Brought to you by the MTA

I used to think it strange when I noticed the Poetry Moment (my name, not theirs) placards posted above the seats in the subway. An ad for the Bronx Zoo, sure…a call for action in Darfur, why not? But I wonder how many of the 7.7 million people that daily ride the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s gargantuan subway system stop to appreciate the short poems posted for their edification?

One of my favorites is posted in both French and English. Even if you know no French, try to get a feel for the rhythm, the meter, the rhyme scheme, the tone. The first stanza follows:

Chanson D’Automne

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur

-Paul Verlaine

In researching the poem, I found a great website ( that offers a multitude of English translations. The subway’s translation is by Arthur Symons. In reviewing all of them (from the website), it’s also one of my favorites:

Song of Autumn

When a sighing begins
In the violins
Of the autumn-song,
My heart is drowned
In the slow sound
Languorous and long.

It’s very interesting to read how various poets translated it. I think this one is effective for a number of reasons. The rhyme scheme is kept exactly the same. Although I don’t like the “ins” sound of the first two lines, the “o’s” of the final four are pleasingly long. I also appreciate the liberties Symons took, branching away from literalism. For example, the addition of “song”, creating the fresh “autumn-song” pairs with “langorous and long.” Also, I’m fascinated by the change from “blessent mon coeur” to “My heart is drowned.” Fantastic.

CFA, I’m expecting a comment from you on this post!


Filed under Around town, Poetry

2 responses to “Brought to you by the MTA

  1. Anonymous

    CFA? Who me?
    Well…here is my response.
    First – I found it interesting that you failed to include the second two stanzas of the poem.

    Second – what a dreary and depressing poem. You would think in the attempt to decrease crime rate, the MTA would choose to post more optimistic choices. Mayor Giuliani’s “Broken Window” theory would seem to reinforce my view (but that’s another whole debate.)

    Third – I agree – Symon’s translation is immediately the most appealing to the ear and the mind (imagery). Although Gerard Previn Meyer’s translation really hits home with me. I enjoyed all of the different versions – some seem a bit more sanguine on the last verse — like the wind will lift the author out of the grief and blow him to a new place. Some seem downright depressing.

    In all – due to my great love of autumn… i’m not the biggest fan of the poem.

  2. Jonathan

    Wow, Charity, what a comment! I thought you zoned when I wrote about poetry or literature.

    To address your comments: I included the first stanza only because that’s all that was displayed in the subway.

    Dreary and depressing it may be called, but I think it’s still beautiful in its own right. New York has gotten so safe that they don’t need to worry about lowering the crime rate anymore.

    I liked Meyer’s tranlation too. And owing to MY great love of autumn, I liked the recurring autumn imagery.

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