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Friday
Jul132012

Nerval, "Aurélie"

A prose poem ("Aurelia") by this French writer, as the last part of "Sylvia," a section of this famous work.  You can read the original here.

Onward to Paris!  A five-hour drive by coach, but I was in no hurry provided I arrived by evening.  Around eight o'clock I was sitting at my habitual stall.  Aurelia was spreading her inspiration and charm in verse feebly inspired by Schiller, which one owed to a contemporary talent; in the garden scene, however, she became sublime.  During the fourth act, in which she did not appear, I went to buy a bouquet from Madame Prévost.  There I inserted a letter signed in a very tender hand: An unknown admirer.  And I said to myself: here is something concrete for me to think and dream about.  The next day I was on my way to Germany.

And what I did plan to do there?  Reorder my feelings, or at least attempt to do so.  Were I to write a novel, I would never be able to convince anyone of a story involving a heart seized simultaneously by two loves.  Sylvia was getting away from me, and it was my own fault; but seeing her again for one day was enough to elevate my soul anew: since that time it stood like a smiling statue in the temple of Athena.  Her look had halted me on the edge of the abyss.  I rejected now with greater energy the idea of going and introducing myself to Aurelia, which would involve a brief struggle with a horde of vulgar suitors who would shine in her presence and then crumble into pieces.  We will see each other, I told myself, if she so intends.

One morning I read in the newspaper that Aurelia was ill.  I wrote to her from the mountains of Salzburg.  The letter was so imbued with German mysticism that I could not reasonably expect from it any great success; at the same time, I did not ask for a reply.  I was counting somewhat on chance and on the unknown admirer.  

Months pass.  Through my travels and idleness I had attempted to pinpoint in a poetic action the love and passion of the painter Colonna for the beautiful Laura, whose parents made her a nun, and whom he would love until his death.  Something of this subject was related to my constant preoccupations.  The last verse of the drama now written, I dreamed of nothing more than returning to France.   And what could I say at this time that had not been said by the stories of so many others?  I passed through all those testing grounds that one calls theaters.  "I ate tambourines and drank cymbals," as the saying goes, stripped of its sense as apparent from the initiates of the Eleusinian mysteries.   It means doubtless that, when necessary, one must go past the limits of nonsense and absurdity; and reason for me meant conquering and concretizing my ideal. 

Aurelia had accepted the main role in the drama that I had brought back from Germany.  I will never forget the day when she permitted me to read her the play aloud.  The love scenes were prepared with her in mind.  I fully believe that I read them with conviction in my soul, but most of all with enthusiasm.  In the ensuing conversation, I revealed myself as the unknown admirer of those two letters.  She said to me: "You're quite mad; but come by and see me again.  I have never been able to find anyone who knew how to love me."

O woman, you seek love!  And I, then, seek ...?  

In the days that followed I wrote her the most tender and beautiful letters she could have ever possibly received.  I understood from her that they were filled with logic and reason.  At one point she was moved; she beckoned me over and admitted that it was difficult for her to sever an older attachment.  "If you truly love me for myself," she said, "then you will understand that I can belong to only one person." 

Two months later I received a letter ebullient in its emotions.  I made great haste to her place.  During this interval, as it were, someone had passed along a precious detail.  The handsome young man whom I had met one night had just come from serving in the Spahis. 

The following summer stops were made in Chantilly.  The theater troupe to which Aurelia was attached was giving a performance there.  Once in the region, the troupe was ordered by the director to remain there for three days.  I befriended this gallant fellow who used to play Dorante in the comedies of Marivaux.  For a while now he had been the young dramatic lead.  His latest success had been as the lover in the play in the vein of Schiller, where my binoculars betrayed him as rather wrinkled.  From up close he seemed younger and, having remained thin, he still made an impression in the provinces.  He had a certain passion.  I accompanied the troupe in the capacity of gentleman poet; I persuaded the director to add performances in Senlis and Dammartin.  He was initially leaning for Compiègne; but Aurelia shared my opinion. 

The next day while they were off to negotiate with venue owners and the local authorities, I rented out some horses and we took the route of the ponds of Commelles to go have lunch at the castle of Blanche de Castille.  Riding side-saddle with her blonde hair floating in the breeze, Aurelia crossed the forest like a queen of olden times, and the local peasants stood there dazzled.   Madame F. was the only one they had ever seen so imposing and yet so gracious in her greetings.  After lunch we descended into villages recalling those of Switzerland in which the water of the Nonette makes the sawmills move.  These vistas so dear to my memories did not cease to interest her.  I had planned to take Aurelia to the castle, near Orry-la-Ville, to the same green location where I had first espied Adrienne.  Yet no emotion appeared in her.  And so I told her everything; I spoke of the source of this love glimpsed every night, dreamt of later still, realized in her.  She listened to me seriously and then said: "You don't love me!  You're expecting me to tell you that an actress is like a nun; you're looking for drama, and here's everything except the dénouement, which eludes you.  Go now, I no longer believe you!"

These words were like lightning.  The bizarre urges which I had felt for so long, these dreams, these tears, these bouts of despair and of tenderness ... was all this not love?

But then where is this love?

Aurelia was on stage that evening in Senlis.  I thought I noticed that she had a weakness for the director – the wrinkled 'young' lead.  This man was of excellent character and had done her many favors.

And one day Aurelia told me: "Here is the one who loves me!"

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