Le Vase Brisé (The Broken Vase)

by Sully Prudhomme

Le Pichon describes how his mother taught him a version of this lovely poem. So, we commissioned a new English translation for you, and asked a Québécois poet to recite the poem in French and English. Listen along, and compare to Le Pichon's memorized version.

Le Vase Brisé

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Le vase où meurt cette vervaine
D'un coup d'éventail fut fêlé;
Le coup dut l'effleurer à peine,
Aucun bruit ne l'a révélé.

Mais la légère meurtrissure,
Mordant le cristal chaque jour,
D'une marche invisible et sûre
En a fait lentement le tour.

Son eau fraîche a fui goutte à goutte,
Le suc des fleurs s'est épuisé;
Personne encore ne s'en doute,
N'y touchez pas, il est brisé.

Souvent aussi la main qu'on aime
Effleurant le coeur, le meurtrit;
Puis le coeur se fend de lui-même,
La fleur de son amour périt;

Toujours intact aux yeux du monde,
Il sent croître et pleurer tout bas
Sa blessure fine et profonde:
Il est brisé, n'y touchez pas.

The Broken Vase

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The vase where this verbena’s dying
Was cracked by a lady’s fan’s soft blow.
It must have been the merest grazing:
We heard no sound. The fissure grew.

The little wound spread while we slept,
Pried deep in the crystal, bit by bit.
A long, slow marching line, it crept
From spreading base to curving lip.

The water oozed out drop by drop,
Bled from the line we’d not seen etched.
The flowers drained out all their sap.
The vase is broken: do not touch.

The quick, sleek hand of one we love
Can tap us with a fan’s soft blow,
And we will break, as surely riven
As that cracked vase. And no one knows.

The world sees just the hard, curved surface
Of a vase a lady’s fan once grazed,
That slowly drips and bleeds with sadness.
Do not touch the broken vase.

("Le Vase Brisé" by René François Armand Sully-Prudhomme (1839-1907). Translation from French to English © 2009 by Robert Archambeau. Translation commissioned by the Poetry Radio Project, a collaboration between American Public Media and the Poetry Foundation. Used with permission of Robert Archambeau. Poetry read by Jean-Luc Garneau.)

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is professor emeritus at the Collège de France in Aix-en-Provence. He resides at La Maison Thomas Philippe, a retreat for families struggling with mental illness.

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