A Land of Rain - Nicholas Moore

Nicholas Moore (1918 - 1986), the son of the philosopher G. E. Moore, was considered one of the major poets of his generation in the 1940s, rated as highly as Dylan Thomas. For various reasons he fell out of favour in the 1950s, and he turned instead to horticulture, writing a monograph on the Tall Bearded Iris in 1956. When in 1968 George Steiner initiated a competition in the Sunday Times for translations of Baudelaire, Moore sent in 31 separate translations of one of the Spleen poems, Je suis comme le roi d'un pays pluvieux, mostly under eccentric pseudonyms : some anagrams - Alonso Moriche, Ion Lomas-Roche - others simply knockabout - H R Fixon-Boumphrey, W H Laudanum. These give an indication of the general tone of these translations, which is far from straightforward. Moore felt that translation was almost always an inadequate representation of the original : by making different versions, he wrote, he could ‘in effect illustrate my own thesis of the impossibility of translation. Why I did so many is simply that one thing led to another.  

Moore had never given up writing poetry, and the interest aroused by his Spleen poems, which were first published in 1973, both enhanced his almost forgotten reputation and encouraged him to continue writing, in spite of poor health.  A substantial collection of Selected Poems was published in 2014.

In setting 10 of Moore’s versions I have embraced a similar stylistic diversity, sometimes serious, more often parodistic, occasionally introspective. Baudelaire’s original is a strange and exotic vision of decadence and ennui, and I can’t claim to have made an attempt to unravel its inner meaning or to have treated the poem as narrative - any more than would a setting of this poem that might have been made in the 1880s by, say, Henri Duparc, probably the first composer to set Baudelaire.  I have tried to match the often uninhibited, satirical  mood of many of the translations, a challenge that was daunting but always enjoyable. One of the few difficulties I faced was that Moore frequently translates ‘bouffon favori’ in the seventh line by the name of a specific singer - Jacques Brel, Bob Dylan, Elvis (in the translation I’ve set beside the original - one which, although perhaps closest of all to its source, I did not set - he uses ‘his pop-singer’). He also refers by name to politicians and prominent figures of the 1960s. To include such names seemed to me to pin the poems down too much to a particular time, so I have mainly avoided those versions, or in a few cases either omitted the lines in question or transposed lines from other poems (Moore himself set an example by frequently imitating or sharing lines between one poem and another).  Some of what look to be shorter versions (since Moore generally follows Baudelaire’s 18 lines of rhyming couplets) are in fact fragments of the originals, abbreviated to give more variety of shape and duration to their settings; while ‘Potpourri’ is in fact a compilation made from three different poems, which seemed to me to be justifiable both in view of the considerable freedom that Moore himself took throughout, and because - since I could hardly set all 31 - there were lines that I did not want to lose.  However the very brief stanza ‘After the Deluge’ is his own concise summary of the original poem."

Oliver Knussen conducted BCMG and soprano Claire Booth for the world premiere of A Land of Rain on 10 June 2017 at CBSO Centre.