Monday, October 17, 2011

Annotating Paris, Part 2


The first half of the annotations for Paris, a Poem went up Friday.  You can find them here.  The second half is below.

Page 12

Cloacae: Sewers.

Hot indiarubber:  The smell of automobile tires.

Poudre de riz:  Face powder.

Monsieur Jourdain, Ballet Turque, Mamamouchi: In Voltaire’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman), M. Jourdain dresses up and joins a Turkish dance, in order to become, he thinks, a “mamamouchi,” or paladin.

Zouaves:  The Zouaves, known particularly for their colorful uniforms, were light infantry regiments in the French Army, originally recruited from among the Berbers of Algeria.  In the early months of WWI, their uniforms made them easy targets, and so in 1915 they were forced to adopt a plain khaki uniform.

’Ya bon!:  “That’s good!”

YANKEES:  It is not certain whether these are the Americans in Paris for the Peace Conference or the African Americans who, finding an acceptance in Paris they could not at home, stayed there after the war and became a vibrant part of its creative life.

“and say besides that in Aleppo once...”:  From Othello’s speech which includes “Say that I loved not wisely but too well.”

Mardi Gras and Carême Prenant:  Mardi Gras is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent, and Carême Prenant is Shrovetide, the period before Lent, both a time of Carnival, here intermingled with the Peace Conference to become a “Peace Carnival.”

Elles se balancent sur les hanches”: “The women rock on their haunches.”

The tart little race whose brain, the Arabs said, was one of the three perches of the Spirit of God:  Julia Briggs suggests this may be a reference to the Armenians, victims of the recent Armenian Holocaust.

Ouiouioui, c’esi passionnant–on en a pour son argent.  Le fromage n’est pas un plat logique:  “Yesyesyes, it’s passionate – a good deal for your money.  Cheese is not a reasonable dish.”

A a a a a oui c’est un délicieux garcon.  Il me semble que tout femme sincere doit se retrouver en Anna Karénine:  “Ahhh, yes, he’s a delightful boy.  It seems to me that any honest woman must recognize herself in Anna Karenina.”

Page 13

The first of May:  Mirrlees noted:  “On May 1, the Mois de Marie, lily of the valley is normally sold in all the streets of Paris; but on May 1, 1919, the day of the general strike, no lily of the valley was offered for sale.”  The general strike was a common tactic of Communists at that time.  Putting “There is no lily of the valley” in a vertical line suggests a parade of strikers.  May 1, 1919 is also notable for marking the end of the first World War.

Page 14

The wicked April moon:  In her notes, Mirrlees explains that “The April moon, la lune rousse, is supposed to have a malign influence on vegetation.”  Here it is set in opposition to the Virgin Mary in a year-myth battle between Christianity and Paganism.

The silence of la grève:  La grève is French for the shore or bank, rather than the grave, making this a bilingual pun.

the Place du Carrousel:  A public square located at the open end of the courtyard of the Louvre.  Carrousel was a form of dressage or equine military drill.

The Seine, old egotist:  Again, the poem descends into dream.

king-fishers:  A reference not only to the birds but to the fisher-king, damaged and in need of healing, both spiritual and sexual.

Page 15

The Eiffel Tower is two dimensional:  In this section, aspects of the physical Paris are reduced to art, the soldiers with their Terre de Sienne (burnt umber) packs are turned to chalk sketches to be sold in the rue des Pyramides as souvenirs. 

Poilus:  French soldiers; literally “hairy ones.”

Désoeuvrement:  Idleness

Vronsky and Anna: Anna Karenina, beautiful and married, and Count Vronsky, wealthy and an officer, were the adulterous lovers in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.  Mirrlees was studying Russian at the Ecole des Langues Orientales with her companion, the classicist Jane Ellen Harrison, at the time she wrote this poem.

mujik: Variant spelling of muzhik, a Russian peasant.

Clio:  The muse of history.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego:  Just as the three pious Jews are saved by God when Nebuchadnezzar throws them into a furnace, so too Art preserves them motionless and unharmed from the violence of the flames.

Manet’s Massacres des Jours de Juin, etc:  This painting, David’s Prise de la Bastille, and Poussin’s Fronde, all portraying violent episodes in French history, do not exist. 

