Autors i Autores

Maria-Mercè Marçal

The Passion According to Renée Vivien [La Passió segons Renée Vivien]

"That day was a Sunday. After a whole week of rain and leaden skies, the sun seemed to want to brace itself and hazard a timorous hint of light through the cracks of a still compact mass of cloud. The foliage of Monceau Park, which Amédée could glimpse from the sweeping balcony of his flat in the Boulevard de Courcelles, oscillated between the sparkling of greens, the gleam of burnished copper and a diffuse shadow that drowned all the colours in gloomy indeterminacy. The previous Wednesday, something strange had happened, which the meteorologists would no doubt have explained yet, as far as Amédée was concerned, it remained flooded in the prestigious aura of mystery. Suddenly, at eleven in the morning, from right where he was standing now, he had seen how night suddenly swooped down over Paris like a bird of prey, and how everything had gone dark in an instant. The electric lights of his luxurious quartier started to go on and the effect was that of the little oil lamps that heaven-minded old ladies burned in front of their holy images and or, in some cases, as an offering for the dead. The buses, trams, the horse-drawn carriages, the haughty cars had joined with their lights in the sterile arrogance of the poor concert of luminosity. The darkness, however, had taken over everything with cruel and inscrutable cunning until, seemingly moved by some majestic caprice, it deigned to depart as suddenly as it had appeared. That Sunday, though, everything was right: a classic autumn day, just like all the rest, with an added touch of the surprising and benign gift of a slanted shaft of sunlight. His nieces had announced that they would be visiting him. They wanted him to go with them to the Louvre. Rose had recently become mad about art, to such an extreme that she'd asked him if she could borrow Salomon Reinach's The Story of Art throughout the Ages, and had then read it from cover to cover. Her older sister, who was somewhat indolent, happily followed in her wake. “Later on, uncle, you'll have to take us to the Saint Germain-en-Laye Museum. Monsieur Reinach is the director and he says that …" "Very well. Very well”, he had conceded. "And how do you know all this? I see that your uncle is not the only one who guides you through the realms of the Muses …" She merely mentioned a certain teacher, a mademoiselle Bonheur but, from the flush that suddenly tinged her lips and cheeks, Amédée at once suspected that there must be some lovelorn youth involved. In no time at all, he reluctantly recognised, they would inevitably be joining the ranks of adults. There was no escaping it, however much one resisted. There were people who fought it tooth and nail. This, however, had not been his case. Gifted with an innate ability for compromise, the young Amédée, the child of so long ago whom he now recalled, had perfectly grasped what was expected of him in exchange for what was being offered him, and had agreed to pay the price. On the other side of the balance, there had survived within him, for a long time now, the intimate conviction that he had preserved intact his own ultimate truth, always only in outline, in some part of him that had remained inaccessible to the world's imperatives. To this ill-defined and inviolable space he consigned poetry. When his family had sent him to Leeds to be trained in the latest innovations of the textile industry, he had given his all to it: he knew that in the near future he would have to take over the business and was prepared to do it in the way that best befitted the demands of modern times. Though these were the dictates of blood and pedigree, it was undeniable that he also invested in the endeavour his entire novice's enthusiasm. The world was changing. That old tree with its deep roots sunk in the centuries had to bring forth all its exuberance and confront the challenge of the future! Undoubtedly the hour seemed ripe for all kinds of occurrences and American cotton was asserting itself everywhere over former materials, but nothing should stand in the way of the verve of an old lineage of manufacturers of woollen goods. Amédée was ready to take the reins. Inside, deep inside, though, he knew he was something else, something much more his own, and that this was not negotiable. It was something important that he was unable to define, that slipped through the cracks of whatever he might structure every day. Something like … Poet, for example. And when he dared to give his desire such a hazy profile as that mythical word, it broke up and melted away. In Leeds, the dawn had often found him awake, reading the old Wordsworth who filled him with fervour, or the young Swinburne who had him shivering with pleasure or revulsion, or perhaps both at once. He himself had struggled many a time with the blank sheet of paper: the greenest landscapes imbued with nebulous melancholy, ethereal nymphs, vaguely unattainable far-away loves … It was years since he’d written a poem. Sometimes it seemed as if some stray verse came to him, like an old habit that resisted disappearing altogether, but it was an ephemeral, much-faded contact. He knew now that he would never be a poet. Not even a small-p poet, after his explicit renunciation of the arrogant emphasis of the capital P. Perhaps he had always known it, but age had definitively destroyed in him any excuse or any postponing of the matter to some indeterminate future. He told himself that he had acquitted himself well in every task he had been entrusted with, and this gave him a certain peace. He had discharged his debt with the world. There remained some vague debt with something that was even vaguer and this something, he thought, was himself. Knowing that it could never be paid, tinged with bitterness the restlessness that he held at bay."

(From La Passió segons Renée Vivien, 1994, p. 18-20)

Translated from the Catalan by Julie Wark ©


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