Max Allier: Days of Shame (From Occitan and French)

Max Allier, veteran of the French Resistance during WWII and of the Spanish Civil War, was unusual for an Occitan poet of his time in that he had no patience with nationalism of any kind, nor any sympathy for the backward-looking conservatism and sepia-tinged nostalgia of the Felibritge. A fiery socialist and communist, this poet of "Red Occitania" wrote in Occitan not out of nationalist conviction, but because it was the language spoken by the farmers and tradesmen he allied himself with. He also did so, I think, because it allowed him to go free of the stylistic straightjacket imposed by normative literary French. In Occitan you are far freer to write like you talk. The poem here, published in 1965, is from the cycle La Crida, an impressionistic retrospective reaction to wartime Europe.

Occitan was not Allier's first language. Born in Montpelier, he was raised and educated in Paris. He first encountered the language at the age of 12, when he happened across Aubanel's La Miugrana Entreduberta with a translation. But for this, he explains in a letter to Robert Lafont, "no doubt I would never have learned our Occitan language."  

Allier said that his French versions are different versions from the Occitan poems. Not simply translations (in the subordinate sense) of the Occitan poems, but different versions equal to them. The Occitan was not always written first, though it usually was. Allier sometimes went back to the Occitan and revised it with phrasing he had first worked out in the French version. In this poem, for example, a later printing has "d'òmes escurs salits de l'ombra" for "d'òmes espelits de las ombras." This revision transparently based on, or inspired by, Allier's French rendering "Des hommes obscurs, nés de l’ombre."

He writes in his introduction to Solstici 
D'escriure en òc sembla una cotralada au sègle de l'atòma e te fai espelir unas risas trufairas sus las bocas dau mond que se creson. Te venon pietadoses : De qu'es aquel pescaluna, aquel pinhastre, que quita pas de s'exprimir dins una lenga que la compren digús ? Perqué non en francés ?... Li poiriái repotegar : E perqué non en chinés ? Mès non o farai. Que seriá pas onèste de simplificar antau un empèri de tant entrepachos que çai non es lo luòc de'n parlar. Aimariái au contrari que non se laguièsse d'aquò lo legeire que dobrirà aqueste quasèrn. La lenga d'òc soi pas d'aqueles que se pensan que cabís un trelutz que, dins la revirada francesa que de son obra donan, s'avalís. Francés emai occitan, son mieunas las doas lengas e soi tant de biais emb una coma l'autra. Aquestes poemas, los engimbrère en francés tant coma en òc. Non cridarai : Avalisca ! se li fan la bèba los que forestièrs a la lenga d'òc los auràn legits pas qu'en francés. Aici i a pas de revirada e la dicha « traduttore, traditore » non ista ben. Tras las doas lengas son dos rebats d'un sol fanau. Se lo trobas fosc, la peca non es dau veire o de sa color. Vai simplement qu'au lum de l'autor es de manca l'òli
The only way to translate this is as a tongue-in-cheek paraphrase:
Writing in Occitan seems like a screwy move in the Age of the Atom. When you do, you get mocking laughs from jumped-up folk who come, all pity, asking: What's up with this pigheaded crackpot who won't stop using a language nobody understands? Why doesn't he just do it in French? I could grouse right back at them: well why not in Chinese? I could, but I won't. It wouldn't be honest of me here to simplify such a messy can of worms which this isn't the place to pry open. I'd like for the reader opening this book to not get too hung up about that. I'm not one of those people who thinks that Occitan harbors this special brilliance which, when your work is translated into French, is profaned and erased. French and Occitan are both languages of mine, and I am as much at home in the one as in the other. I wrote these poems in both French and Occitan. I won't cry "oh the profanity!" even if others get pouty at the Occitan-impaired who will have read these poems only in French. Here there are no translations, and no place for the old saw "traduttore, traditore." The two languages give two reflections of a single beacon's light. If it's obscure, don't blame the glass or its tint. The author's lamp is just out of oil.
This is what Allier says of himself. Some Occitan nationalists disagreed, and expressed their misgivings in the generative grammar of secular mysticism. 

I decided to take Allier at his word. To that end I have included both Allier's French and Occitan versions of this poem. I have also allowed both the French and Occitan to inform the translation into English. My translation corresponds neither to the French nor to the Occitan, but draws at will from both. At every juncture I freely went with whichever option seemed like it would work best in English. When both were equally promising, I gave priority to the Occitan. I have tried to make Allier's translation ethic my own to some degree. Allier often did what felt right in his self-translations, and allowed himself great latitude. For example, Astorias in the Occitan is replaced with Corogne, the French exonym for Coruña, a province of Galicia in Northwest Spain. It seems obvious to me that this was to preserve the assonance, and that actual geography was of secondary importance. So I substituted "Carnota" (a town within Coruña) in the English for the same reason.  

