Hommage et famine (René Char title)

clairet

Senior Member
England & English (UK version)
I can't give you the whole poem by René Char from Fureur et Mystère. It is indeed a sort of homage to Woman with a capital W, possibly as a kind of muse for a poet struggling to create; there is nothing literally about a famine in it. The title looks like an obvious play on Homme -age et Femme-ine. (I'd appreciate it if anyone can direct to me to a discussion of this poem and this point in particular - maybe I'm way off.) The question is how to translate the title including this word play - is it possible? The translation I'm looking at doesn't even try - "Homage and Famine", which leaves one asking in English "what's all this about a famine?" I can't think of a way to do anything relevant with "Woman", so the best I can come up with is "Manifesto and Anti-manifesto". I'm not convinced that's better than the literal translation which hopes that an English reader will get a French wordplay.

All comments welcome!
 
  • mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    No, you're not way off at all. Homme-age, femme-ine. And while, no, "there is nothing literally about a famine in it," there is the metaphorical famine of womanhood, as opposed to the 'abundance' of manhood, as Char saw it. [Feminist objectionists, take it up with Char, not with me!] In English, consider famine=dearth=want=desire=longing. Longing, womb-emptiness are the hallmark of womanhood. (And in the context of famine, are not femme and faim close enough phonetically for the two "Femme"s of the first sentence/paragraph to call both words to mind at once?) And if femme-ine is this state of want, what is homme-age? It is the act of adoration. All of the homme's actions have a single goal in mind, they are done "pour mieux vous adorer."

    And so no while none of this is translatable on a lexical level, the themes as developed here and throughout Char's work makes it at least relatively clear. Well, clear? This is Char we're talking about. If one is willing to dig, the truth of it always reveals itself.

    Myself, instead of worrying about translating a pun with a pun, I translate the text on its face and keep one ear open for any English puns that may present themselves. If a text's only raison d'être is its puns, it's not worth translating.
     

    XPditif

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    M.G., how very freudian of you!
    After several readings of the poem, it is plain that the sounds "homme et femme" is interesting in the title, but shouldn't be set in too sharp a focus (Char was never a fan of "mot-valise". Best argument I can get, is once decomposed, hommage at best gives homme/âge (scarcely relevant in this context do we believe, though that's arguable), and femme/ine, which leaves only femme, so interesting, but weak).

    So it's clear the poem is about women, but it seems even more obvious that he talks about what he feels about them, therefore his own hommage and craving.
    The equation famine=women cannot hold in this poem (eg illimité), that only lies on the title.

    Maybe it's difficult for women to imagine what this hunger, this lust for women's contact is, but most men see it as a weakness, so here to acknowledge it, is indeed the greatest gift of love, and hommage.
    Because this poem is about failure (in the sense of failing to meet some absolute the women are said to incarn), but I don't want to stay up all night.

    So my translation, "hommage and craving, homage and hunger, homage and famine".
     
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    mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    If Char had been as romantic, and as respectful of women, as XP clearly is, I can't help but think he'd have written a very different poem. In it women are not illimité (as the word's number and gender point out), they merely possess le givre de médium illimité. It's a modest compliment if it's a compliment at all. One shouldn't immediately assume that médium is used strictly in its parapsychological sense. Women posses a boundless frosty middle-hood (middlingness?) that cools man's pride to the point that he'll stick around, not forever, but long enough to do the few things next described, which is to say, to do her homage.

    As for the -age and the -ine, they serve as suffixes and should be understood as suffixes. Why would the poet who had already sung the exploits of Art-ine not feel free to take on the subject of Femme-ine? And for homme-age, I would relate it to nouns of comportment, like libertinage, enfantillage. Paying homage, it's what men do. Embodying famine, it's what women do.

    As for famine, understand it in light of this subtitle to a poem Char wrote in homage of Yvonne Zervos: Yvonne, La soif hospitalière. Char is not at all suggesting it's a bad thing. He's suggesting that it's the only real rationale for why women want anything to do with men at all.

