April: The Moonbeam

The Moonbeam is a tribute to Renée Vivien's nickname for Natalie Barney.
The blond, blue-eyed Barney reminded Vivien of a Nordic goddess, cold and distant, 
with the blue tinge of polar ice. The blue color of this cocktail pays homage to that,
while also using a lemon garnish to suggest a moon.






How to make a Moonbeam

Step 1: Pour 1 oz of blue curaçao and 1 oz of vodka over ice in a cocktail shaker.

Step 2: Shake until very, very cold.

Step 3: Pour into a martini glass and add just a couple of drops of fresh lemon juice.

Step 4: Garnish with a wedge of lemon that looks like a crescent moon.


"A la Bien-Aimée" (To the Beloved) by Renée Vivien (from A l'heure des mains jointes, 1906)


Vous êtes mon palais, mon soir et mon automne,

Et ma voile de soie et mon jardin de lys,

Ma cassolette d'or et ma blanche colonne,

Mon parc et mon étang de roseaux et d'iris.


Vous êtes mes parfums d'ambre et de miel, ma palme,

Mes feuillages, mes chants de cigales dans l'air,

Ma neige qui se meurt d'être hautaine et calme,

Et mes algues et mes paysages de mer.


Et vous êtes ma cloche au sanglot monotone,

Mon île fraîche et ma secourable oasis...

Vous êtes mon palais, mon soir et mon automne,

Et ma voile de soie et mon jardin de lys.



English translation

You are my palace, my evening and my autumn,

And my silk veil and my garden of lilies,

My golden incense burner and my white column,

My park and my pond of reeds and iris.


You are my perfumes of amber and honey, my palmtree,

My foliage, my cicada songs in the air,

My snow that dies from being so high and calm,

And my seaweed and seascapes.


And you are my bell with its single-note sob,

My fresh island and my saving oasis...

You are my palace, my evening and my autumn,

And my silk veil and my garden of lilies.

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

This poem "to the beloved" (la bien-aimée) appears in the collection A l'heure des mains jointes published in May of 1906. Vivien expert Jean-Paul Goujon considers this collection "l'oeuvre poétique la plus accomplie de Vivien" (333). As its title announces, this particular poem is a love poem, in which one can hear the echo of the biblical language of the "Song of Solomon," in which the speaker enumerates the qualities of the beloved through a series of comparisons. "A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me," writes the author of the biblical "Song," and "My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vinyards of En-gedi" (I.13-14), while for Vivien, the beloved is "mon palais, mon soir et mon automne" as well as a silken veil, a garden of lilies, and the scent of amber and honey. The poem does not praise attributes of the beloved per se (eyes, lips, etc.) but instead compares the beloved to things like buildings, landscapes, times of day, and seasons (palaces, gardens, evening, autumn).


The poem consists of three four-line stanzas, written in the standard French classical meter of alexandrines (twelve syllables), with an ABAB rhyme scheme. As such, the poem is very regular and traditional in its form. The only break from regularity is the repetition of the first two lines as the last two lines of the poem. But the poem relies more on punctuation than is at first apparent, since the placement of commas helps separate disparate ideas and prevents the poem from becoming simply a list. So, for example, in the first (and penultimate) line, the beloved is a palace, and also evening and autumn. A palace is a place, while evening and autumn are temporal references, so the two categories are separated by a comma. True, evening and autumn are different moments (one a time of day, the other a season), but they parallel one another, so we might express this as evening:time of day::autumn: time of year.


The extra -e ending of "bienaimée" makes it clear that the beloved is female, at least in French, so Vivien is not hiding the same-sex nature of this love poem. (Although her first four books were published under the sexually unspecific name "R. Vivien," by 1903 Vivien was publishing under the name Renée, so there was no longer any doubt that the author was female. 


Again, it is tempting to see autobiographical elements in the poem. Notably, in 1905 (the year preceding publication), Vivien had been torn between the woman who had replaced Barney in her affections, Hélène de Zuylen, and the temptation to renew her relationship with Barney. Vivien could not seem to break definitively with the latter, and they had gone together to the island of Lesbos (home of the much-admired poet Sappho), a voyage that rekindled their liaison. That Barney is the beloved in this poem is suggested by some of the comparisons, most notably the allusions to cold and distant snow. Barney's blue eyes and blond hair often suggested a vaguely Nordic look to Vivien, hence associations with snow and cold. The paleness of Barney's looks also earned her the nickname "Moonbeam" (rayon de lune).