Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Monday, 6 July 2009

Lingua not so franca

Passion problems
The first half, soiled with constant fingering,
Announces my pervasive ignorance.
The cleaner other half lies languishing,
Unsuitable for checking resonance.

The rift recurs again in oral guise,
Changing the conjoined name linguistically.
Collins-Robert must bend to Gallic ways:
With nasal in and disappearing t

A fat-backed key to France’s pawky voice,
But, oh, if leafing through were all it meant
To gain the knack that is my passion’s choice
And spawn a feel for inner argument.

I dwell on struggles, some still unresolved,
With memory and empathy at fault.
How many times was épanouir pursued,
Til “bloom” lay safe within my memory vault?

Ne… pas negates the verb, an early gain,
But sliding back is ever imminent.
Ne… que negates, but on a different plane,
Confers an “only” to what’s pertinent.

There’s even more from this negated source:
Noting the ne which jumps out forcefully,
One loses que amid the unfair course
Of tumbling smaller words in colloquy

More pain as sound and meaning start to fight,
When méfier stands in for mépriser
“Suspect” and “scorn” take futile flight
With understanding comically astray.

The work is hard and vague but, then why not?
It’s nothing less than cracking culture’s code.
It’s maths, and Joyce, a Heisenberg subplot,
A pool to swim, a purpose self-bestowed.


The Crow said...

Ah...you have your Dulcinea in your pursuit of mastering French. A noble, valiant, worthwhile passion.

This poem requires sipping to fully appreciate, although it is readily understood in one gulp.

(Whoa...it's too early in the morning for me to be trying to offer my impressions. The metaphors are becoming entangled and making little sense. You have your struggles with French; mine are with English.)

Good work, this, BB.

Sir Hugh said...

Being a fellow struggler with la langue française I sympathise with your sort of love hate feeling, especially the apparent inability of one’s brain to retain information supposedly fed into it. I still have to look up peut-être every time to check if it is hyphenated, as well as many other simple everyday words. Perhaps we should be more aware that it is part of human make-up for us to set ourselves these challenges, and of course there is satisfaction to be gained when we make some progress or succeed completely with a particular aim, and it may have been an option to end the poem with a verse celebrating one of your conversational triumphs with les françcais.

I’m not so sure about the flow and rhyming in the next to last verse.

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: I can, of course, justify my slow progress; I've been at it for a mere 36 years, with a 4 - 5 year sabbatical in the middle. In any case the French pursuit is two things: oral and literary, the first much harder than the second. My greatest oral triumph occurred during a visit to a doctor in deep rural Languedoc. He listened attentively to my two-minute peroration on why a boil on my bum was interfering with my holiday, responding at the end with Vous parlez bien le francais, monsieur. If only he'd left it at that. Alas, being French his desire to correct intervened and he pointed out that it wasn't a boil but a cyst. Say 7½ out of ten.

Sir Hugh: No, it was the struggle I wanted to celebrate not the smart-ass rejoinders. I would appreciate a slightly more exact definition of just exactly what's wrong with the penultimate verse.

Plutarch said...

I wonder if you could describe both the process of learning a foreign language and the way dictionaries are used with such precision, in such detail and above all so concisely, in prose. The distiction in this case must be between poetry and prose rather than verse and prose. I looked up "pawky" in my Collins Robert (in the unsoiled" part, I don't have to say)and,though both Oxford and Chambers, admit its existence, I found no reference to it. Traduction en Francais, s'il vous plait, M Bonden.

Sir Hugh said...

I know nothing of the rules of poetry writing so therefore my observations are subjective.

With the stress coming on the acute accent in ”mépriser” it seems to dilute what is virtually the same rhyming sound at the end of this word so it does not seem to stay in the mind by the time you arrive at “astray”. Also in the way that I think the French is pronounced the sound of the ending of “mépriser” is shorter and sharper than the way I would pronounce “astray”. The whole of the rest of the poem flows very well for me until I get to that line and then I seem to stumble.

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: A very shrewd blow. My upstairs dictionary, The New Penguin, defines pawky (I'd checked before I posted the verse) but the key word in the definition is one of those nouns that the French make only the feeblest attempt to grasp. So, feebly, I offer beaucoup d'esprit or even feeblier très spirituel. However, Penguin does provide an alternative single-word definition which translates directly: sardonique. Neither definition catches any of the nuances I associate with pawky: slightly querulous, unexpected, under-privileged.

Your other point is of course the $64,000 one. As I wrote the thing I kept on asking myself whether prose wasn't the better alternative. And yet my interest in French can fairly be described as a passion, a subject fit for metre and rhyme. I fear you are paying me an undeserved compliment in the verse/poetry switch. My early misgivings were to avoid the end-product becoming doggerel.

Sir Hugh: Ah, but does the stress come on the first or second syllable of mépriser? In fact the problem you identify may hinge on whether "comically" is three or four syllables; if four it busts the scansion on "astray". You have a point anyway in that rhyming English with French is probably a no-no, hence my worries about doggerel.

The Crow said...

And yet, it was the word astray that gave me (Am-Eng-only speaker) a hint as to how I should pronounce mépriser. Which I very probably did mispronounce, anyway, in order to make it rhyme with astray.

Barrett Bonden said...

I thought you knew some French. Very heroic of you then to come up with a judgement about my noble, valiant, worthwhile passion. The verb in question is, as you guessed, pronouncd may-preez-ay. Sir Hugh's query has to do with where the stress falls - MAY-preez-ay or may-PREEZ-ay

Plutarch said...

For a long time I made the mistake of misplacing the emphasis on French words, and above all failing to realize that it usually comes on the last syllable. So I merely put this as a question. Isn't the emphasis on the last syllable in this case, hence it would it not indeed match that of the English word "astray?"

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow/Plutarch: Or indeed may-preez-AY. I think I need to enter a darkened room, lie down and consider this. Along with that other pronunciational gem: ab-SO-lew-mont.

The Crow said...

BB, my French is limited to those words that were adopted into the English language and then mangled in American.

To attempt to master another language after the age of 18 or 19 requires not only passion bur dogged determination. Seems to me you have plenty of both. I have attempted to learn Spanish, but my brain doesn't seem cut out for the task. Either that, or I lack the passion and determination.

A cool cloth to the forehead is comforting, when I am faced with a darkened-room quandry. Perhaps it will help you, too.