Riversong of the Rhone
Nearly seventy years after the death of Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (1878-1947), the reputation of Switzerland’s legendary poet of the people is secure, at least in French. Since 2005, his 22 novels have appeared in a two-volume Pléiade Edition from Gallimard (Paris) and Éditions Slatkine in Geneva has completed 29 volumes of Ramuz’s Oeuvres Complètes (Complete Works). The author’s face is passed around daily on the Swiss 200-franc note and scenes from his Histoire du Soldat (A Soldier’s Tale), written in collaboration with Igor Stravinksy in 1918, can be found on You Tube. But only recently have English translations of Ramuz’s novels begun to appear and until now, his epic prose poem about life along the Rhone River has not been available in English.
Patti M. Marxsen’s translation of Ramuz’s Chant de Notre Rhône brings this unique work to Anglophone readers as Riversong of the Rhone in a well-crafted bilingual edition. Graced with a foreword by Geneva Writers Group founder Susan M. Tiberghien and an insightful translator’s note that compares Ramuz to both Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, this book will surely find a readership among students, readers of poetry, and also tourists who want to take a little bit of Switzerland home. “As I write in my translator’s note, the ‘over-arching theme of Chant de notre Rhône is the unstoppable flow of time,’” Marxsen says. “It goes to the heart of humanity as it is reflected in nature.”
Working from an edition published in Geneva in 1920 by Georg et Cie Éditeurs, Marxsen, who is best known for her essays, felt increasingly drawn to the project as her own prose poetry evolved in recent years. “I find the whole question of genre intriguing,” she said. “The essence of good writing is always poetic language, even if we tend to set poetry apart as a precious form of language that towers above essays, stories, and novels. For Ramuz, it was all one and the same and that makes sense to me.”
Marxsen “discovered” C. F. Ramuz after moving to Switzerland in 2007. She was surprised, especially as a former French teacher in the USA, never to have heard of a man who had written nearly two dozen novels, to say nothing of theater, poems, and journalism. After reading his last novel, Si le soleil ne revenait pas, she devoted months to Ramuz research and, in 2008, published an article in the prestigious French Review of the American Association of Teachers of French, “The Quest and the Question in C.F. Ramuz’s Si le soleil ne revenait pas.” In 2009, she reviewed the first English translation of a Ramuz novel to appear in over 50 years in another American journal, Absinthe. “Ramuz’s World: The Young Man from Savoy” assessed Blake Robinson’s translation of Le Garçon Savoyard (1936). More recently, in 2013, Michelle Bailat-Jones’s translation of La Beauté sur la terre (1927) has appeared as Beauty on Earth (Onesuch Press). “I was in the midst of writing an article on that book when Michelle’s wonderful translation came out,” Marxsen says. “I hope to get back to it and bring her words into my thoughts about what is, probably, Ramuz’s best novel.”
Clearly, Marxsen’s writing life has taken her in numerous directions. As a journalist, essayist, and independent scholar, her work has appeared in nearly 50 publications in America, Switzerland, and France. A selected list, in addition to those above, includes the Boston Globe, Caribbean Writer, Ekphrasis, Fourth Genre, Women’s Review of Books, The Writer Magazine, Saisons d’Alsace, Hello Switzerland, Necessary Fiction, and Offshoots, the literary journal of the Geneva Writers Group.
"Riversong of the Rhone is fueled by an entrancing, hymn-like music. Patti Marxsen's agile translation of the poem reveals a musicality within incantatory repetitions and images of a rocking cradle—an aural and visual evocation of a shared birthplace." –Jennifer Kurdyla, Music & Literature