Another Numéro Cinq first: This time Marilyn McCabe sings and translates a poem by the turn-of-the-century French poet Guillaume Apollinaire but not simultaneously. Marilyn is an old friend (we last ran into each other helping to pour concrete at a friend’s house in Porter Corners, NY, a couple of weeks ago), a poet, translator and essayist who has already appeared twice on NC. But now you get to hear her sing! It’s a treat, eerie and beautiful.
It became something of a tradition for French composers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to set lyric poems by their poetry contemporaries to mélodies for solo voice and piano. Inspired by the poetry of the likes of Verlaine and Baudelaire, composers from Berlioz to Saint-Saens created these musical settings, attempting to “translate,” in a way, the lyric into a musical format that created a form greater than the two elements.
I’m preparing a concert of some these art songs, and as part of my preparation, I’m doing translations of the poems. Here is a funny little poem by Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) set to music by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963).
L’hotel by Guillaume Apollinaire, Music by Poulenc
Performed (& Translated) by Marilyn McCabe
Click the button to play Marilyn McCabe singing “L’hotel.”
Ma chambre a la forme d’une cage,
Le soleil passe son bras par la fenêtre.
Mais moi qui veux fumer pour faire des mirages,
J’allume au feu du jour ma cigarette,
Je ne veux pas travailler — je veux fumer.
My room is like a cage.
The sun hangs its arms through the bars.
But I, I want to smoke,
to curl shapes in the air;
I light my cigarette
on the day’s fire.
I do not want to work —
I want to smoke.
—Guillaume Apollinaire, translated by Marilyn McCabe
Marilyn McCabe’s poetry chapbook Rugged Means of Grace is due out from Finishing Line Press any minute now. Her poetry has appeared in magazines such as Painted Bride Quarterly, Nimrod, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Numéro Cinq. Her recent collaborative poetry chapbook with Elaine Handley and Mary Sanders Shartle won the Adirondack Center for Writing’s Best Poetry Book award for 2010. A Marilyn McCabe essay appeared in Hunger Mountain. She took classical voice lessons for ten years and performs classical or jazz concerts whenever the mood strikes.