illustration by Christine Noad
Passejada Menerbesa / Wild Roman Byways
Hearing Miquèl Decòr read his poetry in Occitan, the ancient French language of the troubadours, was an amazing experience. Listening to him introduce each poem in French, than having his translator Jeannette Rogers say all of it in English, made it an amazing language experience. I went overboard at his performance in Chapel Hill and sight read my copy of Wild Roman Byways, his book, as he read his work. I continually glanced over at the French and English (a wonderful chapbook for a linguist) and nearly made myself sick. It was worth it, but when I heard him read at Meredith College I simply listened and it was just as wonderful. What an energy this man has, this retired schoolteacher from the countryside of southern France who has become a voice in his nation for the language of Oc. Wild Roman Byways describes the physical mileu of ancient Roman sites within a day’s journey of the author’s home. As he evokes the grass-bearded stone ruins and the rough bridges and grottos, he finds the imagist and musical gems in these landscapes and molds them into song. Miquèl does sing, and play, in fact has performed literally for the crown heads of Europe, and his presentation of poetry was a true performance.
Jeannette was so brave and effective as she matched up to her author with her English translations. She read them aloud beautifully and her translations read strongly – having no French, I can’t judge the actual translating, but the English poems are lovely, with such a grip on the natural world.
Below is a sample of this three language experience – Oc, French ,English.
Ma votz se vòl tamborn e resson de dalhaires,
E se pèrd dins los aires…
Ma voix se veut tambour et ècho de faucheurs,
et elle se perd, dans les airs…
My voice seems to throb and to echo with the sound
of reapers, then, becomes lost in the wind…
When the reading shifted away from Roman Byways to the lyrical love poetry more typical of Decòr’s work, the tone changed. Here he was even more demonstrative, and the intriguing qualities of the Occitan were more prominent. The poems were very masculine (think imagist Robert Bly) and the linguistic tones were somewhat Germanic, sometimes almost guttural. This was amazing to hear from the mouth of a Frenchman, and was one of many things about the whole experience that enlarged my perspective on the French character. Miguèl is immersed in the southern French countryside, and spoke passionately at the Chapel Hill reading about the history of Occitan in France and his own relationship to Paris and traditional French national culture. His parents forbade him to speak Oc but he learned it anyway from his godfather and has become one of its champions. There are Oc immersion schools in southern France, and Miguèl makes media appearances and participates on a national level with the preservation of the language.
Kudos to Jeannette for bringing this fascinating man to Raleigh and facilitating his poetry presentations – as well as translating and reading the poems! We will be hearing more of Jeannette as she continues her literary journey through the France of the troubadours.
To order a copy of Miguèl’s book, contact her: