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Emile Nelligan

Émile Nelligan (1879-1941) was a Canadian poet who wrote in the French language.

Nelligan was born in Montreal to an Irish father and a French-Canadian mother. A follower of Symbolism, his poetry is deeply influenced by Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Georges Rodenbach, Maurice Rollinat, and Edgar Allan Poe. A precocious talent like Arthur Rimbaud, his first poems were published in Montreal when he was 16 years old.

In 1899 Nelligan suffered a major psychotic breakdown from which he never recovered. In 1904, his collected poems were published to great acclaim in Canada, an acclaim he never knew. He was one of the greatest French language poets produced by Canada, and several schools and libraries there are named after him.

Quotation: Le Vaisseau d'Or

C'était un grand Vaisseau taillé dans l'or massif:
Ses mâts touchaient l'azur, sur des mers inconnues;
La Cyprine d'amour, cheveux épars, chairs nues,
S'étalait à sa proue, au soleil excessif.

Mais il vint une nuit frapper le grand écueil
Dans l'Océan trompeur où chantait la Sirène,
Et le naufrage horrible inclina sa carène
Aux profondeurs du Gouffre, immuable cercueil.

Ce fut un Vaisseau d'Or, dont les flancs diaphanes
Révélaient des trésors que les marins profanes,
Dégoùt, Haine et Névrose, entre eux ont disputés.

Que reste-t-il de lui dans la tempête brève?
Qu'est devenu mon coeur, navire déserté?
Hélas! Il a sombré dans l'abîme du Rêve!

It was a great ship hewn in heavy gold; its masts touched the skies, on unknown seas. The Venus of love, her hair spread out, her flesh naked, stretched out at its prow, beneath excessive sun.

But one night it happened to strike the great reef in the treacherous ocean where the Siren sings, and the horrible shipwreck tilted its keel into the depths of the abyss, an immovable coffin.

It was a golden ship, whose transparent sides revealed treasures that the sailors profaned; disgust, hate, and neurosis contended for them;

What remains of them in the brief storm? What has happened to my heart, that deserted ship? Alas! It is sunk in the abyss of dreams!

External link:

Collection of Nelligan's poetry (site is in French):