Chevaux de bois

Wooden Horses [Paul Verlaine]

What is it about wooden horses? Of the various googled terms that lead visitors to my website, some of the most popular are “verlaine wooden horses” and “debussy wooden horses” — particularly with people from Taiwan, Japan and other lands as far away from the misty netherlands of Belgium as it is possible to be.

I imagine students sitting at laptops in reinforced concrete high rises, back from their voice or literature classes and trying to visualise a typical winter Belgian fairground, with its heady mix of music, coloured lights and smells of chips (which only the Belgians know how to make properly) and sweet waffles.

Ironically, when I was planning my Debussy recording I nearly omitted Chevaux de bois, a poem from Verlaine’s Paysages belges, as I didn’t particularly like the music. I found it too mechanical and uninspired. Others think otherwise. It’s top choice after C’est l’extase.

Debussy was attracted by the exoticism of the East, which he used to great effect in his Baudelaire settings. Strange to think that a noisy merry-go-round under grey Flemish skies might have an exoticism all of its own for those who live in the land of the sun.

(Posted 30th May 2008 by Arachne)

Chevaux de Bois

Tournez, tournez, bons chevaux de bois,
Tournez cent tours, tournez mille tours,
Tournez souvent et tournez toujours,
Tournez, tournez au son des hautbois.

L’enfant tout rouge et la mère blanche,
Le gars en noir et la fille en rose,
L’une à la chose et l’autre à la pose,
Chacun se paie un sou de dimanche.

Tournez, tournez, chevaux de leur cœur,
Tandis qu’autour de tous vos tournois
Clignote l’œil du filou sournois,
Tournez au son du piston vainqueur.

C’est étonnant comme ça vous soule
D’aller ainsi dans ce cirque bête :
Rien dans le ventre et mal dans la tête,
Du mal en masse et du bien en foule.

Tournez, dadas, sans qu’il soit besoin
D’user jamais de nuls éperons
Pour commander à vos galops ronds,
Tournez, tournez, sans espoir de foin.

Et dépêchez, chevaux de leur âme
Déjà voici que sonne à la soupe
La nuit qui tombe et chasse la troupe
De gais buveurs que leur soif affame.

Tournez, tournez! le ciel en velours
D’astres en or se vêt lentement.
L’église tinte un glas tristement.
Tournez au son joyeux des tambours!

Champ de foire de Saint-Gilles, août 72.
( Romances sans paroles, 1874)

Wooden Horses

Turn, turn, worthy wooden broncoes,
Turn a hundred, a thousand turnings,
Turn often and keep turning,
Turn, turn and sound the oboes.

Red for the child and white for the mother,
The boy in black and the girl in pink,
Some on the go while others think,
Each paying out his Sunday copper.

Turn, turn, horses of their emotion,
While all around your turning
Scoundrel’s furtive eye is winking.
Turn to the sound of insistent piston.

Amazing how it makes one so loud
Thus to go on this wacky tread,
A void in the tummy, an ache in the head
Queasy in the crush, happy in the crowd.

Turn, gee-gees, without a need
To ever use any spurs
To urge you on your circular gallops.
Turn, turn, with no hope of feed.

And hurry, you horses, soulmates first,
Already sounds the bell for soup,
Night falls and chases the troupe
Of merry drinkers famished by thirst.

Turn, turn! The sky of velour
Is slowly dressed with stars of gold.
The church bell tolls its knell so cold.
Turn to joyous sound of tambours;

Posted 30th May 2008 by Arachne
Edited here by infrench