Lyric Poems in French

I have not written many poems in French, and only embarked on my song lyrics for Erik Satie's early piano pieces (Gnossiennes, Gymnopédies) in 2016, when I was relearning how to play the piano and found I could tackle those technically; the experience of playing the same song over and over again naturally brought lyrics to my mind.

For Satie, I thought I should produce lyrics in French, since that was Satie's language, and that they should be on vaguely Cretan and Spartan subjects since those are (probably) the origins of the invented genre-titles "Gnossian" (probably from "Cnossos," possibly from "Gnosis," conceivably from some strange idea that the Minoans were Gnostics) and "Gymnopedia" (a Spartan dance).

I've tried to follow the spirit of Satie's music, in which a single note — or change in note — becomes significant in a context of few notes and much repetition; so the lyrics are somewhat repetitive. They really won't make much impact on their own, they have to be sung or mumbled to the music.

The other French poem, "À la lumière," which isn't that great but which I'm sentimental about, is from 1997 in Montreal, when I was 20.


Gnossienne #1 (the Minotaur)

The references are to the Minotaur in the Labyrinth and the tribute of seven maidens and seven youths; the "children of silence" are the Titans.

Best to read it to the
tune of Gnossienne #1.
Tout ça sous les mers,
Tout ça dans le ciel,
Tout ça à travers des continents immenses,

Tout ça sous les mers,
Tout ça dans le ciel,
Tout ça å travers des continents immenses,

Tout ça remonte aux enfants du silence,
À ceux qui sont les enfants du silence.

Autour du Minotaure et toi
Les filles se voient se lancer dans la danse;
Et quand le Minotaure est mort,
Les rîmes d'abord du rituel commencent,

Ce qui remonte aux enfants du silence
À ceux qui sont les enfants du silence.

Tout ça sous les mers,
Tout ça dans le ciel,
Tout ça sous les mers,
Tout ça dans le ciel,

Tout ça remonte aux enfants du silence,
À ceux qui sont les enfants du silence.

Autour du Minotaure et moi
Les filles se voient se lancer dans la danse;
Et quand le Minotaure est mort,
Les rîmes d'abord du rituel commencent,

Et elles remontent aux enfants du silence,
À ceux qui sont les enfants du silence.
All this under the seas,
All this in the sky,
All this across the immense continents,

All this under the seas,
All this in the sky,
All this across the immense continents,

All this goes back to the children of silence,
To those who are the children of silence.

Around the Minotaure and you,
The girls are seen throwing themselves into the dance;
And when the Minotaur is dead,
First the rhymes of the ritual begin,

Which goes back to the children of silence,
To those who are the children of silence.

All this under the seas,
All this in the sky,
All this under the seas,
All this in the sky,

All this goes back to the children of silence,
To those who are the children of silence.

Around the Minotaur and me,
The girls are seen throwing themselves into the dance;
And when the Minotaur is dead,
First the rhymes of the ritual begin,

And they go back to the children of silence,
To those who are the children of silence.

Gnossienne #2 (the Linear A tablets)

These are inspired by a Linear B class I took at Stanford, along with my great friend Mark Alonge, under the expert tutelage of Dr. Fred Porta. Along the way we discovered the wonderful legacy of Edo Nyland, who posited, somewhat tendentiously, that the Linear A tablets, which of course were baked into the clay they were made of when the Minoan palaces were destroyed and which are considered unreadable by mainstream scholars, can in fact be deciphered as a record of the sacking of peaceful Minoan civilisation by the aggressive Myceneans, his tool being . . . well, it's complicated.

Best to read it to the
tune of Gnossienne #2.
Mille
Sont les marques en argile
Dont le style est difficile

Brûle
Toute fantastique formule
Dans ce palais ridicule

Un amour alambiqué réduit en symbole
C’est pour ça que tu m’a fait m’inscrire å l’école?
J’suis folle

Toi tu m'as promis de faire de cela un beau portrait
en fresque
Y voilà le grand taureau et le p’tit gars y sautait
Ou presque, c'est vrai

Un amour alambiqué réduit en symbole
C’est pour ça que tu m’a fait m’inscrire å l’école?
J’suis folle

Mais -

Mille
Sont les marques en argil
Dont le style est difficile
Thousandfold
Are the marks in clay
Of which the style is difficult

Burn
Every fantastic formula
In this ridiculous palace

A convoluted love reduced to a symbol
Is it for that that you made me enrol in school?
I'm crazy

You, you promised you would make of this a beautiful portrait
In fresco
There's the great bull and the little guy was jumping over it
Or almost, it's true

A convoluted love reduced to a symbol
Is it for that that you made me enrol in school?
I'm crazy

But -

Thousandfold
Are the marks in clay
Of which the style is difficult

Gnossienne #3 (Song of the Kouretes)

This poem turns on an inscription found at Palekastro, in eastern Crete, on which my great friend Mark Alonge wrote his dissertation. It has been linked to the "Dance of the Korybantes," warlike dancers who, in myth, were charged with concealing the infant Zeus in a cave on Mt. Ida (the "mount of goats" referenced below) when his father Cronos was looking to swallow him along with his brothers and sisters.

