I missed taking note of Bastille Day (July 14), but my family has been following Le Tour de France on the Versus Channel. The coverage is first-rate—and worth watching as a travelogue as much as for a bicycle race. In honor of the French (mostly French Canadian) roots of many people in the Merrimack Valley, here’s a poem by Joseph H. Roy (1865-1931), who was a physician and poet in Lowell. He lived at 14 Wannalancit Street where he and his wife raised nine children. His daughter Berangere taught at Butler Junior High School, and his daughter Carmen was on the faculty of the Franco-American Orphanage. In 1902, his collection of poems “Voix Etranges” (Strange Voices) was published by L’Etoile, Lepine & Co. of 613 Merrimack Street. He cited as his influences the French classicist poet Nicolas Boileau-Despereux (1636-1711), as well as the French Symbolist poets of the 19th century, including Baudelaire, Mallarme, Verlaine, and Rimbaud. Several years ago I translated some of his poems with the help of Maryann Mercier Brady, longtime foreign language teacher at Tyngsboro High School. “Voix Etranges” is in French, so very few people knew what he had written. One of the poems had a Kerouackian slant in the title, which surprised me. I don’t think it’s a missing link in the Kerouac literary chain, but it’s interesting to note the convergence of thinking. Here’s the translation:—PM
On the Dark Road
Small orphan on the road,
You’ll cry a long time because you never knew
The one who soothed you to pure sleep
And waited for you to wake and kiss you. Sure,
You recall a bit, everything’s not blank.
Your innocent mind cradles images
Of mother smiling at her favored child,
A cherub spilled from heaven’s gate.
Yes, you recall—vague as it may be—
A kind of dim dream, faded by the years.
And on the dark road, where are you headed, weary,
The tears, child, running down your face!
And that you’ll endure because you never knew
The one who soothed you to pure sleep.
Joseph H. Roy (c) 1902
[translated by Paul Marion and Maryann Mercier Brady, (c) 2010]