Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Another take on chanoyu: Prévert's "Déjeuner du matin".

This morning on the way to work I was thinking about tea ceremony, and a poem popped into my head that I learned many moons ago: Jacques Prévert's "Déjeuner du matin":
Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
he poured the coffee into the cup

Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
he poured the milk into the cup of coffee

Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
he put the sugar into the café au lait (or, the coffee and milk)

Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
with the little spoon, he stirred

Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
he drank the coffee and set down the cup

Sans me parler
without speaking to me

Il a allumé
Une cigarette
he lit (or lighted, if you prefer) a cigarette

Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
he made rings with the smoke

Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
he shook the ashes into the ashtray

Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
without speaking to me
without looking at me

Il s'est levé
he stood up

Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
he put his hat on his head

Il a mis son manteau de pluie
Parce qu'il pleuvait
he put on his raincoat, because it was raining

Et il est parti
and he left

Sous la pluie
in the rain

Sans une parole
without a word

Sans me regarder
without looking at me

Et moi j'ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
and, me, i took my head into my hand

Et j'ai pleuré
and i cried
Notwithstanding its emotional tone, it's a great poem for relatively early students of French to learn because the grammar and vocabulary are so (intentionally) basic.

What struck me about it this morning is that it shares with chanoyu that focus on granular process—doing exactly one thing at a time, in order (and, in this case, while being watched and narrated in past-tense real time!). Both have a central theme of presence, to some degree through ritual—being totally present in the tearoom with the guests, tranquil in that moment and the simple (though not at all simple) actions of making tea—or, in the poem, being slowly emotionally devastated by this string of deliberate, also simple, everyday acts. Both also involve one actor and one relatively passive "guest" (although, of course, "he" is making coffee for himself).

Interesting that much of the tension in the poem derives from the speaker's apparently understanding, while the coffee is being made, that the last act will be departure; in a way it's the exact opposite of the now-focus of tea. But, then, you can also argue that it matches the wabi element of tea practice, in emphasizing the ephemerality of the moment and the poignancy of human experience—that two people can never meet twice and have the same experience (or be the same person), and that each time is the only time. だから「一期一会」と言って、掛け物に書きますね。 Very similar and very different.

And, of course, tea doesn't usually end in tears. (Usually.)

I wonder whether Prévert had any experience with tea. It doesn't seem likely for his Parisian context, and the Net isn't connecting the two for me, so maybe it's just that Prévert arrived at a similar idea of the inner tensions/dynamics/richness/poignancy of a seemingly mundane experience.

(Maybe when leaving "he" said 失礼いたしました—a humble apology for having been in the tearoom at all—before pawing the door closed. I doubt it, but it's fun to think so.)

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