Best to read it to the
tune of Gnossienne #3.
Dans la grotte humide
On s'occupe du bébé;
Car le père avide
Cherchera de l'avaler.

Alors,
faut le bercer encore;
Il dort,
qui sera le roi de

l'univers nouveau, et aussitôt
sa main pourra s'entendre tonner d'en haut.

Sous le mont des chevres
Il ne voit le bout de sein
Qui passait aux lievres
Mieux que ce nectar divin

Chantons:

Qui trahit sera trahi
et quand au sang de ce tyran
la prophétie, c'est accompli,
c'est la justice qu'il périsse -- tantôt.

Qui trahit sera trahi
et quand au sang de ce tyran
la prophétie, c'est accompli,
c'est la justice qu'il périsse -- tantôt.

Chantons, dansons:

Va frapper le bouclier, la lance, l'épée
Ce fracas le sauvera, la danse sacrée

Dans la grotte humide
On s'occupe du bébé;
Car le père avide
Cherchera de l'avaler.
In the wet cave
we are looking after the baby
since the greedy father
will try to swallow him.

So,
gotta rock him again;
He's sleeping,
who wil lbe the king of

the new universe, and immediately
his hand will be able to be heard thundering on high.

Under the mount of goats
He does not see the nipple
That used to go to his lips
Better than this divine nectar.

Let us sing:

He who betrays shall be betrayed
And, as to the blood of this tyrant,
The prophecy, it is accomplished,
It is justice that he should perish — soon.

He who betrays shall be betrayed
And, as to the blood of this tyrant,
The prophecy, it is accomplished,
It is justice that he should perish — soon.

Let us sing, let us dance:

Go smite the shield, the spear, the sword:
This noise will save him, the sacred dance.

In the wet cave
we are looking after the baby
since the greedy father
will try to swallow him.

Gnossienne #4 (Rhadymanthus)

The music here is so elliptical that I elected to go Full-On Symbolist. The speaker is Rhadamanthys, brother of Minos, who later became one of the judges of the dead, placed by Pindar in the Elysian Fields. The double axe was the main Minoan religious symbol. Of course, given that the Champs Elysées are something else in Paris, it's also vaguely about a woman sitting in a café on that avenue, watching passers by.

Best to read it to the
tune of Gnossienne #4.
Champs Élysées, y voici mon seul refuge.
Champs Élysées, c'est ici que je ne juge

que les belles et les folles, leurs frivoles protocoles tombent sous le beau marteau;
et les blondes vagabondes moribondes ou profondes tombent sous le beau marteau.

L'hache,

si tu veux je pourrais te l'amener;
si tu veux ou si ça t'intéresse, si ça n'ennuie pas je pourrais tout expliquer,

l'hache doublée
et mon frère,

tout expliquer.

Champs Élysées, y voici mon seul refuge.

L'hache doublée,
lui.

Si tu veux je pourrais te l'amener,
si tu veux je pourrais te l'amener,

l'hache doublée
et mon frère.
Champs Élysées, here is my sole refuge.
Champs Élysées, it's here that I judge only

the beautiful and crazy women, their frivolous protocols fall under the lovely hammer;
and the blond vagabonds, moribund or profound, fall under the lovely hammer.

The axe,

If you like I could bring it to you;
if you like or if you're interested, if it doesn't bore you I could explain everything,

The double axe
and my brother,

explain everything.

Champs Élysées, here is my sole refuge.

The double axe,
he.

If you like I could bring it to you,
if you like I could bring it to you,

The double axe
and my brother.

À la lumière

From student days in Montreal, when I was just starting to write poetry.
Amie lumière, maitresse, combien d'années
Faut-il aux pents du Purgatoire passer,
   Tout crime inconnu,
   Toute jeunesse disparue —
Ou naître même l'est-il en soi pécher?

Que tu reçoives ce tendre bonheur;
Je sais que tu en es l'auteur;
   Et soigne-le bien:
   C'est pas pour rien
Qu'on voit renaître en lui les anciens moeurs.

Dieu ne permet d'enfuir de son soleil
Que quelques braves rayons, qui nous reveillent
   Au bon matin,
   Pardon divin,
Et les tristesses se lèvent et se merveillent.
Beloved light, mistress, how many years
Must one spend on the slopes of Purgatory,
   All crime unknown,
   All youth vanished —
Or is to be born itself to sin?

May you receive this tender happiness;
I know you are the author of it;
   And take care of it well:
   It's not for nothing
That we see reborn in it the ancient mores.

God only lets escape from his sun
A few brave rays, which wake us up
   In the fine morning,
   A divine pardon,
And sadnesses get up and are amazed at themselves.