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Alphonse de Lamartine

The Lake

Thus ever drawn toward far shores uncharted,
Into eternal darkness borne away,
May we not ever on Time's sea, unthwarted,
Cast anchor for a day?

O lake! Now hardly by a year grown older,
And nigh the well-known waves her eyes should greet,
Behold! I sit alone on this same boulder
Thou knewest for her seat.

Thus didst thou murmur in thy rocky haven,
Thus didst thou shatter on its stony breast;
Thus fell the wind-flung foam on sands engraven
Where her dear feet had pressed.

One eve- remembering thou?- in silence drifting,
'Twixt deep and sky no sound had echo save
Afar the rowers dipping oars and lifting
Over thy waters suave.

When all at once a voice that made earth wonder
From the charmed shore drove all the echoes wide,
And rapt the wave, not fain as I nor fonder,
And with sweet words did chide:

'Stay thou thy flight, O Time! and happy hours
Trail by with laggard feet!
Let all the savour of your delight be ours
Of all our days most sweet!

'Too many grieving souls to thee are praying;
Nay, leave not these immune;
Bear off with thee their sorrows undelaying;
Leave happy souls their boon.

'Nay, but in vain I ask one gracious hour;
Time flies and will not hark.
I bid the night abide and dawn doth shower
His splendour down the dark.

'Ah! let us love, my Love, for Time is heartless,
Be happy while you may!
Man hath no Heaven and Time's coast is chartless.
He speeds; we pass away!'

Churl Time, and can it be sweet moments cherished,
Wherein love fills our lives with teeming bliss,
Speed far away and be as swiftly perished
As days when sorrow is?

Nay! Ere we go may we not leave sure traces?
Nay! Passed for ever? Beyond all reprieve?
What Time bestows on us, what Time effaces
He nevermore shall give?

O! everlasting night, deep pit unsounded,
What dost thou with engulphéd days untold?
Speak! Wilt thou yield us back the bliss unbounded
Once ravished from our hold?

O! lake, mute rocks, caves, leafy woodland shading,
You whom Time spares or clothes with newer sheen,
Keep of this night, fair Nature, keep unfading
The memory ever green!

In all thy calms and all thy tempests blending,
Fair lake, and in thy forelands' smiling fronts,
In thy dark pines and thy wild cliffs impending
Over thy crystal fonts,

In the winds passing, with a trembling lightness,
Heard in the echoes that thy shores throw far,
Seen in the beams that fall with sheeny whiteness
Wave-borne from the clear star!

Let moaning breezes thro' the rushes gliding,
All perfume stirring thy sweet air above,
All seen or heard or breathéd bear this tiding,
'Hereby they once did love!'

Translated by
Wilfrid Charles Thorley (31 July 1878 – 1963)

The Lake

Thus, ever driven onward to new shores, borne constantly away,
Can we never, in the Ocean of the Ages, drop anchor for a day?

Oh, this beautiful lake!  The year has hardly flown,
yet here am I, beside these so-beloved waves of hers. Here, but alone.

Waves! You crashed against these rocks for her, white-blazing, beat
your heads against the wind, but also caressed her lovely feet.

One night—do you remember?—we lay here and felt
the rhythmic swish of oarsmen, slicing through your pelt.

That night was so enchanted, I swear to you I heard
accents never known on earth, as she let fall these words:

“Oh, Time, stop your flight!  Hours, don’t run away!
Allow us to savor this delight, the best of life’s brief day!

So many unhappy ones implore you. Run, run for them.
Take, too, the cares which eat them up. But leave us, please, in pacem.

It’s fruitless to complain, but these moments aren’t enough:
I beg shy Night to linger, but look – bold Dawn scares her off.

So let us love, then. Let us love!  Time cannot be caged.
Make haste: we’ll strut our tiny hour, and then must quit the stage.”

Jealous Time! Why do you rob with such frank eagerness
our days of joy, but dawdle when you see us in distress?

Why is it that we live and love, but leave no trace?
Why give us these raptures, which you then efface?

Eternity. Nothingness. The Past. Such somber chasms!
Where do you hide our human fire, our passion-prompted spasms?

Lake! Tall rocks! Oh, deep and secret woods! Nos amis!
Won’t you keep of us at least some memory?

We live on in your calm, Sweet Lake, your storms, your laughing shores,
your gloomy pine trees, craggy rocks, through which the water roars.

It’s in the summer wind we’ll live, which ruffles as it kisses,
and in the single thoughtful star, which reflects and reminisces.

The rose which droops, the oak in ivy gloved,
the fragrance of the forest. These will tell the world, “They loved!”

Translation by Michael Coy