My French Poem
I began studying French in junior high school. It came easily to me from the beginning and I always enjoyed it, never receiving less than an “A” in my study of it—which I pursued throughout high school, college, and graduate school. After college, I worked for a time as a French/English translator and interpreter in an embassy in Washington, D.C. No one else in my family had an affinity for foreign languages, at least not since my great grandparents on my mother’s side immigrated to the United States from Italy. I also enjoyed writing poetry from time to time. As a junior or senior in high school, I once wrote a six-line poem in French, inspired by puppy love. It wasn’t something I was particularly proud of, or even very fond of.
One crisp December night during my last year in college, I was cramming for the final exam for a French poetry class. I was curled up in a large winged-back chair in front of the fire place. I lived in a two-story guest house on a gracious Southern Estate that had been turned into a dorm for French majors. Gary was the only other student in the living room that night. He had tended the fire, but was well into numbing his senses with a six-pack of Stroh’s. As the smell of charred wood began to fade and the embers in the fireplace lost their glow, I was getting sleepy. Fortunately, I only had a couple of more poems to read.
Suddenly, I was startled awake. A chill struck my spine and I bolted out of my chair. There was my poem! My poem was in the book of French poetry, except that the poem in the book had two stanzas of six lines and mine only had one, and a couple of words were in reverse order. It was unbelievable! When I excitedly told Gary, he just mumbled something incomprehensible. The next day, I recounted the story to my professor, but his only comment was “I suppose brilliant minds think alike.”
How could I write six lines of a poem in another language that someone else already had written? No one could explain it, least of all me. The poem could not have been a subliminal memory of something I heard as a child—no one in my family or any of their acquaintances spoke French. Automatic writing? Channeling? Seems unlikely, as I have never had any similar experiences before or since. The poem in the book was written by a minor French poet who died five years before I was born. To this day, I have no explanation for my poem. But I have often wondered if there was some other force—one not quite founded on the conscious plane of existence—for why the French language was always so easy, almost second nature, for me.
Submitted by C.A. Swann