Lamartine: The Lake (From French)

The Lake
By Alphonse de Lamartine
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

In 1816, at Aix-les Bains near Lake Bourget, Lamartine made the acquaintance of one Julie Charles. The following year, he came back to the lake, expecting to meet her there again. But he waited in vain, and initially thought she had stood him up. A month later he learned that she had taken ill and died. The "she" in this semi-autobiographical poem refers to Julie. The "voice I adore" which speaks the lines of stanzas 6-9 is also meant to be understood as Julie's voice.

Thus driven forth forever to new shores,
Born toward Eternal Night and never away,
Sailing the Sea of Ages, can we not
Drop anchor for one day?

O Lake! The year has scarcely spun its course.
Now, by the waves she should have seen again,
Watch how I sit, alone, upon this stone
On which you saw her then.

You lowed as now below those plunging cliffs.
As now, you broke about their riven flanks.
As now, the wind flung your foam forth to wash
Her feet which graced your banks.

One evening we two roamed -recall?- in silence:
On waves and under heaven, far and wide,
No sound came save the cadence of the oarsmen
Stroking your tuneful tide.

Then sudden tones, unfathomed on this earth,
Resounded round the echoing, spellbound shore.
The tide turned heedful; and I heard these words
From the voice I adore:

Suspend your trek O Time! Suspend your flight
O favoring hours, and stay!
Let us pause, savoring the quick delight
That fills the dearest day.

Unhappy crowds cry out to you in prayers.
Flow, Time, and set them free.
Run through their days and through their ravening cares!
But leave the happy be.

In vain I ask for hours to linger on
And Time slips into flight.
I tell this night: "Be slower!" and the dawn
Undoes the raveled night.

Let's love, then! Love, and feel while feel we can
The moment on its run.
There is no shore of Time, no port of Man.
It flows, and we go on.


Covetous Time! Our mighty drunken moments
When love pours forth huge floods of happiness;
Can it be true that they depart no faster
Than days of wretchedness?

Why can't we keep some trace of them, at least?
Why lost forever? Why beyond recall?
Will Time that gave them, Time that now destroys them
Not bring them back at all?

Eternity, naught, past, dark gulfs: what do
You do with days of ours which you devour?
Speak! Will you not bring back those things sublime?
Return the raptured hour?

O Lake! Caves! Speechless ledges! Gloaming glades!
You whom Time shields or can bring back to light,
Beautiful Nature, keep the memory-
The memory of that night:

Memory in your stillness and your storms,
Fair Lake, in your cavorting sloping sides,
In the black firtrees, in the savage rocks
Rising above your tides;

Memory in the breathings of the zephyr,
In shore whose sounds resound to shore each night,
And in the silver visage of the star
Touching you with soft light.

Let the bewailing winds and sighing reeds,
Let the light balm you blow through cliff and grove,
Let all that man can hear, behold or breathe
All say: "They were in love."


The Original:

Le Lac
Alphonse de Lamartine

En 1816, à Aix-les-Bains, près du lac du Bourget, Lamartine fit la connaissance de Julie Charles. L’année suivante il revint au paysage qui avait été témoin de leur bonheur, mais seul, cette fois, contre son attente. Il pensa d'abord qu'elle lui avait posé un lapin, mais apprit un mois plus tard qu'elle était tombée malade et puis mourut. Le pronom féminin dans ce poème partiellement autobiographique fait référence à ladite Julie. D'ailleurs, la "voix qui m'est chère" est celle de Julie, interlocutrice des strophes 6-9.

Ainsi toujours poussés vers de nouveaux rivages,
Dans la nuit éternelle emportés sans retour,
Ne pourrons-nous jamais sur l'océan des âges
Jeter l'ancre un seul jour?

O lac! l'année à peine a fini sa carrière,
Et près des flots chéris qu'elle devait revoir
Regarde! je viens seul m'asseoir sur cette pierre
Où tu la vis s'asseoir!

