Le Vaisseau D’Or / The Ship of Gold

Le Vaisseau D’Or

Ce fut un grand Vaisseau taillé dans l’or massif :
Ses māts touchaient l’azur, sur des mers inconnues ;
La Cyprine d’amour, cheveux épars, chairs nues,
S’étalait à sa proue, au soleil excessif.

Mais vint une nuit frapper le grand écueil
Dans l’Océan trompeur où chantait la Sirène,
Et le naufrage horrible inclina sa carène
Aux profondeurs du Gouffre, immuable cercueil.

Ce fut un Vaisseau d’Or, dont les flancs diaphanes
Révélaient des trésors que les marins profanes,
Dégoūt, Haine et Névrose, entre eux ont disputés.

Que rest‑t‑il de lui dans la tempête brève ?
Qu’est devenu mon cœur, navire déserté ?
Hélas ! Il a sombré dans l’abīme du Rêve !

The Ship of Gold

It was a great ship built of solid gold :
Its masts reached to the skies on uncharted seas ;
The Goddess of Love, her hair streaming, her flesh bare,
Flaunted herself on the prow beneath a blazing sun.

Then one night it struck the great reef
In that treacherous ocean where the Siren sang,
And the horrible shipwreck cast its keel
To the depths of the abyss, a changeless coffin.

It was a Ship of Gold whose diaphanous sides
Revealed treasures which those profane mariners,
Loathing, Hate and Neurosis, disputed among themselves.

What remains of it in the brief tempest ?
What has become of my heart, deserted ship ?
Alas ! It has foundered in the depths of the Dream !

Translation ©: Barry Tobin.

This poem is one of the most quoted by Émile Nelligan (1879 –1941), the Canadian poet whose father, David Nelligan, while still a schoolboy, left Dublin in the 1850s to travel with his parents to a new life in Montreal. His mother was French-speaking and it was her language that he choose to use in his creative writing. He was born on Christmas Eve, 1879 and was baptized on Christmas Day in Montreal’s ‘Irish’ church, St. Patrick’s.

He began to write poetry while still only fifteen. By the time his writing career ended he was still only 19. Diagnosed as suffering from mental illness, he entered the first of two psychiatric hospitals in August 1899. He was never cured. He died at the second hospital in November 1941, a few weeks before his sixty-second birthday.

During his four years as a teenage poet he produced about 170 poems and is now discussed, studied, and honoured as the most important Quebec poet and as one of Canada’s most interesting and significant writers.

‘Le Vaisseau D’Or’ is an astonishingly imaginative and poignant foretelling of its author’s fate as a human being and as a writer.

Remembering Émil Nelligan in Cardiff, November 15, 2001

Alt sa Ghaeilge / an article in Irish.