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French Poem Reading – “Préface” by Paul Claudel

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis - updated on Jun 17, 2020

Listen to my reading of the moving French poem “Préface” by Paul Claudel .

This poem by French poet Paul Claudel is about exile. The poet looks back on his life, and he knows he has to move forward, but he wonders if he can and is longing for death.

Before moving back to France to raise our daughter among her family, we lived in the US for 18 years. I love my life in France, but I also miss my life back in the US. I don’t know exactly why, it has to do with the images, the rythme: this poem really got to me, and you can hear it in my voice when I read it!

1 – French Poem – “Préface” by Paul Claudel – Audio Recording

Please press play to hear my readings of French Poem – “Préface” by Paul Claudel.

2 – Classical French Poem – “Préface” by Paul Claudel

Derrière moi la plaine, comme jadis en Chine quand je
montais l’été vers Kouliang.
Le pays aplati par la distance et cette carte où l’on ne voit rien
tant que l’on marche dedans,
Le chemin qu’il a fallu faire avec tant de peine et de sueur de
ce point jusqu’à un autre point,
Tant de kilomètres et d’années que l’on couvrirait maintenant
avec la main !
Le soleil d’un brusque rayon çà et là fait revivre et luire
Un fleuve dont on ne sait plus le nom, telle ville comme une
vieille blessure qui fait encore souffrir !
Là-bas la fumée d’un paquebot qui part et la clarté
spéciale que fait la mer, –
L’exile à plein coeur accepté dont nous ne sortirons qu’en avant
et non pas en arrière !
Le soir tombe, considère ce site nouveau, explorateur!
Ce silence à d’autres étonnant, qu’il est familier à ton coeur !
Les montagnes l’une sur l’autre se dressent dans une atten-
tion immense.
Il faut beaucoup d’espace pour que la vie commence,
Pour que le souffle du large soit arrêté et que les eaux en ce
cirque déchiré soient recueillies !
J’écoute le bruit qu’elles font et le soupir de tous ces villages
sous moi dans le sucre et dans le riz.
Ma maison que j’ai abandonnée pour toujours, je n’ai qu’à
me retourner pour savoir qu’elle est là-bas.
(J’entends le vent, pendant que je lis les Psaumes, qui fait
remuer les stores de la vérandah.)
Je sais que tout est fini derrière moi et que le retour est exclu.
Donne avec un profond tressaillement, mon âme, dans ce
pays complètement inconnu !
Pourquoi tarder plus longtemps sur ce seuil préparateur ?
Viens, si le nom d’un Père a pour toi quelque douceur.

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3 – English Translation of the French Poem – “Préface” by Paul Claudel

Behind me the plain, as formerly in China when I
spent the summer around Kouliang .
The country, flattened by distance and this map where one sees nothing
As you walk in,
The journey one had to walk in so much pain and sweat, from
this point to another point,
Many miles and years that would now be covered
with the hand !
The sun here and there with sudden rays revives and lights up
A river of which we do not know the name , such and such city like an old wound that still makes you suffer!
Over there, the smoke of a steamboat which is leaving and the special light
that makes the sea, –
The exile fully accepted by the heart, from which we’ll escape by going forward, and not backwards!
Night falls, think about this new site, explorer!
This silence others would wonder about, how it is familiar to your heart!
The mountains on each others are erected in a huge amount of attention.
It takes a lot of space for life to begin,
For the offshore wind to be blocked and for the waters
to be collected in this torn bay!
I listen to the noise they make and the breathing of all these villages
under me in sugar and rice.
My home that I abandoned forever, I only have
to turn around to know it is over there.
(I hear the wind stirring the blinds in the verandah, while I read the Psalms.)
I know that everything is over behind me, and that any return is excluded.
Give, with a deep shiver my soul, in to this
totally unknown country!
Why delay much longer on this mending threshold?
Come, if the name of a Father has to you any sweetness.

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