Monday, January 12, 2009

D'autres auront nos champs

Landscape is a central theme of Graham Robb's fascinating book The Discovery of France (2007). He is continually overturning the reader's expectations, for example in this passage on the impact of modernity on the French landscape.

'Until the late nineteenth century, there are few equivalents in French literature of the sentiment expressed by William Wordsworth: 'wheresoe'er the traveller turns his steps, / He sees the barren wilderness erased, / Or disappearing' (1814). 'Is then no nook of English ground secure / From rash assault?' (1844). The best-known French elegy on the theme of changing landscape is Victor Hugo's 'Tristesse d'Olympio' (1837). It refers to the gatekeeper's cottage near Bièvres, eight miles south-west of Pairs, in which Hugo rented a room for his mistress. To an English poet, the changes described by Hugo would have seemed barely worth a mention. The steep and sandy road where the beloved left her footprint has been paved, and the milestone on which she sat and waited for her lover has been scuffed by cart wheels. A wall has been built around a spring. But other parts are returning to the wild: 'Here, the forest is missing, and there, it has grown.' 'Our leafy chambers now are thickets.' There is no sign that Bièvres would one day be the home of an industrial bakery, the Burospace technology park, the 'RAID' division of the riot police and the Victor Hugo car park.

D'autres auront nos champs, nos sentiers, nos retraites ;
Ton bois, ma bien-aimée, est à des inconnus.

(Others shall have our fields, our paths and hiding places. /
Your wood, my beloved, now belongs to strangers.)'

1 comment:

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