Page 16

Waxen Pandoras:  A Pandora was a kind of mannequin.  Mirrlees’s note reads “During Lent life-size wax dolls, dressed like  candidates for Première Communion, are exposed in the windows of the big shops.”

Catéchisme de Persévérance:  This catechism was written by Jean-Joseph Gaume, a Catholic theologian who blamed the ills of his day on the Renaissance, which he felt had resurrected classical paganism.

the Seven Oecumenical Councils:  The first seven Ecumenical Councils, starting with the First Council of Nicaea  in 325 established the orthodoxy of the Catholic faith.

Bibliothèque Rose:  The “Pink Library” is the juvenile imprint of the publisher Hachette aimed specifically at girls.  Hachette also had a Bibliothèque Vert (Green Library) imprint for boys.

Première Communion:  In English, First Holy Communion.

Petits Lycéens:  Little high school girls.

Little Saint Hugh:  The story of Saint Hugh of Lincoln (c. 1246 - 1255) is one of the more grotesque examples of medieval hagiography.  The Jews of Lincoln were said to have scourged the child, crowned him with thorns, and crucified him in mockery of Jesus.  The earth refused to accept his body and so it was thrown down a well, where it was later discovered. 

THE CHILDREN EAT THE JEW:  The sacrament of Communion, of course.

PHOTO MIDGET:  A photography studio or service in Paris.

Périgord:  A rural region in southwestern France which, like all the regions cited throughout the poem, evokes the suggestion that the city of Paris contains all of France within it.

masks and dominoes:  Masks and dominoes serve as carnival disguises.  The domino is a large hooded cloak.

A l’occasion du marriage de Monseigneur le Dauphin:  Julia Briggs explains that this is the marriage of the future king of France to Marie Antoinette, during which a fireworks display caused a stampede leading to several hundred deaths.

Page 17

rue de Beaune:  The Hôtel de L’Elysee, where Mirrlees and Harrison stayed while in Paris was located at 3 rue de Beaune.  The narrator has once again fallen into a visionary trance.

Triptolemos:  A significant figure in the Eleusinian Mysteries.  A son of Keleus, king of Eleus, Triptolemos welcomed into their palace the goddess Demeter when she was mourning her daughter.  In return for his kindness, she gave Triptolemos corn, and he became a teacher of agriculture to the whole world.  He was often represented on amphorae and vases, an area of interest to Jane Ellen Harrison.  An important votive relief in Athens portrays him as a small figure standing between two Demeter and Persephone.

Ovid, an unwilling thrall in Fairyland:  Here, Mirrlees has conflated the Roman poet and storyteller with Thomas the Rhymer or possibly the wretched knight of Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.”  This passage may conceivably serve as a tantalizing first glimpse of her fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist.

Ile Saint-Louis:  One of two natural islands in the Seine.

Place des Vosges:  The oldest planned square in Paris. 

Page 18

[music]:  From Handel’s Rinaldo, “Let me weep for my cruel fate, and let me sigh for my liberty.”

Saint Thomas d’Aquin:  A church very close to Mirrlees’s hotel on rue de Beaune.

l’impasse des Deux Anges:  An impasse is a dead end.

Sebastopol:  This Black Sea port was besieged by French and English forces and captured in 1856.  The Zouaves distinguished themselves during the fighting.

MOLIERE, etc:  These are commemorative plaques for Moliere, Voltaire, and Chateaubriand set up at their places of death.

Page 19

les Champs Elysees!:  Les Champs Elysees, the most famous avenue in Paris, has a name meaning “the Elysian fields,” the land of the dead. 

Sainte-Beuve:  Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869) was France’s first major professional literary critic.  His affair with Madame Victor-Hugo, wife of the famous writer, his best friend, inspired a semi-autobiographical novel.  However, he considered his greatest work to be Port-Royal, a history in six books of Jansenism and a whole section of 17th-century French society.  Jansenism, a rather dour Catholic sect, informed Mirrlees’s first novel, Madeleine: One of Love’s Jansenists.

the Pont-Neuf:  The New Bridge, completed in 1604, is now Paris’s oldest.

the duc de la Rochefoucauld:  François de La Rochefoucauld was a seventeenth century writer, famed for his Memoires and Maximes. 

salon d’automne:  A reference to the Salon d’Automne , created in 1903 out of dissatisfaction with the conservative Paris Salon, which displayed art  by such artistic giants as Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, and Pablo Picasso, at least two of whom Mirrlees knew. 

