Wednesday, January 4, 2012

More Weird Tales from France

Jean Richepin
Born February 4, 1849, Médéa, French Algeria
Died December 12, 1926, Paris

For Weird Tales
"A Masterpiece of Crime" (Mar. 1936)

A man of action and a man of words, Jean Richepin wrote poems, plays, libretti, novels, and short stories. He was also a soldier, actor, sailor, stevedore, and one of the many prominent paramours of actress Sarah Bernhardt (ca. 1844-1923). The Wikipedia entry for Richepin describes his "propensity for dramatic violence of thought and language" in his plays. A further indication of Richepin's personality is the fact that he was imprisoned and fined for affronts to public decency for his outspokenness on an early work, Chanson des gueux (Song of the Beggar by my translation). Although Richepin lived into the Weird Tales era, the magazine reprinted his story "A Masterpiece of Crime" only after his death.

Jean Lahors [sic]
Jean Lahor
Pseudonym of Henri Cazalis
Born March 9, 1840, Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Val-d'Oise, France
Died July 1, 1909

For Weird Tales
"The Dance of Death" (poem translated by Edward Baxter Perry, May 1926)

Jean Lahor is a pseudonym of the French physician Henri Cazalis, a symbolist poet, litterateur, Orientalist, and associate of the French avant-garde of his time. Lacking a good book on French literature, I'm forced once again to quote from Wikipedia, which says that "[t]he author of the Livre du néant [one of Cazalis' books] had a predilection for gloomy subjects and especially for pictures of death." Weird Tales reprinted a single work by him in that vein, the poem "Danse macabre," translated as "The Dance of Death" by the blind pianist Edward Baxter Perry (1855-1924). Either the magazine or its indexers misspelled Cazalis' pseudonym by adding an "s" to the end. I don't have the original as printed in Weird Tales, but I can offer three translations I have found on the Internet. One is abbreviated.

The Dance of Death
by Jean Lahor

Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
Striking with his heel a tomb,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zig, on his violin. 

The winter wind blows and the night is dark; 
Moans are heard in the linden-trees. 
Through the gloom, white skeletons pass, 
Running and leaping in their shrouds. 
Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking. 
The bones of the dancers are heard to crack- 
But hist! of a sudden they quit the round, 
They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.

The Dance of Death
by Jean Lahor

Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
Striking a tomb with his heel,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zag, on his violin.
The winter wind blows, and the night is dark;
Moans are heard in the linden trees.
White skeletons pass through the gloom,
Running and leaping in their shrouds.
Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking,
You can hear the cracking of the bones of the dancers.
A lustful couple sits on the moss
So as to taste long lost delights.
Zig zig, zig, Death continues
The unending scraping on his instrument.
A veil has fallen! The dancer is naked.
Her partner grasps her amorously.
The lady, it's said, is a marchioness or baroness
And her green gallant, a poor cartwright.
Horror! Look how she gives herself to him,
Like the rustic was a baron.
Zig, zig, zig. What a saraband!
They all hold hands and dance in circles.
Zig, zig, zag. You can see in the crowd
The king dancing among the peasants.
But hist! All of a sudden, they leave the dance,
They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.
Oh what a beautiful night for the poor world!
Long live death and equality!

The Dance of Death
by Jean Lahor
Set to music by Charles Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Tap, tap, tap--Death rhythmically,
Taps a tomb with his heel,
Death at midnight plays a gigue,
Tap, tap, tap, on his violin. 

The Winter wind blows, the night is dark,
The lime-trees groan aloud;
White skeletons flit across the gloom,
Running and leaping beneath their huge shrouds. 

Tap, tap, tap, everyone's astir,
You hear the bones of the dancers knock,
A lustful couple sits down on the moss,
As if to savour past delights. 

Tap, tap, tap, Death continues,
Endlessly scraping his shrill violin.
A veil has slipped! The dancer's naked!
Her partner clasps her amorously. 

They say she's a baroness or marchioness,
And the callow gallant a poor cartwright.
Good God! And now she's giving herself,
As though the bumpkin were a baron! 

Tap, tap, tap, what a saraband!
Circles of corpses all holding hands!
Tap, tap, tap, in the throng you can see
King and peasant dancing together! 

But shh! Suddenly the dance is ended,
They jostle and take flight--the cock has crowed;
Ah! Nocturnal beauty shines on the poor!
And long live death and equality!

The painting Heart of Snow by the British Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914), illustrating or perhaps only associated with the poem "La neige est belle" by Jean Richepin.

La neige est belle
by Jean Richepin

La neige est belle. Ô pâle, ô froide, ô calme vierge,
Salut ! Ton char de glace est traîné par des ours,
Et les cieux assombris tendent sur son parcours
Un dais de satin jaune et gris couleur de cierge.

Salut ! dans ton manteau doublé de blanche serge,
Dans ton jupon flottant de ouate et de velours
Qui s'étale à grands plis immaculés et lourds,
Le monde a disparu. Rien de vivant n'émerge.

Contours enveloppés, tapages assoupis,
Tout s'efface et se tait sous cet épais tapis.
Il neige, c'est la neige endormeuse, la neige

Silencieuse, c'est la neige dans la nuit.
Tombe, couvre la vie atroce et sacrilège,
Ô lis mystérieux qui t'effeuilles sans bruit!

Detail from the "Danse Macabre" at the Rittersche Palast, Lucerne, Switzerland. The danse macabre is a Medieval European genre of art and literature. Examples abound in European culture. I don't know whether this one is a mural, a fresco, or a tapestry. In any case, Jean Lahor drew on the legend for his poem of the nineteenth century.
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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