Rose Després - Photo Courtesy of acadienouvelle.com
Born in Cocagne, New Brunswick in 1950, Rose Després is an Acadian poet and talented artist in multiple genres, including music and acting. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at the Université de Moncton in 1973 and gained recognition as a poet in 1982 after the publication of her first collection of poems, Fièvre de nos mains. She currently has a total of six published poetry collections: Fièvre de nos mains (1982), Requiem en saule pleureur (1986), Gymnastique pour un soir d’anguilles (1996), La vie prodigieuse (2000), which won the Prix Littéraire Antonine-Maillet-Acadie-Vie, Si longtemps déjà (2009), which won a Prix Éloizes in literature, and Séjour à Belle-Côte (2022).
Outside of her writing career, Després commits time to enriching cultural awareness in Acadia. This has included translating poetry into French from other languages, volunteering in various organizations, and launching the Acadian literary review Les Ancrages in 2004. She was one of many artists to accompany Adrienne Clarkson on her official trip to Germany in 2001, serving as a representative of Acadian literary culture in Canada.
Ces rêves de fracasser des attirails trop communs qui ont osé depuis si longtemps déjà retenir ligotée une prisonnière d'obsessions nombreuses celle qui pourchassait défiante et combative les saveurs insipides des passions éteintes
(des édiles impotents ordonnent leurs sentences immuables)
la détenue coupable de délits terribles (un trop grand désenchantement peut-être) possession d'armes interdites larmes rouillées lames mortelles sous une cuirasse de désespoir
jugement: travaux forcés enclumes aux chevilles menottes aux mémoires
les cicatrices infectes des chaînes cruelles néant de l'âme allument le sourire pervers du bourreau qui attend
depuis ont vite disparu les regards lucioles que l'on croyait capables de guider nos pas incertains nos missions étrangѐres singuliѐres parés de fermes résolutions d'intentions meilleures si désarmantes
négligentes et déficientes comme celles des dieux castrés que nous implorons et qui depuis toujours nous ignorent
Published in Si Longtemps Déja, Prise de Parole, 2009. Published with permission of Prise de Parole.
Translation to English by Brooklyn Wilkins, Elizabeth Pellerin and Renelle Dion
These dreams of shattering too common paraphernalia who have dared for so long now hold back bound a prisoner of numerous obsessions the one who chased defiant and combative tasteless flavours of extinguished passions
(impotent city councillors order their sentences immutable)
the detainee guilty of terrible crimes (a disenchantment too big perhaps) possession of prohibited weapons rusted tears deadly blades under a cuirass of despair
judgement: forced labour anvils to ankles manacles to memories
the scars infect cruel chains emptiness of the soul light up the perverse smile of the waiting executioner
since have quickly disappeared the firefly eyes we thought capable of guiding our uncertain steps our foreign missions singular armed with firm resolutions of best intentions so disarming
negligent and deficient like those of the castrated gods that we plead to and who have always ignored us
Critical Analysis: The Dangers of Daring to Dream
Brooklyn Wilkins (for Engl 3103), Elizabeth Pellerin and Renelle Dion (Managing Editors)
In contrast to its debatably heartening title, Aspirations is a poem about struggling to keep one’s hopes and ambitions in a world that sacrifices individuality for the maintenance of society. Després instills an evident sense of dread and fear throughout her poem, starting from the first stanzas:
These dreams of shattering too common paraphernalia who have dared for so long now hold back bound a prisoner of numerous obsessions the one who chased defiant and combative tasteless flavours of extinguished passions (1-11, translated to English from French)
The narrator wastes no time in highlighting that there is an ultimate goal in this poem, that being to punish ambitious dreamers for seeking out their goals. By the time the poem begins, the dreamer has been losing such a battle. Despite the nobleness of the concept, the dreamer’s aspirations also hold that sense of dread in the poem, as the dreamer is described as “a prisoner of numerous obsessions”; They are held back by their own aspirations, to the point that chasing them feels fruitless (“tasteless flavours / of extinguished passions” (6-7, 10-11, translated to English from French).
