Nelligan's secret garden

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Peek-a-boo Villa

L’Auberge du Porc-épic, hidden villa. The Parsonage, a villa next to St. James Church.

By the late nineteenth century, many types of accommodations were available in Cacouna, including villas that had been divided into apartments and rooms to house less affluent families.  These simple villas sometimes resembled spacious cottages.  Nestled among the trees, sometimes completely hidden in the greenery, sometimes half-obscured by trees or gleaming in a clearing, these homes were highly sought-after by visitors and adored by children.

Nelligan accompanied a letter sent to Le Monde Illustré in May of 1897 with the inscription: “from Peek-a-boo Villa.” Because the nickname “Peek-a-boo” was in English, the villa must have been in a community where most of the residents were English-speakers,  such as the neighbourhood between Saint James the Apostle Church and area around Saint Lawrence Hall. 

Although it is difficult to identify exactly which villa Nelligan was referring to, the charm the young poet found there is still evident in the traditional architecture of the older homes.

Photo source :
Yvan Roy
 


Cacouna gardens

The gardens of Villa Airlie, overlooking the mighty St. Lawrence River.

In the following poem, Nelligan mentions the gardens of Cacouna, invoking the bucolic “old villa” where he spent some of his summer vacations.

Photo source :
Ann Arkell, 2013
 


“Le Jardin d’antan’’


“Le Jardin d’antan’’

Rien n’est plus doux aussi que de s’en revenir
Comme après de longs ans d’absence,
Que de s’en revenir
Par le chemin du souvenir
Fleuri de lys d’innocence
Au jardin de l’Enfance.

Au Jardin clos, scellé, dans le jardin muet
D’où s’enfuirent les gaîtés franches,
Notre jardin muet,
Et la danse du menuet
Qu’autrefois menaient sous branches
Nos sœurs en robes blanches.

Aux soirs d’Avrils anciens, jetant des cris joyeux
Entremêlés de ritournelles,
Avec des lieds joyeux,
Elles passaient, la gloire aux yeux,
Sous le frisson des tonnelles,
Comme en les villanelles.

Cependant que venaient, du fond de la villa,
Des accords de guitare ancienne,
De la vieille villa,
Et qui faisaient deviner là,
Près d’une obscure persienne,
Quelque musicienne.

Mais rien n’est plus amer que de penser aussi
À tant de choses ruinées!
Ah! De penser aussi, Lorsque nous revenons ainsi
Par sentes de fleurs fanées,
À nos jeunes années.

Lorsque nous nous sentons névrosés et vieillis,
Froissés, maltraités et sans armes,
Moroses et vieillis, et que, surnageant aux oublis, S’éternise avec ses charmes
Notre jeunesse en larmes!
 


A dreamer passing by

In 1896, Nelligan published his first poems, written in the summer of his sixteenth year. In this portrait of him at that age, we can clearly see the “dreamer passing by” and “the candid gaze beneath his proud and simple forehead, and the sadness in the large, weeping gray eyes!”, as he describes himself in this poem.  

“Written upon the death of the poet Georges Rodenbach, this poem also makes veiled reference to the dreamer’s sensitivity and his melancholy fate. Shimmering, awash in white, studded with stars and bathed in gold – a world opens upward to the dreamer and his dreams.” (P.W., Écrivains canadiens d’aujourd’hui, p.37)

Photo source : Dry pastel portrait executed during Autumn 2003 by the local artist Nathalie Caron from a rare photograph of Nelligan at age 16 (1896)
 


“Un poète’’


“Un poète’’

Laissez-le vivre ainsi sans lui faire de mal!
Laissez-le s’en aller; c’est un rêveur qui passe;
C’est une âme angélique ouverte sur l’espace,
Qui porte en elle un ciel de printemps auroral.

C’est une poésie aussi triste que pure
Qui s’élève de lui dans un tourbillon d’or.
L’étoile la comprend, l’étoile qui s’endort
Dans sa blancheur céleste aux frissons de guipure.

Il ne veut rien savoir; il aime sans amour.
Ne le regardez pas! Que nul ne s’en occupe!
Dites même qu’il est de son propre sort dupe!
Riez de lui!... Qu’importe! Il faut mourir un jour…

Alors, dans le pays où le bon Dieu demeure,
On vous fera connaître, avec reproche amer,
Ce qu’il fut de candeur sous ce front simple et fier,
Et de tristesse dans ce grand œil gris qui pleure!

 


Attachment to the land

What took hold of Nelligan and his poetry was much more than just vague memories of summers spent in Cacouna, between the land and the sea.

“His ‘Virgiliennes’ are more than simple pastoral sketches: in them, he gave poetic expression to his strong sense of belonging to the land. Suffering from melancholy despite his youth, he would cherish memories of the colours of the fields and the murmurs of the waves between the Anse au Persil and Fontaine Claire harbor. This attachment to the ancestral land becomes particularly significant (...) in the poet’s ingenious ending to his sonnet ‘Rêve de Watteau’:

“Et parfois, radieux, dans nos palais de foin,
Nous déjeunions d’aurore et nous soupions d’étoiles.”

In the land of the porcupine, in the twilight of the 19th century, the poet Émile Nelligan once lived.” (Paul Wyczynski, «Au pays du porc-épic» in Nelligan à Cacouna, p.32-33)

Photo source :
Edward Jump, Canadian Illustrated News, 09-07-1870, p.28, Mrs. Hugh Welsford Collection