Alphonse de Lamartine's most famous poem is Le lac (The Lake).
Even though it already had a number of good English translations,
after translating L'isolement, I couldn't resist trying to come up with
my own translation. So here it is:
Alphonse de Lamartine
Towards new and different shores forever driven onward,
Through endless darkness always borne away,
Upon the sea of time can we not lie at anchor
For but a single day?
Oh lake, the year has scarce run once more round its track,
And by these waves she had to see again,
Look! I have come alone to sit upon this rock
You saw her sit on then.
Beneath those towering cliffs, your waters murmur still,
And on their ragged flanks, your waves still beat,
The wind still flings those drops of spray, that last year fell
On her beloved feet.
Do you recall that evening, when we sailed in silence?
Upon your waters a great stillness held;
The only sounds were those of oars that struck in cadence
Your harmonious swells.
Then suddenly, accents that from the earth have perished
Made echoes ring from your enchanted shores.
The waters paid attention, and the voice I cherished
Gave utterance to these words:
“I beg you, sublime hours, pause in your headlong flight,
And time, suspend your race;
Allow us to savor the fugitive delights
Of our happiest days.
“So many souls down here in agony implore you
‘Fly fast!’ For them, flow on.
Carry off with their days their worry and their sorrow;
Forget the happy ones.
“Just a few more moments, I ask — in vain, for time
Eludes me and takes flight.
I tell the night to pass more slowly, and dawn comes
To chase away the night.
“Then let us love! Then let us fill each fleeting hour
With joy and ecstasy!
Man does not have a port; time does not have a shore.
It passes, and so do we.”
O jealous time, why do those moments of drunkenness
When love flows over us in joyful waves
Have to fly far away from us at the same pace
As our unhappy days?
What? Can we not retain of them at least some trace?
What? Vanished as though they had never been?
Time, that gave them to us, and then took them away,
Won’t bring them back again.
Eternity, unbeing, dim past, profound abyss,
What do you do with the days that you engulf?
Tell me, will you ever return those hours of bliss
That you have stolen from us?
O lake, mute rocks, thick rushes, hidden caves, dark forest,
You whom time spares or can rejuvenate,
Beautiful nature, keep forevermore at least
The memory of that night.
Let it be in your slumber, and in your fierce storm,
And in the features of your laughing banks,
And in those dense black firs, and in that wild scarp
That above your shoreline hangs.
Let it be in the sounds that echo from your borders,
In the fine spray your waves throw to the wind,
And in the silver star that shines upon your waters
And in their depths is twinned.
Oh, may the plangent breeze, the softly sighing reeds,
The balmy fragrance of the air above,
May everything one sees, one hears, one feels, one breathes,
May all proclaim: they loved!
Translated by Peter Shor, March 2020