Louise Colet: Poetry in a Time of Dislocation

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Louise Colet: Poetry in a Time of Dislocation

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in the series “Poetry in a Time of Dislocation.” Fine art photographer Fern Nesson asserts that the place for art is critical during this time of pandemic, and she has immersed herself in the French poets, translating important works and sharing them as photo essays. This week, Fern shines the spotlight on Louise Colet.

(Check out previous installments here: 
Charles Baudelaire, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Valéry, Christine de Pizan, Paul Verlaine, Alphonse de Lamartine, Anna de Noailles, Paul Éluard, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Stéphane Mallarmé, Louisa Seifert, Arthur Rimbaud, François Villon, André Breton)

Although Louise Colet (1810 – 1876) won four poetry prizes from the Académie Francaise, it is almost impossible to find any of her poems online– either in French or in translation. To read them, I ordered a book of her poems dated 1844 from a dealer in Paris.

Ironically, although Colet was an admirable poet in her own right who supported herself and her daughter by her writing, she is now best known for her intense eight-year love affair with Gustave Flaubert, who wrote streams of letters to her, commenting upon her writing and describing his progress in writing Madame Bovary.

Colet’s poems are long and often overwrought but I found this one to be charming

Photo credit: Fern Nesson

“Réveil” (1844)

Le vieil hiver vient de mourir,
La terre a repris sa jeunesse;
Ami, ne sens-tu pas courir
Un air tiède qui nous caresse?

Ne sens-tu pas que tout sourir,
Et que le soleil qui s”enflamme
Donne plus de chaleur à l’âme,
Plus d’intelligemce à l’esprit?

Ne sens-tu pas, avec la brume
Qui se dissipe au firmament,
Fuir ces jours passés lentement
Dans les pleurs et dans l’amertume?

Plus de triste rêve ! oh! coulons
Dans un ineffable bien-être
Les jours heureux qui vont renaître
Après des jours sombres et longs.

Du parfum de l’air, des nuages
Qui plus légers flottent au ciel
Sortent d’enivrantes images;
N’entends-tu pas leur doux appel?

N’entends-tu pas des bruits intimes
Qui pénètrant l’âme et les sens?
Les bois frissonnent dans leurs cimes
L’onde et las brise ont des accents.

Ces voix, dans un même murmure.
A notre coeur disent d’aimer;
Ami, saluons la nature
Dont l’eveil vient nous ranimer!

Photo credit: Fern Nesson

“The Awakening” (My Translation)

Winter is over
The earth regains its youth
My love, do you not feel the warm breeze
that caresses us?

Do you not smile
as the sun warms our souls
and quickens our spirit?

Do you not welcome the mist that
disperses the tearful and bitter days
of yore?

No more sad dreams!
Oh let us live in empyrean serenity
whose happy hours will chase away
those long and somber days.

The air is perfumed,
The billowing clouds form intoxicating shapes
Do you not respond to their allure?

Do you not hear whispers that
penetrate your soul and your senses?
The treetops shiver in the woods
the waves and the breezes, all sigh softly.

All of these voices murmur in one voice
to our hearts, saying “love one another.”
My love, let us celebrate nature!
Her awakening will revive us!

Photo credit: Fern Nesson

Lead photo credit : Photo by Fern Nesson

More in French poetry, Gustave Flaubert, Louise Colet

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Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fern Nesson is a fine art photographer with an MFA in photography. She visits Paris regularly where she captures interior scenes. Her work is abstract, and brings fresh perspective to lovers of Paris, while also illuminating interesting museum exhibitions and cultural events taking place in the City of Light. She recently published a book compilation of the popular Bonjour Paris series "50 Things I Miss About Paris." Purchase this beautiful, photography-filled book on Amazon or contact Fern directly by email: fernlnesson [at] gmail.com. She's offering a special deal for Bonjour Paris readers: purchase the book at cost, a $25 discount.


  • Ellen A.
    2020-09-26 08:16:29
    Ellen A.
    Another rare gem. Thank you for finding these voices from the past that still express today.


  • Marian Jones
    2020-09-25 09:03:22
    Marian Jones
    Lovely! Thank you. I think I will put the first verse - in French! - on my classroom wall, alongside the opening of Verlaine's 'Chanson d'automne'. My students spend a lot of time wading through grammar and factual texts, and this will remind them what a beautiful language they are learning.


  • Fern L. Nesson
    2020-09-25 01:28:35
    Fern L. Nesson
    How wonderful, Marian! It's great to think that Louise Colet will be getting attention after 175 years of obscurity! F.