    One further note, the reference to a diane, in the sense 'reveille,' is often considered a nod to Diane Cancel, the only lady Transparent, who apparently bewitched Char as a boy, which is to say, when he n'était encore qu'une graine captive de loup anxieux. In the poem Les Transparents, she gets this beautiful quatrain in which she answers back to a buttinsky Casanier:

    — Mais la clé, qui tourne deux fois
    Dans ta porte de patriarche,
    Souffle l'ardeur, éteint la voix.
    Sur le talus, l'amour quitté, le vent m'endort.
     
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    XPditif

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    All I'm saying is an unilateral interpretation is a threat regarding the accuracy of the evidence you provide.

    In this poem, the famine interpretation is textually anything but obvious, although the title creates a great circulation of meanings (since you may perceive the hommage/famine are mutual), and I would be a fool to reject your interpretation.

    But that is what this poem is so great: you cannot not see the "torrent au limon serein" may refer to "femme" as well as to "bouche du poète", that's all this is about, ambiguity, ambivalence. For example consider the vousvoiement: there is the interpretation of it being a grammatical synecdoc (ie one woman for all women), and yet it also implies this a respectful distance, a certain coldness maybe (givre?), futhermore suggesting the circulation of meanings.

    However, don't be fooled, the respect is but a stance to taste the gleaming middleness, for once the denial of what's kept at bay is gone, then men win, as you noticed. Char is not a player here, he explains his own vulnerability, and eventually, why any relation must end.

    Also, it has been my conditioning to avoid freudian interpretations (except when it's relevant of course), as they are known to greatly pauperize what you perceive of the text, and therefore the text. It's nothing personal (and one knows how rigid I can be).
    ;)
     
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    clairet

    Senior Member
    England & English (UK version)
    kotava - thanks for links: it is always (well, sometimes! I've seen some excessively literal readings) interesting to see how other people read Char poems.

    mgarizona and XPditif - many thanks for the interesting discussion, from which I have learned a lot. Although Veyne claims that Char insisted that there was a single correct interpretation of at least one of his poems (and may have meant more generally), I think it's obvious that XPditif is right about ambiguity of meaning and ambivalence of feeling, seemingly built into the structure of the poem. That's certainly what makes it so hard to shake off (not that I particularly wish to). My thought for a title was meant to reflect this thesis-antithesis structure (my take on the "circulation of meanings" which XPditif mentions), with a nod to the surrealists and their manifestos. Thanks for explaining the 2nd person plurals which puzzled me and took me off on some wild alternative speculations but none I could make stick. I was convinced by mgarizona's explanation of the suffixes - and the weird list ("hectares de Paris, entrailles de beauté,.." etc) had already made me think of "Artine" - great to have a reason! And the great references to other figures and poems.

    What I'm left to explain to myself is the relationship of the 2nd paragraph of the poem to the 1st: it seems to be a different poem. The best I can do is to see it as some kind of commentary on the obscurity of 1st para. - the poet ("le grillon" - does that appear in other poems?) sang in the dark knowing/trusting that "les enfants sans clarté" (not sure how "nous" fits into this idea) would respond.
     

    mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    The first paragraph relates--- translates!--- the song of the cricket. It references three parties: Vous (Femme), Il (le poète) and Je (referenced obliquely with the words "mon feu"). Who is that 'je' if not the cricket himself?

    In the second paragraph the Poet sets the stage and explains what we've just been 'hearing'/'reading.' On the night in question, however long ago that was, he and the woman were lying beneath an oak, anxiously preparing to give voice to what's been on their minds. (What's that? The phrase Char uses in Vivante Demain is Faisons l'amour.) Suddenly a cricket chirps. The use of the passé simple in this imparfait paragraph, marks "la sécheresse ou la netteté de l'événement." (Larousse grammar) For Char all of the first paragraph is expressed in that chirp. The cricket has the poet's back and pleads his case ably.
     
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    clairet

    Senior Member
    England & English (UK version)
    aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah - it's all clear now! Many thanks, mgarizona.

    I should have read the poem starting from the end - which, as you say, explains what is going on. Phrases like "Femme qui dormez dans le pollen des fleurs" look now to be in an explicable context rather than just some cryptic metaphor, though it may be that too.
     

    mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    Char ALWAYS makes sense ... you just have to find the right point of view, even when that's a cricket's-eye view, and not succumb to the sirens calling "Oh, you know, it's surrealist poetry, don't try to make sense of it! It means what you want it to mean!"
     
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