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Les elfes (1882) L25

Les elfes

Couronnés de thym et de marjolaine,
Les Elfes joyeux dansent sur la plaine.
Du sentier des bois aux daims familier,
Sur un noir cheval, sort un chevalier.
Son éperon d’or brille en la nuit brune;
Et, quand il traverse un rayon de lune,
On voit resplendir, d’un reflet changeant,
Sur sa chevelure un casque d’argent.
Ils l’entourent tous d’un essaim léger
Qui dans l’air muet semble voltiger.
«Hardi chevalier, par la nuit sereine,
Où vas-tu si tard? dit la jeune Reine.
De mauvais esprits hantent les forêts;
Viens danser plutôt sur les gazons frais.»
«Non! ma fiancée aux yeux clairs et doux
M’attend, et demain nous serons époux.
Laissez-moi passer, Elfes des prairies.»
Et sous l’éperon le noir cheval part.
Il court, il bondit et va sans retard;
Mais le chevalier frissonne et se penche;
Il voit sur la route une forme blanche
Qui marche sans bruit et lui tend les bras:
«Elfe, esprit, démon, ne m’arrête pas!»
«Ne m’arrête pas, fantôme odieux!
Je vais épouser ma belle aux doux yeux.»
«Ô mon cher époux, la tombe éternelle
Sera notre lit de noce, dit-elle.
Je suis morte!»—Et lui, la voyant ainsi,
D’angoisse et d’amour tombe mort aussi.

The Elves

Crowned with thyme and marjoram,
The joyous Elves dance on the plain.
From the deer-frequented path,
A knight emerges on a black steed.
His golden spur glitters in the dark night;
And, when he moves through a shaft of moonlight,
You see a silver helmet
Shining fitfully on his head.
They surround him in a light throng
Which seems to hover in the silent air.
‘Fearless knight, whither are you bound so late
On this calm evening?’ asks the young Queen.
‘Evil spirits haunt these forests;
Come and dance instead on the fresh grass.’
‘No, my fiancée, with her sweet and clear eyes,
Awaits me, and tomorrow we shall be wed.
Let me pass, Elves of the meadow.’
And spurred on, the black steed departs.
He runs, he bounds and does not tarry;
But the knight shudders and stoops;
He sees a white form on the way,
Walking without sound, holding out its arms:
‘Elf, spirit, demon, do not stop me!’
‘Do not stop me, odious phantom.
I shall marry my sweet-eyed love.’
‘O my dear husband, the eternal tomb
Shall be our wedding bed’, she said.
‘I am dead!’—And he, beholding her thus,
Also dies with anguish and with love.
Translation © Richard Stokes, author of A French Song Companion (Oxford, 2000)

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(Achille) Claude Debussy was a French composer. He is sometimes seen as the first Impressionist composer, although he vigorously rejected the term. He was among the most influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle was a French poet of the Parnassian movement. He is traditionally known by his surname only, Leconte de Lisle.


Leconte de Lisle was born on the French overseas island of La Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. He spent his childhood there and later in Brittany. Among his friends in those years was the musician Charles Bénézit. His father, an army surgeon, who brought him up with great severity, sent him to travel in the East Indies with a view to preparing him for a business career. However, after returning from this journey, the young man preferred to complete his education in Rennes, Britanny, specializing in Greek, Italian and history. In 1845 he settled definitively in Paris.

He was involved in the French Revolution of 1848 which ended with the overthrow of the Orleans King Louis-Philppe of France, but took no further part in politics after the Second Republic was declared.

As a writer he is most famous for his three collections of poetry: Poèmes antiques (1852), Poèmes barbares (1862), Poèmes tragiques (1884). He is also known for his translations of Ancient Greek tragedians and poets, such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Horace.

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