Antonin Perbòsc: Death of the Vine (From Occitan)

During the Great French Wine Blight of the 19th century, an epidemic of phylloxera, a sap-sucking aphid that feeds on the root of grapevines, destroyed most vineyards and vintners' livelihoods throughout French wine-country, which included large parts of rural Occitania. Phylloxera was commonly referred to as La Bèstia "The Beast" by Lengadocian vintners. The following poem, part of a cycle about wine and phylloxera in Languedoc, is taken from Lo Gòt Occitan "The Occitan Goblet" originally published in serial installments in Le Feu Follet in 1902. The title given to this poem in that serialization is Lo Comba-Négrat "The Combnegran." Combanegra "Blackdell" is the name of a place north of Toulouse and west of Montauban. (It also leads the imagination to a dell sucked black and sparse by the pestilence of phylloxera.) When Lo Gòt Occitan was printed as a complete collection in 1903, the poem bore the title given here.
The poem's final passage evokes Cathar martyrs killed in the Occitan War, the plight of the vintner standing as symbol of a crushed and drained nation.

Death of the Vine
By Antonin Perbòsc
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

And that was that. The vine was really dead.
Last year in pangs the poor old shoots had spread
to ripen the last bunch each branch could yield;
but now the Beast, brawling through every field,
— unspeakable! — with all its mouths had struck,
and sucked the last sap drop from the bled stock.

The old Combnegran, blistered by the sun
and beaten by the wind since he was young,
for fifty years had cut and picked each vine.
Now with legs shackled and a twisted spine,
for these three seasons past, a crippled man
with feet by the andirons too weak to stand,
—His whole life an outdoorsman to the core —
he somberly sat pondering by the door.

Endlessly pondering the disastrous blight,
not wanting to believe his house's plight.
Oh what he wouldn't give now just to run
to Peyralade where vines sipped ancient sun,
to see with his own eyes — and die, maybe —
the root-gnawed crop that naught could remedy.
Oh, heaven had left this godforesaken earth. 

"Papa, today has really been the worst" 
A summer ago, one evening, he had heard
those words and couldn't speak. Head bowed down toward
his cup where red wine sparkled at his face,
he asked no more. Said nothing. Sat in place. 

What had they done? Just ripped out every root
of Peyralade stock, the hillside's prize shoot
back when the bounteous harvests were still turning.
Still a good stock these days? Well, good for burning!
Whole ranks of them now, jumbled and bent double,
were heaped and shucked like sheathes in fields of stubble;
Then row on row were piled up and piled higher
until they made for an amazing pyre.
The sun had finished drying up last 
those stumps on which, in summers now long past, 
its beams bid bloom such luscious leafy layers. 

Winter had come. One evening during prayers
the old man on his stool, head bowed with bile,
chewed over bitter dreams of horror, while
outside the North Wind brawled with skreaking maw.
"Won't we be warm!" said his daughter-in-law
"We won't have wine, but we've got logs galore"
and gathered stumps into her pinafore. 

Oh, flames like battle-torches, log by log,
lit the hearth from pot-hanger to fire-dog!
The old man watched the smoking sizzling brands
tossed on the fireplace twist like human hands,
akin to martyrs grasping in the air
for God's aid with the fingers of despair;
eyes wide, pupils dilated hideously,
mouths gaping up to scream their agony,
blood pouring purply from the melting skin
salvos of golden sparks crazed up to spin
toward pitch night in the fire's devouring violence.
And then the house was still with deathly silence. 

The old man saw pass in this hellish shine
all the joy squeezed out of the wounded vine.
What misery now would canker in his head?
He stooped. And stooped a bit more. And was dead.

Audio of me reciting this poem in Occitan


The Original:

La Mòrt de la Vinha
Antonin Perbòsc

Tot èra plan finit, la vinha èra plan mòrta.
De migra, l'an passat, la paura cambatòrta
Suls rams aviá vairat sos darrièrs rasinòls;
Ara, La Bèstia aviá, sus totes los planòls,
— desparaulanta orror — amb sas milanta bocas
chucat duscas al còr la saba de las socas.

Lo vièlh Combanegrat, dempuèi sa joventut,
usclat pel solelhàs o pel ventàs batut,
las aviá cincanta ans podadas, vendimiadas;
ara, esquinal plegat e cambas enferriadas,
agut, despoderat, dempuèi tres calendrièrs,
a poder pas levar los pès de suls landièrs,
— el que tota sa vida aviá rotlat per òrta —
soscava sornament sul soquet de la pòrta.

Soscava sens sadol al malastre infernal,
sens voler creire al dòl tombat sus son ostal.
Qu'auriá donat per corre amont, a Peiralada,
ont sa vinha mila ans beguèt la solelhada,
per veire de sos uèlhs, — benlèu per ne morir!—
aquel mal rosegant que res podià garir!
A! La tèrra èra donc del cèl abandonada!...

"Paire, avèm fach, auèi, plan marrida jornada!..."
Aqui çò qu'ausiguèt un ser, l'estiu passat.
Demorèt atupit, son agach abaissat
sus son gòt, ont lo vin lusissiá, sus la taula,
sens ne mai demandar, sense dire una paraula.

Çò qu'avián fach? Avián arrancat a bèl talh
las vits de Peiralada, ondradas del costal
al temps ont se fasiá bèla vendemiadura,
ara bonas, ailas! Res qu'a la cramadura.
Las socas pels vidats, forra-borra, a redòls,
s'amontairèron tals los quintèls pels rastòls;
apuèi, a tombarèls comols, tièra per tièra,
anguèron s'apilar pel sòl en fagotièra
espectaclosa; aqui lo solelh finiguèt
de secar aquels socs ont, tant d'estius, fasquèt
espandir amb son flam rama tant pampolada.

L'ivèrn èra vengut. Un ser, a la velhada,
l'aujòl, sus son banquet, lo cap clin, al confin,
romiava son amar sosc de malcòr, ensin
qu'a grand buf la sisampa idolava defòra.
"Podèm plan nos calfar, ongan" diguèt la nòra,
"que s'avèm plus de vin, avèm pro de busquèts!"
E pel sòl anguèt quèrre un faudal de soquèts.

A! La flamba qu'alara esclairèt, batalhèra,
Tot l'ostal, del carmal duscas a l'endalièra!
L'aujòl vejèt los socs abrandats e fumants
se torsent suls landièrs tals de braces umans,
retiplant de martirs que tenon ennairadas
cap al secors diusenc lors mans desesperadas.
Avián d'uèlhs als perpels dubèrts orrescament,
de bocas s'alandant per clamar lor torment;
un sang porpral sortiá de lors ruscas ascladas,
e de belugas d'òr en folescas voladas
montavan dins la nèch del devorant brandal.
E l'ostal èra siau d'un silénci mortal.

L'aujòl vejèt passar dins l'òrra flambuscada
tot lo gauch avalit de la vinha atucada.
D'ara-enlà qual malcòr en el podiá florir?
Se clinant un pauc mai, acabèt de morir.

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