrequited, is the source of inspiration. There is nothing particularly original about this view. Likewise, love doesn’t have to be associated with any particular person; the object of love can be a late writer or a book. Love in this case is a mixture of empathy, fantasy and passion, neither of which needs to be directly expressed or fulfilled. But it is essential that such object exists in my life, as something that attracts, challenges, inspires, and ultimately changes me. I don’t think, however, that love is a fleeting feeling; after all, I am faithful to my art.

In the afternoon I found an article about one classic Russian film, which I subsequently blogged. I’ve also posted an announcement on my blog (Notebooks) about this campaign. Later in the afternoon I received a totally unexpected email from a fellow artist. It mentioned his interview in The Wire; I found a couple of tracks on The Wire website and thought that ‘Lords of Fear’ was especially interesting.

In the evening I was again pondering on how to rewrite a cycle of poems that I composed in 2001. The cycle was called (and still is) ‘The Blue Lyre’, but its structure and form are to be totally changed. The main theme of the cycle is the formation of a poet, and in accordance with my plans, I wrote a rondeau. I never force myself to write, and I don’t quite believe in the ‘nulla dies sine linea’ adage. The world and the art, and my feelings for and thoughts about them, compel me, which is why I sometimes stay up in the night. But on October 17 I didn’t.

To see the corresponding entrances, so as to refresh your memory, you can go to the following links: the campaign and the article that I blogged, and the track that I listened to.

I’ll tell a tiny bit more about this cycle. Upon my word, I don’t know why I decided to call it ‘The Blue Lyre’. I think, generally, the explanation is pretty simple, and you can have a go at deciphering it. The rondeau I mentioned is a lovely Renaissance poetic form, and in the cycle it tells the story of the poet being warned against falling under the Lyre’s spell, for it makes everyone who follows it unhappy. But the poet eventually joins the Lyre’s retinue, whilst realising that he will be unhappy either with her or without her. The refrain of this rondeau is ‘I have always been told‘ (“Мне всегда говорили“), and this is what it reads like in Russian:

Мне всегда говорили: «Не слушай, когда,
Из небесных пределов спускаясь, звезда
Призывать в свою свиту тебя станет нежно, –
«Не желаю и знать!» – отвечай безмятежно».

«Коль примкнешь к ее свите волшебной, тогда
В бесконечной нужде проведешь ты года,
За одною настигнет другая беда,
Будешь плакать над долей своей безутешно», –
……………………………………….Мне всегда говорили.

Так ночей моих скудных прошла череда, –
И, за Синею Лирой уйдя навсегда,
Обещанье покоя отринув мятежно,
Понял я: буду с нею страдать неизбежно,
Без нее же счастливым не быть никогда, –
………………………………………Мне всегда говорили.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

Still, a bientot!

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