Fifth entry: Chez Hédiard

If you folks are at all interested in sharing my creative process, this one should be fun. A few months ago, my friend Sarah and I stumbled across a lovely Parisian business/restaurant called Hédiard while looking for tea rooms: the company’s main source of income seems to be selling food items like chocolates, jams, biscuits, and endless other gourmet items, but they also specialize in tea. This particular location (at the Place de la Madeleine) features a dining area on what Americans  would call the second floor, and we’ve made it an almost weekly tradition to visit the lovely place and indulge our tastes for tea. The following poem surmises our first experience in a very lighthearted, singsong sort of way.

Here’s the first version I wrote, in French, with the literal translation to follow:

“Du thé! du thé!” ils ont crié,
Et au salon ils sont allés.
Du thé fruité ou épicé,
Avec du sucre, ou même du lait.
Quand l’addition s’est présentée –
Les deux amis ont remarqué,
“Dessert gratuit? Tu mens! C’est vrai?”
Et là, un jour bien gagné!

Literal translation:

“Tea! tea!” they cried,
And to the tea room they went.
Fruity teas or spiced,
With sugar or even milk.
When the bill was presented,
the two friends noticed:
“Free dessert? You’re lying! It’s true?”
And there, a day well-won!

After reciting the original in front of a small, French audience, some picked up on a very common Anglophone error of mine: while the end-rhyme scheme is consistent in the majority of the poem, lines four and seven end with tricky syllables that are commonly mispronounced and easily confused (at least, by me) with the otherwise pervasive rhyme. I’m oversimplifying, but it’s akin to the difference between the long “a” sound of “braid” and the short “e” sound of “bread,” and to a non-native ear it can be quite subtle.

Inspired by by mistake, I rewrote the poem to address the half-rhymes and insert more content, as follows:

“Du thé! du thé!” ils ont crié,
Et au salon ils sont allés.
Du thé fruité ou épicé;
Du thé nature, du thé sucré.

Avec leurs tasses, des bons goûters:
Des macarons, des tartes glacées.
Parmi des mots, des grosses bouchées,
Des grands sourires et p’tites gorgées.

Quand l’addition s’est présentée,
Les deux amis ont remarqué,
“Dessert gratuit?” et, étonnés,
Ils célébraient un jour gagné!

Literal translation:

“Tea! tea!” they cried,
and to the tea room they went.
Fruity teas or spiced teas,
natural tea or tea with sugar.

With their cups, good snacks:
macaroons, iced tarts.
Among words: large mouthfuls,
big smiles and small sips.

When the bill was presented,
the two friends noticed:
“Free dessert?” and, surprised,
they celebrated a day won!

In retrospect, this translation has a certain simple charm to it already, I think, having focused on the content rather than on the rhyme and rhythm. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily prefer free verse over more structured poetry (nor vice versa), but I figured that I’d challenge myself to write the sensory equivalent in English all the same. Maintaining the same rhyme throughout the entire poem, as I did in the original French version, proved very difficult, so I went with alternating couplets that each feature unique rhymes. I did sustain the rhythm/meter with eight syllables per line, allowing myself a couple express deviations. All in all, this one is definitely the most frolic-y of the collection, for lack of a better description, and I take some very large liberties with the content:

“To tea! to tea!” they cried with glee,
And to the shop the friends did flee
for flavors fruity, spiced, or sweet,
or natural teas of tastes complete.

To pair the drinks, they did partake
in macaroons and frosted cake.
Among the words upon their lips
were bites and smiles and cheerful sips.

The bill did come, their costs comprised;
the friends were pleasantly surprised:
“Free dessert?” they cooed, content,
and thus they cheered a day well-spent!

So there you have it. I haven’t decided on a title yet, though Chez Hédiard may be as good as any, but I could very well come back and rewrite the whole thing again anyway. I’m working on a number of other ideas to catch up to my two-poem-per-day quota since I got such a late start on the month, but I might even opt to create my own month-long time frame between April and May – it’d still be 30 poems in 30 days, after all.

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