Thursday, July 16, 2020

Alone with Georges Rodenbach on his Birthday

 photo © Mark Butkus 2008
The final resting place of Belgian poet Georges Rodenbach.

To live as in exile, to live seeing no-one
in the vast desert of a town that is dying,
where one hears nothing but the vague murmur
of an organ sobbing, or the belfry tolling.

To feel oneself remote from souls, from minds,
from all that bears a diadem on its brow;
and without shedding light consume oneself
like a futile lamp in the depths
of dark burial vaults.

To be like a vessel that dreamed of voyage,
triumphal, cheerful, off the red equator
which runs into ice flows of coldness
and feels itself wrecked without leaving a wake.

Oh, to live this way! All alone…to witness
the wilting of the divine soul’s white flowering,
in contempt of all and with none the wiser,
alone, alone, always alone, observing
one’s own extinction.

— Georges Rodenbach

I was introduced to Georges Rodenbach (1855 – 1898) in 2008 while I was in search of Jim Morrison in Paris, France. "Georges Rodenbach distracted me at one point and I spent some time with him trying to figure out who he was," I had written at the time. "The script on his crypt was simple – his name and the years of his birth and demise. Who the Hell was Georges Rodenbach? My mind generated many scenarios; I have no idea how close I came to being correct."

A poet! Upon my return to America I discovered that Georges Rodenbach was a poet of note from the 19th century who had published eight volumes of poetry among other works. Arguably, more famous today for his striking grave than for his poetry, we reacquaint ourself with Georges on the occasion of his birth. Alone, from his 1886 volume of poetry entitled, La Jeunesse blanche (The White Girl) seems apropos. The original French version of Alone follows.


Vivre comme en exil, vivre sans voir personne
Dans l’immense abandon d’une ville qui meurt,
Où jamais l’on n’entend que la vague rumeur
D’un orgue qui sanglote ou du Beffroi qui sonne.

Se sentir éloigné des âmes, des cerveaux
Et de tout ce qui porte au front un diadème ;
Et, sans rien éclairer, se consumer soi-même
Tel qu’une lampe vaine au fond de noirs caveaux.

Être comme un vaisseau qui rêvait d’un voyage
Triomphal et joyeux vers le rouge équateur
Et qui se heurte à des banquises de froideur
Et se sent naufrager sans laisser un sillage.

Oh ! vivre ainsi ! tout seul, tout seul ! voir se flétrir
La blanche floraison de son Âme divine,
Dans le dédain de tous et sans qu’aucun devine,
Et seul, seul, toujours seul, se regarder mourir !

— Georges Rodenbach

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