Tu mugissais ainsi sous ces roches profondes;
Ainsi tu te brisais sur leurs flancs déchirés:
Ainsi le vent jetait l'écume de tes ondes
Sur ses pieds adorés.

Un soir, t'en souvient-il? nous voguions en silence;
On n'entendait au loin, sur l'onde et sous les cieux,
Que le bruit des rameurs qui frappaient en cadence
Tes flots harmonieux.

Tout à coup des accents inconnus à la terre
Du rivage charmé frappèrent les échos;
Le flot fut attentif, et la voix qui m'est chère
Laissa tomber ces mots:

"O temps, suspends ton vol! et vous, heures propices,
Suspendez votre cours!
Laissez-nous savourer les rapides délices
Des plus beaux de nos jours!

"Assez de malheureux ici-bas vous implorent:
Coulez, coulez pour eux;
Prenez avec leurs jours les soins qui les dévorent;
Oubliez les heureux."

Mais je demande en vain quelques moments encore,
Le temps m'échappe et fuit;
je dis à cette nuit: "Sois plus lente"; et l'aurore
Va dissiper la nuit.

Aimons donc, aimons donc! de l'heure fugitive,
Hâtons-nous, jouissons!
L'homme n'a point de port, le temps n'a point de rive;
Il coule, et nous passons!

Temps jaloux, se peut-il que ces moments d'ivresse,
Où l'amour à longs flots nous verse le bonheur,
S'envolent loin de nous de la même vitesse
Que les jours de malheur?

Hé quoi! n'en pourrons-nous fixer au moins la trace?
Quoi! passés pour jamais? quoi! tout entiers perdus?
Ce temps qui les donna, ce temps qui les efface,
Ne nous les rendra plus?

Éternité, néant, passé, sombres abîmes,
Que faites-vous des jours que vous engloutissez?
Parlez: nous rendrez-vous ces extases sublimes
Que vous nous ravissez?

O lac! rochers muets! grottes! forêt obscure!
Vous que le temps épargne ou qu'il peut rajeunir,
Gardez de cette nuit, gardez, belle nature,
Au moins le souvenir!

Qu'il soit dans ton repos, qu'il soit dans tes orages,
Beau lac, et dans l'aspect de tes riants coteaux,
Et dans ces noirs sapins, et dans ces rocs sauvages
Qui pendent sur tes eaux!

Qu'il soit dans le zéphyr qui frémit et qui passe,
Dans les bruits de tes bords par tes bords répétés,
Dans l'astre au front d'argent qui blanchit ta surface
De ses molles clartés!

Que le vent qui gémit, le roseau qui soupire,
Que les parfums légers de ton air embaumé,
Que tout ce qu'on entend, l'on voit ou l'on respire,
Tout dise: "Ils ont aimé!"

9 comments:

  1. You did a magnificent job, A.Z.! Le Lac is one of my all-time favorites.

    ~ N.T. (linguist and night owl, presently.)

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  2. hi i am new to lamartine am so much impressed by his poem LE LAC. the poet proved himself as a romantic writer.

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  3. Just working on a travel guide to the French Alps and learned about the story behind this tragic poem - searched for it and found this. Thanks for the translation, much appreciated! (Apparently, Lamartine met his lover - a married woman - whilst they were both 'taking the waters' and by chance lodging in the same place in Aix-les-Bains - she with severe respiratory problems. Whilst there, she almost had a boating accident when a storm blew up over the lake. He rescued her, nursed her back to health and the rest is told here).

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  4. hi i am new too! to  ***** i 'am just nw running through the  LAC ->Lac ..in the (screen)... ma chandelle .s'allume ses plumes ( We ElKALAM WE ME YASSTOUROUN....) i'm not read yet the LAC LAMARTINE  I will do  if our God willing.

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  5. it's done..  I love LAMARTINE even before read,know Him, sush emotion possible!!! 

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  6. I love most Lamatine's "Le Vallon": "Mon coeur, lassé de tout, même de l'espérance". Thanks!

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  7. Wow, this is a great translation :) Thank-you so very much! It is greatly appreciated; I love this poem <3

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