From “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu”

Saint-Loup of the Brazen Helm

Not a poem, though Proust wrote some, this piece demonstrates the extent to which the classics would have been common currency in educated circles in Belle Époque France: the same would have been true in England. Saint-Loup is a charming and very nobly-born young cavalry officer. Bloch junior is a school friend of the narrator; his weird personal slang derives from French translations of Homer. The guests M. Nissim Bernard claims were at his dinner in Nice are famous dramatists of middling literary quality; Kalidasa is a Sanskrit poet.

A lot of people who haven’t read Proust expect him to be stuffy, but, as here in my opinion, he is often very funny.

You can see the illustrated blog post here.

Press play to listen: the reader is Olivia Chapman.

To scroll both versions of the poem at the same time - tap inside one box to select it and then scroll.

M. Bloch souffrait beaucoup des mensonges de son oncle et de tous les ennuis qu’ils lui causaient.

« Ne faites pas attention, il est extrêmement blagueur », dit-il à mi-voix à Saint-Loup qui n’en fut que plus intéressé, étant très curieux de la psychologie des menteurs.

« Plus menteur encore que l’Ithaquesien Odysseus qu’Athènes appelait pourtant le plus menteur des hommes, compléta notre camarade Bloch. »

« Ah ! par exemple ! s’écria M. Nissim Bernard, si je m’attendais à dîner avec le fils de mon ami ! Mais j’ai à Paris chez moi, une photographie de votre père et combien de lettres de lui. Il m’appelait toujours mon oncle, on n’a jamais su pourquoi. C’était un homme charmant, étincelant. Je me rappelle un dîner chez moi, à Nice où il y avait Sardou, Labiche, Augier »,

« Molière, Racine, Corneille », continua ironiquement M. Bloch le père dont le fils acheva l’énumération en ajoutant:

« Plaute, Ménandre, Kalidasa. »

M. Nissim Bernard blessé arrêta brusquement son récit et, se privant ascétiquement d’un grand plaisir, resta muet jusqu’à la fin du dîner.

« Saint-Loup au casque d’airain, dit Bloch, reprenez un peu de ce canard aux cuisses lourdes de graisse sur lesquelles l’illustre sacrificateur des volailles a répandu de nombreuses libations de vin rouge. »

Monsieur Bloch suffered a good deal from his Uncle’s lies and all the embarrassments they caused him.

“Take no notice of him, he’s a great one for spinning yarns”, he said under his breath to Saint-Loup, who felt all the more interested, as he was curious about the psychology of liars.

“An even bigger liar than Ithacan Odysseus, though Athens called him the biggest liar of them all,” added our companion Bloch.

“Well, well, well,” exclaimed M. Nissim Bernard “I had no idea I would find myself dining with the son of my friend! In my house in Paris I have a photograph of your father, and so many letters from him. He always used to call me Uncle, no-one ever found out why. What a charming, dazzling man he was! I remember a dinner at home in Nice, with Sardou, Labiche, Augier …”

“Molière, Racine, Corneille,“ continued M. Bloch senior ironically, and his son rounded off the list by adding:

“Plautus, Menander, Kalidasa…”

M. Nissim Bernard, offended, abruptly broke off his story and, ascetically depriving himself of a great pleasure, remained silent until the end of dinner.

“Saint-Loup of the brazen helm,” said Bloch, “do have some more of this duck of the fat-laden thighs, upon which the illustrious immolator of fowls has poured forth many libations of red wine.”

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