If you take away the politics, irony, caustia and imp from Leonard Cohen you find yourself leaving with Rod Mckuen. McKuen is an American love poet every bit the word wizard Cohen portends himself to be, but who keeps his focus strict and tight on the problem of romantic love. Setting his sights on Jacques Brel, Mckuen makes two translations of Brel that come to life at once as eternal standards. Brel's Le Moribund becomes the well known Seasons in the Sun and Ne me quitte pas becomes the otherworldly If You Go Away. Our interest is just a few words from Mckuen's translation of Ne me quitte pas.
Brel: Moi je t'offrirai
Des perles du pluie
Venues de pays
Ou il ne pleut pas...
Mckuen: But if you stay, I'll make you a day
Like no day has been, or will be again;
We'll sail the sun, we'll ride on the rain,
We'll talk to the trees worship the wind.
Then if you go, I'll understand,
Leave me just enough love to fill up my hand...
A transliteration of Brel reads like: I offer you// pearls of rain / from a land / where it never rains... Mckuen's verse proposes the diametric image. The hero of his song begs for a handful of silver moonlight where Brel offers to his love a cup of pearly rain. They key term is Brel's "pearls", which Mkcuen interprets as a simile for "semen". So, where Brel aims his rain into fertility and the tenuous future, Mkcuen, artfully masturbatory, conjures a monolectic whimsy of memory and perdition.
We propose that these twin images are the competing forces of agricultural paganism vs. dream realism. Brel is the sincere romantic, who pitches his seed into the perpetuation of static cyclo-naturalism. The pain in Brel is the natural pairing of death and sex. His character infers the terrible problem of mortal love, love of the flesh, and the abject denigration of death. By inverting Brel's original attitude, Mckeun leaps out as the derring-do of Zarathustra - to whom all that is real is nothing and the self. The landscape of If You Go Away is one of surreal abandon and its hero muses upon the consequence not to disintegrate, but to become lost forever in the ripples of a dream. According to Mckuen, the life immortal is the beginning of the both the problem and the eternally problematic.
Altogether my cup of rain.
Pax, Ye Crusty Carbuncles,