November: The Kir Violette Royal

November is the month that Pauline Tarn died (November 18th, to be precise), so this month's cocktail is one suitable for toasting. It is a variation on the classic apéritif, the "kir." At its most basic, this drink consists of crème de cassis (blackcurrant) and white wine, but there are many variations, such as different fruit bases (blackberry, and so on). Substituting champagne for the white wine makes a kir "royal."

 

In this recipe, make the drink the same way you would make a kir, but substitute a violet liqueur for the crème de cassis and add champagne (or prosecco or cava, or any other dry sparkling white wine).

 

Which liqueur you choose will have a big impact on the appearance of the cocktail. The "Tempus Fugit" brand, for example, is a redder color, and gives a more delicate, peachy pink appearance like the drink on the left here, whereas the bolder "Bitter Truth" brand turns bright blue (like the drink on the right). There are also slight variations in taste, too, of course.

 

So take your pick, then drink a toast to the memory of Renée Vivien, who often wondered if she would be remembered, and by whom. 

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Vous pour qui j'écrivis (You For Whom I Wrote) by Renée Vivien (A l'heure des mains jointes, 1906)

French

 

 

Vous pour qui j'écrivis, ô belles jeunes femmes!

Vous que, seules, j'aimais, relirez-vous mes vers

Par les futurs matins neigeant sur l'univers,

Et par les soirs futurs de roses et de flammes?

 

Songerez-vous, parmi le désordre charmant

De vos cheveux épars, de vos robes défaites:

"Cette femme, à travers les sanglots et les fêtes,

A porté ses regrads et ses lèvres d'amant."

 

Pâles et respirant votre chair embaumée,

Dans l'évocation magique de la nuit,

Direz-vous: "Cette femme eut l'ardeur qui me fuit...

Que n'est-elle vivante! Elle m'aurait aimée..."

English translation

You for whom I wrote, oh beautiful young women!

You alone whom I used to love, will you reread my verse

On future mornings as it snows on the universe?

And on future evenings of roses and flames?

 

Will you dream, amid the charming disarray

Of your flowing hair, with your dresses undone:

"That women, through sobs and feasts,

Bore her gaze and her lover's lips."

 

Pale and breathing in your perfumed flesh,

In the magical evocation of the night,

Will you say: "That woman had the ardor that eludes me...

Would she were alive! She would have loved me..."

A few things to think about in this poem (by Melanie Hawthorne)

The poem "Vous pour qui j'écrivis" is one of several poems scattered throughout her oeuvre in which Vivien wonders about her posthumous reputation. The poem appears in the collection A l'heure des mains jointes of 1905. It is immediately followed by another poem on a similar theme, "Par les Soirs futurs" (On future evenings), in which Vivien conjures the opposite fantasy, "Nul ne saura mon nom et nulle d'entre vous/ Ne redira mes vers" (no one will know my name and none of you will recite my verses). This was evidently a theme that preoccupied her quite a bit.

 

Perhaps that is normal for all artists (writers, painters, musicians, and others) who feel they have something they want to communicate with the world, but in Vivien's case it is an interesting contrast with the (relative) lack of interest she seems to have had in self-promotion during her lifetime. She published a great deal, but for the most part, she paid to have her work published (and oversaw the process and was deeply engaged in revisions); she did not seek to publish in the leading literary reviews of her day, did not cultivate critics or those in literary circles, and did not seem to pay much attention to her literary reputation or the reception of her work. Her books were printed in small runs, were not commercially successful, and seem to have passed relatively unnoticed. We know of one public lecture that was given about her (she attended along with Natalie Barney, and they laughed because the lecturer kept referring to Vivien as "he"), but it does not seem as though the major poets of her day knew of her or rated her work. But if she brushed this neglect aside, perhaps it was because she had her eyes on the future, and cared more about whether she would be read in fifty or a hundred years, not whether she was being read by contemporaries. Perhaps she would be pleased to know that this hope would be realized.

 

The poem consists of three verses of four lines each (so not a sonnet, for example, as it is only 12 lines), written in the traditional alexandrine (12-syllable) form. But whereas the alexandrine is usually split into two equal half-lines (hemistichs) by a pause, or cesura, at the halfway point, Vivien plays with different rhythms in this poem. So, for example, while the first line is a beautifully balanced, regular 6-6 meter, the second line mixes things up. There is still a cesura in the middle, but the first hemistich has a dancing rhythm of 2, 2, and 2 syllables, adding up to the usual 6 but causing the reader to slow down when reading it, like someone jumping from one stepping stone to the next, or hopping over the cracks in the sidewalk. Why does the narrative voice (Vivien?) want us to slow down here? In order to underline the importance of what she is telling us? That beautiful young women are the only people she loves and has loved? That she doesn't care about her reputation among fellow poets, only what young women of the future will think of her?

 

The first line of the second verse again plays with pacing, with the cesura coming after just 4 syllables ("songerez-vous"), forcing the reader to pause and shift into daydreaming mode (songer) before painting a scene of seduction, in a long parenthesis that continues for the rest of this line and on into the next with enjambment, of women with their hair flowing freely and their dresses undone. In the midst of this intimacy, these women of the future will pause to let their minds speculate about her, wondering about the fact that this poet of the past, through both sorrow (sanglots) and joy (fêtes), "a porté" her looks and lover's lips. The "a porté" opens up to multiple interpretations. The verb literally means to "carry," but its figurative meanings can stretch to wearing (clothes) as well as more abstract usages. "Porter un regard" may be loosely translated as "taking a look" or "directing one's attention,"and in French is has an active sense of agency.

 

Vivien repeats the metrical trick at the end of the last verse. Again, she sets up the verse by painting a scene, of perfumed bodies in the magic of the night, before beginning the penultimate line with a parallel to the speculative "songerez-vous?" This time the question has only 3 syllables, but it matches the structure of the verb-subject inversion that indicates a question. Vivien now imagines what they might say, not just what they might wonder (though notice that throughout Vivien has been using second-person plural "vous" in a direct address to the women of the future). "What will you say?" asks Vivien. Will you glean (from her other poetry perhaps?) that this woman ("cette femme," i.e., Vivien) had "the ardor that escapes me" (again, what did Vivien mean by this exactly?) Will you wish you could meet her, perhaps wish she were still alive ("Que n'est-elle vivante!")? Wish that you could be lovers?

 

The common conceit that poetry can confer immortality, that writers can live on through their work that outlives them, is given a new twist in this poem. In this vision of posterity, future readers have the power to wish the poet (back) into existence, as the last line imagines, so that Vivien is Re-née (reborn). But the immortality of this poem enables the writer not only to live in the future, but also to love. Love has, and is, the last word.