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Pierre_Choderlos_de_Laclos

Many posts ago, I had some fun inserting lines of my own into Romantic sonnets as a sort of dialogue and voice-practicing exercise. You can find the first one here. I heard later that in the rush of purists trying to escape, a thousand and one innocent iambs were trampled.

Purists, you were warned then. You are being warned again.

The demarcation between prose and poetry, I believe, is not nearly so precise as Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press would have us believe. The best prose always leans toward poetic, and I include here journalism, while line breaks and stresses belong as much to the reader as the poet.

At the moment, I am luxuriating in the aristocratic prose of 18th century French libertines. The word libertine, incidentally, was coined by John Calvin to describe anyone who objected to his view of Life As No Fun At All, Ever, because God sees everything you’re going to do wrong, and heaven or hell are pre-ordained. (I may have to interlace him one day for the hell of it.)

My current favourite libertine is Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, author of Dangerous Liaisons, whose writing keeps me, more or less, in a perpetual swoon. I have selected an excerpt of his prose which I present here, first, in its original translation by P.W.K. Stone. Next, I will rearrange the lines into poetic form, interlaced with my poetic response, italicized. Finally, I will allow my small poem to stand on its own.

~~~

Do not leave me in the delirium into which you have thrown me; lend me your reason, since you have deprived me of mine. When you have cured me, enlighten me so that your work will be complete. I have no wish to deceive you: you shall never succeed in conquering my love. But you will teach me to control it. Guide me in what I do; rule me in what I say, and you will at least spare the terrible misfortune of offending you. Banish, above all, that desperate fear.

~~~

Do not leave me in the delirium
of strangling oak and fen
into which you have thrown me
primeval Nature’s sorest tests,
lend me your reason
beyond the mortal-made wherein I wander,
since you have deprived me of mine,
banished of possession with hopes
when you have cured me
beyond forestalled futile labours,
enlighten me so that your work will be complete:
let my thoughts to higher ground be firmed.

I have no wish to deceive you:
Truth diluted catches at the throat.
You shall never succeed in conquering my love
like watered wine—what is the point of tasteless?
But you will teach me to control it
through neglect of interest in the caged.
Guide me in what I do;
vastness does not shrink herself.
Rule me in what I say,
allow this anarchy of absence,
and you will at least spare the terrible misfortune of offending you
freed of overquotes from gospels of desperation.
Banish, above all, that desperate fear.
Grief has never suited you, nor me.

~~~

Of strangling oak and fen
primeval Nature’s sorest tests
beyond the mortal-made wherin I wander,
banished of possession with hopes
beyond forestalled futile labours,
let my thoughts to higher ground be firmed.

Truth diluted catches at the throat
like watered wine—what is the point of tasteless?
Through neglect of interest in the caged,
vastness does not shrink herself.
Allow this anarchy of absence
freed of overquotes from gospels of desperation.
Grief has never suited you, nor me.

© Elaine Stirling, 2013

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