I have preserved the non-punctuation of Allier's Occitan version (the French version is punctuated in standard fashion.)

Days of Shame
(In memory of the Spanish Civil War)
By Max Allier
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I have lived through the days of shame 
but my era has burrowed its path
through history's dark barrow
face down and bleeding with man
Men insurgent from shadow
told evil You Will Not Pass

I remember Barcelona
Spain bloomed from sea to sea
The Popular Front summer
comes up like a sun in me
Granada Madrid and Carnota 
in my flesh are golden needles

I hold in my heart Catalonia
the squares of unpaved Montjuïc
I see that cul-de-sac holding
the girl The red on her cheek
fires on the shadow cloaking
the sun of liberty.

Wind stirs Rising morning
rouses the guerrilla faidits
Names burst on my lips bleeding over 
like mulberries....I hear free
rocks crash again My ferocious
country cuts off the Beast

Twenty years But sometimes even now
the song of the fountains clouds
A shadow Your shadow Grimau
in bloody regret bends down
And the fierce widow Alhambra
in red night burns on black ground

It is hard to become a human
It's a long and wounding way
in the narrative whirlwind of atoms
to Icarus from Ape
and a nasty fight in the shadows
for justice to the slave

Screaming half-blind under rubble
my era will still have saved
man Up from the muddle he straggles
to meet the hell of a day
dragging his balky shadow
across the Milky Way

The Original:

Ai viscut los jorns de vergonha
Amb aquò mon temps a traucat
l'istòria entrumida dau monde
morre nud Grèus d'umanitat
d'òmes espelits de las ombras
an dich au mau Non passaràs

Ieu me ramente Barcelona
Espanha en flors de mar en mar
Dins ieu còma un sorelh repofa
l'estiu dau Frente Popular
Madrid Granada las Astorias
son d'espinhas d'aur dins mas carns     

T'ai tota en mon còr Catalonha
Montjuic los plans descaladats
e vese au canton d'una androna
la filha ambé sa risa roja
fai petar l'ombra que s'acorcha
au solelh de la libertat

L'aura bolega Una auba monta
que fai se levar los faidits
De noms me sannan sus las bocas
còma d'amoras Tòrne ausir
los ròcs que trestomban Ferotge
chapla lo Dragàs mon païs

Vint ans Mas de còps dins lo suau
las fònts son rajòu se trebola
Una ombra Ton ombra Grimau
ensannosida se i amorra
E d'un vam l'Alambra aveusat
crema de temps dins la nuòch roja

Saique es de mau se faire un òme
Fai patir lo camin que vai
dins los revolums de l'istòria
de l'òme monina a l'Icar
Es de grèu de luchar de lònga
per la justicia dels pelaus

Bòrni idolant jot tant d'escombres
mon temps aurà pasmens sauvat
l'òme A dapàs de l'embolh monta
dòrs lo rescòntre que se fai
Pinhastre s'agandís son ombra
sul camin que Sant Jaume trai
J’ai vécu les jours de la honte…
Cependant ce siècle a troué
l’histoire orageuse du monde
d’un front poignant d’humanité.
Des hommes obscurs, nés de l’ombre,
ont dit au crime : voie barrée !

Je me rappelle Barcelone,
l’Espagne en fleurs entre deux mers.
En moi comme un soleil remonte
cet été du Front Populaire.
Madrid, Grenade, La Corogne,
sont des pointes d’or dans ma chair.

J’ai dans mon cœur la Catalogne,
Montjuich, les places dépavées.
Je vois dans un angle de porte
la fille, aux cheveux une rose,
mettre en joue l’ombre qui clignote
au soleil de la liberté.

J’entends le vent. Son chant qui roule
fait se lever les partisans.
Des noms s’écrasent sur la bouche
ainsi que des mûres. J’entends
les rocs qui s’écroulent. Farouche
mon pays cerne le serpent.

Vingt ans… Mais parfois dans le soir
la chanson des fontaines se trouble.
Une ombre, ton ombre Grimau ?
vers nous comme un remords se tourne.
Et loin l’Alhambra, bûcher noir,
brûle longtemps dans la nuit rouge…

Il est dur de se faire un homme.
Il est long le chemin qui va,
dans le tourbillon des atomes,
du singe ancestral à Icare.
On s’épuise à lutter dans l’ombre
pour que demain le jour flamboie !

Hurlant, tout saignant de ses crimes,
notre âge aura pourtant sauvé
l’homme. Sur un monde en gésine
son enfer jette des clartés.
C’est le char du passé qu’il tire
par le chemin des Voies Lactées.

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