Seven of Diamonds: The Tree

tree500As autumn comes I breathe your sanguine red
and tremble at the falling of each leaf.
I’ve wasted nights just sobbing on your bed
of leaves, and vow to fight impending grief.
I wrap you, still alive, to stop the shed,
your shield against the winter, metal leaf.
In spring, I take the helmet from your head,
its aventail a shroud upon the dead.


I came up with an idea for a poem the moment I lay down to sleep after finishing last week’s video. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to link that poem to the cards or the letter of the week, so I’ve written what I can and put it aside for later. I think the extra aging time will improve it.

There’s something else I put aside for later a while ago, when none of the cards suited it: a translation of Jérémie Kisling‘s song Le manège. And it just so happens that there are three appropriate cards this week. So I decided to finish that. I couldn’t find the part that I had already written, only a very literal, not-very-poetic translation. So I’ve started almost from scratch.

As Jérémie Kisling explained in an interview, the song is about a boy who watches his tree change through the seasons, and panics each autumn because he sees it lose its leaves. He’s under the impression that the tree dies each winter. So one year, he tries to save it by covering it in aluminium foil. And that makes it really die.

Last week I ignored the letter of the week, so I thought I’d better do something with it this week. I decided to revive the binary rhyme scheme idea that I’d tried in my first joker, that is, using the binary representation of the ASCII value of the letter to determine the rhyme scheme. An uppercase letter T is 84 in ASCII, which is 01010100 in binary. This corresponds to the particularly nice ABABABAA rhyme scheme.

The original is 29 lines long, so it was a bit of a challenge to fit it into eight. I did consider writing one stanza with the bit pattern of a lower case T and the other with an uppercase T, but it turned out not to be necessary.

I intended this to be a fairly loose translation with my own telling of a similar story, but I’m surprised at how many details I managed to keep from the original. For instance, ryming ‘leaf’ with ‘grief’ (in French: feuille and deuil) and splitting ‘bed of leaves’ over two lines. I also subconsciously echoed the original with ‘metal leaf’. I knew it was technically inaccurate, since aluminium leaf is much thinner than aluminium foil, but liked the ‘leaf’ pun. Only later did I remember that Jérémie also uses the same word for real leaves and sheets of aluminium, with the difference being that in French, that word (feuille, again) can actually mean foil when applied to aluminium, and not necessarily metal leaf.

Here are the lyrics of Le Manège. I got Jérémie Kisling’s permission to post them here, but obviously they are still covered under his copyright, and not my Creative Commons license.

En septembre
Je respire tes couleurs
Et je tremble
À l’approche du malheur
Devant tous les carreaux de ma fenêtre
Je prie pour que cette année peut-être
Tu passes l’automne

J’ai passé bien trop de nuits
À sangloter sur ton lit
De feuilles
Je voulais les retenir
Batailler contre l’empire
Du deuil

L’évidence du manège
Aux saisons,
J’ai voulu tendre ce piège
Muni d’une immense feuille d’alu
J’ai tout emballé l’arbre encore touffu
Pour qu’il passe l’automne

Sa combinaison d’hiver
Un bel habit de lumière
L’éfficacité de l’armure
Ma réponse à la nature
En somme
Mais au printemps revenu
Je soulevais le voile gris devenu

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  1. #1 by mtgordon on January 26, 2009 - 11:36 pm

    Aha! I was curious about the rhyme scheme.

    I’m curious how quickly a deciduous tree would die if left wrapped in foil in the winter. It’s blocking light, but how necessary is the light in the winter? Is it causing problems for gas exchange? Or is it simply that the total absence of light inhibits spring budding?

    “Aventail” isn’t a word one sees terribly often. I’m not sure what it says about me that I knew what it meant.


  2. #2 by Angela Brett on January 27, 2009 - 1:26 am

    Man, I don’t see the phrase ‘I was curious about the rhyme scheme’ enough, if at all. Sometimes I think I rattle on about these things. I particularly like the binary rhyme scheme of a capital T because it has perfectly normal alternation for most of it, and then a rhyming couplet to drive home a point or twist of some sort, like in certain kinds of sonnets. I like ending things with rhyming couplets.

    You raise an interesting point. I assume that the original song is not based on a true story, and now I will forever wonder about it. I doubt the tree would die completely, since they take a long time to die and it’s pretty difficult to even define the death of a tree. But I wonder how damaged it would be, and why. Rather than performing the experiment, maybe I’ll ask the question in New Scientist’s ‘The Last Word‘ column.

    I didn’t know the word ‘Aventail’ before I wrote this poem. I had about a dozen possibilities for that last line, all with slight imperfections. I hope I chose the best one. The end of the original song is:

    Je soulevais le voile gris devenu

    which translates literally as something like
    I lifted off the grey veil [which had] become
    a shroud


  3. #3 by Angela Brett on February 5, 2009 - 11:25 pm

    There, Monsieur Kisling said it was okay, so I put up the original lyrics. Even if you don’t understand French, you can see it has quite a different structure from my poem. It’s quite different from Discours inférieur, in which I copy the structure of one of his songs with quite different content. Hmm, I should have asked whether I could put up the lyrics of that as well.


  1. Five of Diamonds: Countdown « Writing Cards and Letters

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