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Poem: "Backwater Tales" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
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ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Backwater Tales"

This poem came out of the May 3, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was prompted and sponsored by laffingkat.  Yes, Cajun folklore includes a great many odd critters, and much of it has never been recorded.  Some people have made inroads, though.  Finding a third example for this poem took some digging.


Backwater Tales


The Cajuns know how to survive
in a world full of swamps and monsters and
men who don't mind hurting folks to get what they want.

"Be good,"
they tell their children,
"or the loup garou  will get you."
So it is that a man becomes a wolf
when he forgets his manners and runs wild.

"Be careful,"
they tell their teenagers,
"when you wander the swamps at night,
or the feu follet  will come lead you astray."
For you must always know where you are going
and how to resist dangerous temptations that pass your way.

"Be faithful,"
they tell each other,
"or the létiche  that swims in the bayou
will upset your boat and dump you into the water."
The souls of unbaptized infants weigh on the parents' memories
whispering about the chances they should have had but never got.

They don't write down
these quaint little cautions.
These are only for storytelling;
the were never meant for book-learning.

Let the damnyankees learn things the hard way.

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28 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: May 5th, 2011 04:24 am (UTC) (Link)
feu follet?

"Crazy flame" = will'o'wisp?

*looks up on Google*

*is surprised he has recovered enough of his French to read the first portion of the French Wiki entry on the topic*

Appears as a little flame... Yep! Will'o'wisp! :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2011 05:56 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

I always try to translate or guess at stuff in any language I recognize. I have a hit accuracy far above what my actual study level should be. I recognized this one as a term for will-o-wisp, but hadn't seen it broken down before, so thanks for the translation.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: May 5th, 2011 06:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

I am, of course, just making an educated guess, as my understanding of French is mostly verbal, rather than literary. I believe feu is how the French for 'fire' is spelled and I'm guessing follet as having to do with insanity from phrases such as "T'es folle!" ('You're crazy!').
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2011 06:16 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Babelfish gives "feu" as "fire" and "follet" as "merry." I suspect a link between "merry" and "crazy" especially given Babelfish's whimsy. But "feu follet" yields "will-o'-the-wisp." I'm also thinking of "Merry Makers" as another name for the same phenomenon. Google Translate gives "follet" as "wisp."

And of course, spoken vs. written French can diverge widely, from what I've read about linguistic drift.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: May 5th, 2011 11:47 am (UTC) (Link)

My compliments!

'Feu follet' means literally 'whimsical/bizzarre' (follet) 'fire' (feu).
'follet' as a substantive, though, means a creature that is similar to a pixie or a brownie ('folletto' in Italian, by the way) so it could also be translated as 'pixie-fire'.

In Italian we call the will-o'-the-wisps 'fuochi fatui'that is 'fires without substance, illusory fires'
siege From: siege Date: May 5th, 2011 02:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: My compliments!

And it's all easily summed up as "fools' fire". I rather suspect the link of "Will" to "willies", though, in British folklore.. later divided from "willies' wisp", a boggy light drawing folk to the drowning willow. Can't let women have all the faerie toys, right?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2011 05:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: My compliments!

Yes, that makes sense.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: My compliments!

"Don't ... follow ... the lights!"
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2011 07:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: My compliments!

>> 'Feu follet' means literally 'whimsical/bizzarre' (follet) 'fire' (feu).
'follet' as a substantive, though, means a creature that is similar to a pixie or a brownie ('folletto' in Italian, by the way) so it could also be translated as 'pixie-fire'. <<

That's really cool. I like that there are so many different ways to translate it.

>> In Italian we call the will-o'-the-wisps 'fuochi fatui'that is 'fires without substance, illusory fires' <<

Wow! That makes sense.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: May 5th, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: My compliments!

>>That's really cool. I like that there are so many different ways to translate it.<<
I thought it would appeal to you :), I too love when there's the possibility of multiple translations, it opens up a whole lot of nuances and mind-images.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 6th, 2011 01:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: My compliments!

Yes, because you can see the way different concepts overlap. Merry, foolish, crazy, and illusory are all in the same semantic neighborhood.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: May 5th, 2011 04:29 am (UTC) (Link)
'Course, I already knew what a loup garou was. We've got Francophone werewolves north of the border, too. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2011 05:54 am (UTC) (Link)

Hmm...

It occurs to me, I've long seen the French version of "werewolf" as "loup garou" ... but I've yet to read about a French-speaking werewolf. Vampires, now, they're often described as speaking French, partly because French is considered a sophisticated and sexy language, and such vampires are popular now.

Werewolves haven't been seen that way, but are usually portrayed as bestial. But French tradition also has a very suave version of the werewolf, an allegory of the sexual predator who lures young girls into losing their innocence. You may have come across the expression elle a vû le loup (she has seen the wolf) for a girl losing her virginity. It might be an interesting twist to have an elegant French-speaking werewolf contrasted against a bestial central-European-flavored vampire.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: May 5th, 2011 06:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Erm, I hadn't actually intended to imply that loup garous actually speak. Oops, my bad.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2011 06:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Yeah, but it lead to a cool idea.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: May 5th, 2011 06:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

I guess I should explain why I used the term 'Francophone' instead of just 'French'. Though 'Francophone' means 'French speaking', I was referring to region, i.e. Quebec, and some parts of New Brunswick and Manitoba.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2011 06:50 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Ah, okay, I've heard "Francophone" in relation to those regions, just hadn't connected it as a location-marker rather than speaker-marker in this instance.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: May 5th, 2011 07:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

I guess my usage of the phrase would've suggested 'speaker', rather than region. My bad.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2011 07:16 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

It might, but then again, I'm not from Canada: my reading may be different, too.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: May 5th, 2011 06:31 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Agreed!
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: May 5th, 2011 06:12 am (UTC) (Link)
And the letiche is an unbaptized child abandoned in the swamp, raised by alligators, and now has scaly skin like one. Cool!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2011 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

It took me a while to track down bits of that one. I didn't get all those details, though.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 5th, 2011 06:54 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

I found the first one of those, but not the second, when I was searching. I did find other swamp monster articles though.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: May 5th, 2011 07:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

This one did require a higher mastery of Google-Fu than most topics. :)
laffingkat From: laffingkat Date: May 6th, 2011 01:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm just thrilled with this poem! I didn't grow up in the swamp like Papa did, but I've heard some of the family stories, and I feel like this really captures some of the aspects of Cajun culture.

Oh, and the loup garou certainly speak French, or at least Cajun. Generally with a drunken slur, so I hear. ;)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 6th, 2011 02:13 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>I'm just thrilled with this poem! I didn't grow up in the swamp like Papa did, but I've heard some of the family stories, and I feel like this really captures some of the aspects of Cajun culture.<<

Thank you! My family's thread of southern culture comes from Tennessee, but I have a particular fondness for Cajun anyhow. This is one of several poems I've written with bits of Cajun or creole vocabulary. Another favorite is "The Language of Louisiana," from my series The 50 Poetic States of America. That one is all about how English and French and other languages rubbed together to create the local flavor. Very saucy.

>> Oh, and the loup garou certainly speak French, or at least Cajun. Generally with a drunken slur, so I hear. ;) <<

I am now also audiovisualizing a heavily inebriated loup garou trying to order yet another drink. Must remember this in case I decide to write a Mardi Gras poem.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: May 6th, 2011 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>>I am now also audiovisualizing a heavily inebriated loup garou trying to order yet another drink. Must remember this in case I decide to write a Mardi Gras poem.<<

Now I want, want want to read a poem like that, consider it pre-sponsored if you write it. :)
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