Madame de Lafayette:  Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne, comtesse de La Fayette was the author of La Princesse de Clèves, France’s first historical novel and one of the first novels in literature.  She was close friends with François de La Rochefoucauld.

Il fait lourd:  The weather is heavy, sultry.  Again, the narrator is slipping into lassitude and trance.

Benediction:  A short Catholic ceremony, not involving Communion.  This is the second and last use of the first-person plural in the poem.

Notre-Dame-des-Champs:  Our-Lady-of-the-Fields, one of the oldest churches in Paris.

Seven Stages of the Cross are cut in box:  There are fourteen stations of the cross.  It is not clear whether these are carved in boxwood or are boxwood topiary.

Page 20

votive offerings From a converted Jap:  Julia Briggs has identified the donor as Léonard Tsugouharu Foujita, who was at the time in the early stages of his success.  He was to achieve fame as a painter of women and cats.

troubadour:  Many of the songs of the medieval troubadours, exponents of courtly love, have been absorbed into the cult of Mary, particularly for. May Day celebrations.

venial sins:  Minor sins, which do not automatically damn one’s soul to Hell, as do the deadly sins.

fret:  To gnaw at, or eat.

The plums of Paradise:  Again, the color of Lent is evoked.  It should be noted that Lent is a time of waiting for rebirth, and that during the time between Good Friday and Easter, God has withdrawn His presence from the world.

La Liberté La Presse!:  These are the names of two newspapers, here being hawked by vendors.

le Petit-Palais:  A museum built for the Universal Exhibition in 1900.

the Algerian desert:  French Algeria, which lasted from 1830 to 1962, was one of France’s longest-held possessions, though never considered a proper part of France.

shouting the Koran:  The muezzin’s call to prayer at sunset, not actually a quotation from the Koran itself.

The sky is apricot … celestial apricot:  Possibly just a carefully-observed color.  However, it is worth noting that traditionally, the apricot is a symbol of female genitalia and that in medieval France, abricot was slang for the vulva.  The apricot was also considered to be an aphrodisiac.

Pont Solférino:  A Napoleon III construction, destroyed in 1960.

fiacre: A hackney coach, named after the Hôtel de St. Fiacre in Paris.

tippeted pelisse: A tippet is an ecclesiastical garment, a band of silk or similar cloth worn around the neck with the ends pendent in front.  A pelisse is a short, tight-fitting jacket.

silhouettes of Louis-Philippe:  During the reign of the Citizen King, black paper silhouette portraits were in style.

the Quais:  The streets along the banks of the Seine, where the bouquinistes ply their trade.

bouquinistes:  Second-hand booksellers, famed for their small green stalls on the quays of the Seine.

Page 21

the VIIme arrondissement:  Paris is divided into 20 districts.  The 7th is on the Left Bank and includes Mirrlees’s lodgings on the rue de Beaune.

The winds are sleeping in their Hyperbórean cave:  In Greek mythology, Hyperborea was the land of perpetual sunshine beyond the North Wind.  In the Aeneid, Aeoleus kept the storm winds captive in a cave within his floating island – but that was in the Mediterranean.  In La Sepmaine, the 16th century poet Guillaume de Salluste du Bartas wrote (as translated by Joshua Sylvester) that "Gray-beard Boreas / (As the most boistrous and rebellious slave) / Is prisoned close in th' Hyper-Borean Cave."  Which is a possible source but not a necessary one.

ramparts:  In its first iteration, the Louvre was a fortress with literal ramparts.  A distinction is being drawn between the Apollonian high art inside the museum and the low Dionysian realities outside.

Freud has dredged the river and, grinning horribly, waves his garbage in a glare of electricity:  Freud and electricity were emblematic of modernity.  Freud’s theories and analysis relied heavily on the interpretation of dreams.

