2.1 La jeune mère mourante by Amable Tastu

Cynthia Marks



In the case of many French poets of the nineteenth century, finding English translations of their works is a simple task. One finds many and varied translations of the works of Charles Baudelaire, Honoré de Balzac and Victor Hugo. These poems have been with us for generations, and they have become familiar even to those who cannot read them in their original French. However, other poets who have written in this era do not enjoy this same privileged status in translation. One such poet is Amable Tastu. Born Sabine Casimire Amable Voïart in 1798, Tastu began writing poetry in her childhood and, as was common for many female writers of the era including her contemporary George Sand, chose to write using a male pseudonym. Creating her best-known works in the period from 1825 to 1870, Tastu wrote poetry and plays, and translated English works into French. Yet, despite her position as a respected translator of others’ works, her own creations are very seldom found in translation.

This omission, in my opinion, is unfortunate. Tastu’s poetry is full of heartfelt emotion and vibrant imagery. For instance, the first two lines of her poem “L’Écho de la Harpe” (The Echo of the Harp) address the long-unused instrument:

Pauvre harpe du barde, au lambris suspendue,

Tu dormais, dès long-temps poudreuse et détendue (Tastu 3)

In these two lines, she manages to both vividly describe the harp and personify it in such a way that the reader feels a sort of pity for this abandoned object. An issue of Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country translates these two lines as such:

Poor poet-harp! upon the wall suspended

Thou sleepest, in that silence long unbroke! (Fraser 729)

This translation serves to highlight some of the reasons why the translation of poetry is such a wonderful and frustrating endeavour. One of the fascinating aspects of Tastu’s work is that she is able to create vivid imagery while still employing a rather strict rhyme scheme. Tastu describes the harp as being hung upon the wainscoting, asleep, relaxed and covered in dust. The reader gets a clear picture of the sad state of what must have once been a majestic instrument, while still being presented with the perfect rhyming couplet of suspendue and détendue. Unfortunately, in the Fraser’s Magazine translation, we are granted neither the rich descriptions nor the cadenced rhyming. I feel that a respectful translation of Tastu’s work should at least attempt to retain these two elements in the target language. For this reason, I have decided to attempt a translation of Tastu’s “La Jeune Mère Mourante,” a poem likely influenced by the death of Tastu’s own mother when the author was only seven years old (Babeau 6). My intention is to retain as much of the original poem’s rhyme scheme and meaning as I could. I selected this poem in particular to translate because of the intense emotions that the narrator conveys in her final moments of life as she contemplates her imminent death and the future her daughter will have to face without her mother. I hope that my translation will perhaps draw a little more attention to this lesser-known author and that more readers might be introduced to her beautifully lyrical verses.


La jeune mère mourante

Amable Tastu


‘‘Des feux du soir l’horizon se colore;
J’entends gronder un tonnerre lointain;
L’air embrasé semble irriter encore
Ce mal brûlant qui dévore mon sein.
Un bruit, un mot, tout accroît mon martyre:
Époux, amis, éloignez-vous de moi;
Que mon désir ne cause point d’effroi;
Seule un moment il faut que je respire.
Fuis avec eux, feinte sérénité,
Dont ma pitié rassurait leur tendresse,
Aux jours éteinte de ma courte jeunesse
Je puis du moins donner en liberté
Ces pleurs furtifs que répand ma faiblesse.


En paix de moins je contemple ces lieux
Où se jouaient mes riantes années,
Et dont l’aspect, doux encore à mes yeux,
Me promettait tant d’heures fortunées.
Oui, c’en est fait; de son souffle mortel
Le dernier jour glace mon front livide;
J’entends le bruit de son aile rapide,
Elle m’apporte un sommeil éternel.
Vous pleurerez, vous dont j’étais chérie;
Mais, en fuyant, le temps consolateur
Ne laissera dans votre ame attendrie
Qu’un souvenir qui n’est pas sans douceur.
Oui, de nos pleurs l’âge tarit la source;
Les maux passés sont des rêves confus;
Les ans jaloux entraînent dans leur course
Les derniers vœux de ceux qui ne sont plus.


Et toi, ma fille, à mon amour si chère,
Tu connaîtras de précoces douleurs :
Quand vainement tu chercheras ta mère,
Quelle autre main saura sécher tes pleurs?
Ciel! qu’ai-je dit? Moi, de toi séparée!
Au doux aspect de tes traits ingénus,
Au son naïf de ta voix adorée,
Mes sens glacés cesseraient d’être émus!
Je ne pourrais, à l’âge où se déploie
De la raison, la première clarté,
Voir à la fois, palpitante de joie,
Naître ta grâce et fleurir ta beauté!
Et des plaisirs quand l’amorce traîtresse
Viendra s’offrir à ton cœur sans détour,
Je ne pourrai diriger ta jeunesse,
Et l’entourer d’un inquiet amour!...
O désespoir! ô crainte déchirante!
De quels tourmens vous aggravez mon sort!
Pour toi, ma fille, alarmée et tremblante,
Puis-je avec calme envisager ma mort?
Foi consolante! Espérance sacrée!
Soyez l’appui de mon ame égarée;
Dans ses terreurs venez la soutenir,
Et révélez cet obscure avenir!