The poem heavily focuses on the suffering of the dreamers and the ways in which they are punished blindly by the authority over them. The highly ambitious often tend to find their goals being purposefully or inadvertently snuffed out by society, typically due to a lack of understanding or investment in the dreamers’ aspirations. Sometimes, the world will even seek out the death of a dream when the aspirations rely on breaking the boundaries our society thrives on. Després displays this occurrence and the following struggle by using court/law motifs throughout the poem. The theme of prisoners continues from the first stanzas, detailing the dreamers’ “terrible crimes” of setting their hopes too high (“too big a disenchantment, perhaps”), and how their punishment is to settle for societal standards by committing to standard work (“forced labour”) and tucking their longing away (“manacles to memories”) (16-18, 23, 25, Translated from English to French). In the grand scheme of things, society will not look to the dreamers to break boundaries, but rather their leaders to maintain them (“city counselors / order their sentences / immutable” (12-14, translated to English from French)).
By this point, the narrator details how the dreamers have begun to lose hope. Those who once held high aspirations have faced too much punishment for it, leading to a loss of livelihood. This seems to enlighten the “executioner”, whose mention is another hint towards society's strong hold over the ambitious. A world where prisoners are sentenced to death for their aspirations demonstrates a reality where grand aspirations are deemed worth killing off. One could even interpret from the way the narrator talks about the prisoners’ “deadly” weapons that there is a legitimate fear of the dreamers’ strength and power, even if it may be unfounded. Nonetheless, their fear and actions have left the prisoner devoid of the passion that got them this far. Such "emptiness of the soul" is what those above the prisoner wanted, as cutting their dreams short helps to maintain the social stability that is so highly valued (28, 31, translated from English to French). It would seem that the prisoner is but one of many to have lost hope, as the narrator goes on to detail how any guiding lights (“the firefly eyes” (35, translated from English to French)) that the dreamers can rely on have faded out.
since have quickly disappeared the firefly eyes we thought capable of guiding our uncertain steps our foreign missions (33-38, translated to English from French).
Though the dreamers have lost their guidance and certainty for the future, there are still those who press on. They have no support from the outside world, and nothing but their dreams, promises for betterment (“Firm resolutions / of best intentions / so disarming”, 39-41, translated from English to French), and the wisdom gained from past experiences to aid them in their missions. This is a message from Després, telling us that in order to achieve our aspirations in this world, we must be prepared to get by with only our will and knowledge. Dreamers can not expect help from anyone else – not even the gods.
negligent and deficient like those of the castrated gods that we plead to and who have always ignored us (42-49, translated to English from French).
Després’ Aspirations tells a bitter truth regarding pursing one’s passions when they aren’t favored by the world, managing to relay the faint hope of a dreamer through the despairing imagery of one who’s lost their way.
Works Cited (for analysis):
Després, Rose. Si Long Temps Déja. Prise de Parole, 2009.
Felix, Jocelyne. "La soif heureuse." Lettres québécoises 101, 2001. pp. 41-42
Gaboury-Diallo, Lise. “La vie prodigieuse de Rose Després.” Francophonie et résistance 13, 2002. pp. 199. (Only in French)
Laparra, Manon. "Champ d'écriture, chant de liberté: la parole combustion dans l'oeuvre de Rose Després". Auteures acadiennes: création et critique, special issue of Dalhousie French Studies 62, 2003. pp. 39-49.
Lonergan, David. “Rose Després : Une poésie de l’intime.” Nuit Blanche 128, 2014. (Only in French)
Lovatt, Tom, et al. Site/Specific/Sight : Marion MccainAtlantic Art Exhibition 2007. Beaverbrook Art Gallery, 2007.
Pare, Francois. “La dissidence comme auto-fiction.” Canadian Literature 203. The University of British Columbia, 2009. (Only in French)