Taxis … in rut:  It is, as male travelers to distant cities quickly learn, one of the primary functions of a taxi driver to know the location of whorehouses.  That the taxis appear in a row suggests there is a great demand for such specialized information.

like lions ... seeking their meat from God:  A paraphrase of Psalm 102: 21, The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. The Biblical verse refers to the lions as nocturnal hunters, as are the whores.

An English padre tilts with the Moulin Rouge:  Don Quixote, evidently, has arrived at the notorious Red Windmill in the person of a Catholic priest.

Crotchets and quavers:  Quarter-notes and eighth-notes in musical annotation, their black circles imagined as “the heads of niggers.”  In the bowdlerized version of the poem, this is one of the few non-religious bits to be cleaned up.  The association of jazz with houses of ill repute was quite strong at the time, hence the reference to “obscene syncopation.”

Toutes les cartes marchent avec une allumette!:  A reasonable stab at a translation might be, “All the cards work with a match.”  The meaning of this phrase, possibly slang, has yet to be parsed.
A hundred lenses:  Fifty pairs of spectacles, worn by Americans as they gaze at the sinful splendors of Paris.

Masque of the Seven Deadly Sins: This may be Spenser’s Masque or Marlowe’s or, more likely, a jaunty reference to a risqué stage show.  Or it may simply be how the lusting Americans view all of Paris.

“I don’t like the gurls of the night-club – they love women”:  During the nineteen-twenties, Paris was the center of the lesbian universe, to such a degree that at least one biographer of Harrison takes her moving there with Mirrlees as absolute proof that the two women were lovers.

Page 22

Verlaine:  Paul Verlaine is equally famous for his poetry and for his stormy affair with Arthur Rimbaud.  After firing two pistol shots at (and lightly injuring) his lover, he was arrested and jailed, which led to his conversion to Catholicism. 

Alchemy:  In addition to the obvious alchemy of night turning into golden dawn, this is likely a twin reference to the alchemy of words turning into poetry and of words turning into love.  It may also refer to “Second Delirium: Alchemy of the Word” in Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell.

Absynthe:  Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit whose heavy concentration of wormwood may, depending on which source you believe, cause hallucinations.  It was popular with the decadents, such as Verlaine.

Algerian tobacco:  Algerian tobacco was not only from Northern Africa, thus continuing the poem’s thematic involvement with that part of the world, but cheap as well, and thus associated with the poor or louche.

Manuring the white violets of the moon:  To manure is to fertilize.  This metaphor appears to be original to Mirrlees.

The President of the Republic:  Raymond Poincaré was a conservative and disapproved of the results of the Paris Peace Conference, believing that France should receive the Rhineland as part of the reparations.  He seems to be here as a heterosexual and respectable counterweight to Verlaine.

the Abbaye of Port-Royal:  The Abbaye featured prominently in Mirrlees’ first novel, Madeleine: One of Love’s Jansenists.  Mirrlees’ own note reads, “The Abbaye de Port-Royal is now a maternity hospital.”

le Crime et le Châtiment:  Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment in French translation.

The sun is rising:  The climax of the Eleusinian mysteries was seeing the sun rise at midnight – though no one today can explain exactly what that meant.  The climax of the Catholic liturgical year is Easter when the Son rises from the dead.  There can be little doubt that both readings were intentional.

les Halles:  The wholesale food market for Paris.  Poetically, a return to the everyday world.

the two towers:  Possibly another coded reference to the narrator and her lover.

JE VOUS SALUE PARIS PLEIN DE GRACE:  “Hail Paris, full of grace.”  A play on the first line of the Hail Mary.

[the sign of the bear]:  Hope Mirrlees ended Paris, a Poem with a representation of the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, as she did all three of her novels.  She and Jane Harrison often signed their letters to each other with this symbol, and most of Harrison’s biographers take this to represent their symbolic marriage.

Page 23

[notes]:  It was highly unusual at the time for a poet to annotate her own text.  This and other elements of Paris, a Poem have led scholars to suspect an influence on T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.  All research to date, however, has failed to produce any direct evidence one way or the other.

Above:  I forget who it was who recently pointed out to me that this iconic image of Mirrlees was originally a photo of her and Jane Ellen Harrison together.  So it has been obtained by literally removing Jane from the picture.



Mark said...

For compleatists:

Michael Swanwick said...

Thank you, Mark.