Dieu! quelle paix subite, inattendue,
A mes accens des cieux est descendue!
N’entends-je pas retenir dans les airs
Les premiers sons des célestes concerts?
Transports sacrés de la gloire immortelle,
De mon enfant ne me séparez pas;
Des lieux divins je puis veiller sur elle,
La suivre encore, et guider tous ses pas!
Oui, Dieu puissant, je le crois, je l’espère,
Je deviendrai son ange protecteur;
Ah! cet espoir dans le cœur d’une mère,
Peut ajouter à l’éternel bonheur.


Je ne crains plus votre pâle lumière,
Entourez-moi, mystérieux flambeaux;
Sombres apprêts, précurseurs des tombeaux,
Venez veiller à ma couche dernière.
Ministres saints, humbles consolateurs,
Prêtez l’oreille à ma voix presque éteinte;
Que votre bouche efface mes erreurs,
Et de mon front approchez l’huile sainte.
Mort, prends ta proie; et vous, hymnes pieux,
Accompagnez mon ame dans les cieux.’’  (Tastu 7-11)


Translation by Cynthia Marks

The Young Mother Dying


The horizon is tinted with the evening’s fire
I hear rumbling: in the distance, thunder;
The blazing air seems to cause me more ire,
This burning pain tears my breast asunder.
A sound, a word, they all heighten my torment:
My husband, my friends, keep yourselves away;
So that my wishes may not bring you dismay
When I must draw breath, alone in this moment.
Flee with them, false serenity,
Those whom my pity reassured their tenderness,
To those long-gone days of my brief youthfulness
I might at least give willingly,
These furtive tears diffused by my weakness.


As I contemplate these places in peace,
Where the years of my life laughed and played,
And whose soft appearance, to my eyes at least,
Promised me many more fortunate days.
Yes, it is done; with her deadly breath,
This final day freezes my ashen brow.
I hear her wings, beating rapidly now,
And she brings me to eternal rest.
I was precious to you, and you will grieve,
Yet as you flee, know that Time provides solace
And in your battered soul it will leave
One single memory, with its own sweetness.
Yes, with time, life dries up our tears;
We dream confusedly of the wrongs of yore
They are dragged along by the jealous years:
The last wishes of those who are no more.


And for you, my love, my daughter dear,
Precocious sorrows may arise:
When you vainly seek your mother here,
What other hand could dry your eyes?
Heavens! What said I? You and I, apart!
By the sweet sight of your features, so youthfully smooth,
And the naïve sound of your voice, so dear to my heart,
My frozen senses would cease to be moved!
At the age when you start to expose
For reasons which are quite transcendent
I will not see, in delirious throes,
The birth of your grace and your beauty resplendent!
When treachery begins and pleasures uncouth
Offer themselves to your heart with great hurry,
I cannot guide you through your youth,
And surround it with love, whilst I worry!...
Oh despair! Oh wrenching trepidation!
Your torments worsen my destiny!
For you, my girl, filled with alarm and consternation,
Might I calmly face my mortality?
Comforting faith! Sacred hope!
Be supportive of my lost soul;
Throughout these terrors, hold it high
And reveal the dark future drawing nigh.


Lord! What sudden peace, so unexpected,
To my cries, the heavens descended!
Through the air, do I not hear ringing
The first sounds of heavenly singing?
Eternal glory’s strong emotions are sacred
From my dear child, do not have me divide;
I could watch over her from divine spaces;
I shall follow her and be forever her guide.
I believe it, I wish it, oh God of the Scripture
To be her guardian angel, to her always treasure
Ah, this mother’s joy beyond all measure
Might add to this eternal pleasure.


I fear your pale light no longer,
Surround me, oh mysterious flames;
Sombre preparations, precursors to graves,
Come watch over my final slumber.
Holy ministers, humble comforters of men,
Lend your ears to my voice, dying away now;
So that your mouth may forgive my sins,
And with sacred oils anoint my brow.
Death, take your prey; and you, pious songs,
Accompany my soul to the heavens beyond.


Works Cited


Babeau, Emile-Albert. Madame Amable Tastu: Sa Vie et son Œuvre. Toulouse: Les Frères. Douladoure, 1945. Print.

Fraser, James. “Lady Poets of France in the Nineteenth Century. Madame Amable Tastu.” Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country 4.24 (1832): 729. Web. 

Tastu, Amable. Poésies. Paris: J. Tastu, 1827. Print.




Cynthia Marks is a student in the Modern Languages and Cultural Studies department at the University of Alberta. She is hoping to receive her MA in Translation Studies in the first part of 2012. Her research interests include the translation of poetry and short stories, as well as feminist literary theory, and the ethics of translation and interpretation.



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