After ‘Bertran de Pontoise’ (1847)
And yes – I loved you
over years, though secret pains and secret fears
that would not rest in heart or mind
lived on and gnawed and made me blind
to all the treasure that I held,
eventually. And in the end
indifference – mad indifference, measured
by what hate and pain? – felled everything
that could have been.
And now – I see you more than gifts of gold. And silvered years
have tempered fears of old.
But unknown fathoms and uncertain days
assault and haunt me still and I would play
the game with them and wrestle them and free
my heart and mind and hope
for what might be.
And oh – I love you
still and strong; with strength that comes
from loss, and hurt and wrong
that scars your heart and mine. I feel
those years of grief again. I seek
your star up in the sky. I live
to touch your clothes or hand; would give
the world that smile of old to share;
caress the softness of your hair.
And yes – I woo you
now as in those younger days,
with golden gifts and glances and again
with proffered hand and walks
and tea for two,
and all I ever dreamed that we might do.
And I’d face the world again if I could find
your heart once more, sweet Roslin, by my side.
(From ‘Mysteries: Poetic Reflections on Womankind and Love’ )
Note: This I rendered into verse from the text of a letter, in a neat cursive hand in ink that had faded to brown, dated August 2, 1847 which was found within the pages of a (1904, if I remember correctly – I should have made a note) copy of the Revue Celtique. The journal belonged to a friend who knew I would be interested, and who had already made a good translation of the letter’s contents; this was very many years ago. There was no indication of the address of the writer, nor of the recipient – simply Pontoise as the location, the date, the salutation to ‘Roslin’ with her name repeated in the final line of the text (the sequence, as well as the emotions, of the letter’s contents has been faithfully adhered to), and the valedictory ‘Bertran’. We have no idea who placed the letter in the journal, nor whether it was actually sent or received; from the lack of addresses, it appears that it was intended to be delivered by hand. But the story which we are allowed a glimpse of here is a poignant one, telling as it does of a once-love keenly remembered, intimating what – we are kept in the dark about exactly what – caused that love to fall apart, and, through a meeting at a considerably later time, holding out hope for a rediscovery of the real strength and depth of the love that was and, although Bertran worries much still, the hope of a reconciliation. We can only hope that Roslin received the letter, and that despite the pain of the years, she and Bertran were once more happily reunited.
What might be made of the time difference between the letter’s penning in 1847 and its appearance in a literary/historical journal some fifty-seven years later must remain a mystery. Pontoise (Roman Pontisara, a major stop on the road north) was a city in north-central France known (certainly in the 19th century) as something of a literary and artistic centre. It’s now incorporated into the north-western suburbs of Paris. I can’t describe the feelings which passed though me when I was handed the letter; a one-hundred-and-fifty year old story of two hearts, folded neatly into a journal found in a second-hand bookshop, brought suddenly back to life. It was a heartfelt encounter with the past that simply could not be allowed to be forgotten.
I’ve been fortunate myself in stumbling across letters placed between the leaves of books, or accidentally bound into rebound volumes, but nothing so touching as Bertran’s plea to the woman he once loved and found again. My finds were quite mundane, but interesting enough – a letter from a person whose name I recognized as being a subscriber to The Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion voicing his pleasure at having his first article as a contributor accepted, handwritten on The Athanaeum, Oxford, headed paper around the time of WWI; and a letter from one scholar to another discussing in positive terms, I’m glad to say, the work of a long-time hero of mine, Welsh historian Rev. A. W. Wade-Evans, from around the 1940s and again discovered in a copy of the Cymmrodorion’s Transactions. A line of this was damaged, it was not nice to find upon later looking at it, by Taiwan’s humidity having melted into it the sealing glue of its envelope. Regrettably both are lost, now, due to our constant moving over the years. But – what! Here’s to Bertran and Roslin!