>I wrote "Resting between two sheets" although the French is more
>like "at ease" or "comfortable". I avoided that because I couldn't
>imagine that the bug-bitten honeymooners would be at ease. Later I
>considered that Eliot may have used his phrasing to indicate that
>the couple was used to bedbugs. That would make them appear a bit
>lower in the social scale. Should I go with something like "at
Bedbugs are a torment, whether you're used to them or not. No one
getting bitten by them can feel comfortable or contented or at ease,
regardless of social status or class. Anyone scratching away at
swollen or inflamed bug bites is feeling miserable, and the second
stanza makes this explicit: the continuation of the honeymooners'
journey prolongs or extends "leurs misères," their miseries.
So what could "A l'aise" mean if it doesn't mean "comfortable"?
Let's consider "A l'aise" in context. The line is: "A l'aise entre
deux draps, chez deux centaines de punaises." You've translated
"chez" as "amidst" (why the archaism? why not "amid" or "among"?),
and that's probably the best anyone could do with "chez," given that
the word doesn't exist in English, just as "home" doesn't exist in
French. As it happens, however, "chez" and "home" imply the same
thing: "I'm going home" would be "Je rentre chez moi" - and indeed
the second half of the opening line ("ils rentrent à Terre Haute")
implies that their return to Terre Haute is a going home to Terre
Haute. But here in Ravenna, here between the sheets, is "chez" the
bedbugs: the home of the bedbugs, not the home of the honeymooners.
So here "chez" the bugs they're "à l'aise" only to the extent that
one is ever at ease or comfortable in someone else's home. A
gracious host (which the bedbugs biting them are not) says "Make
yourself comfortable" or "Make yourself at home" to a guest, but the
very fact of being a guest virtually ensures that you can't really
feel "at home." In what sense, then, are the honeymooners "à
l'aise"? Not in the positive sense of feeling comfortable or
contented, but in the negative sense of not being constrained, as
when a soldier is released from the constraint of a formal posture by
the command "at ease." For the honeymooners as for a soldier, the
lack of constraint is physical rather than emotional: they are "à
l'aise" between two sheets. That is, they have not tucked the top
sheet around them; it does not swaddle or constrain their bodies in a
snug, comfy way, but drapes loosely over them. Unconstrained by the
top sheet, they are "à l'aise" between it and the bottom sheet: they
can spread their knees open in a sprawl and "raise the sheet to
Putting the physical posture of the honeymooners into the larger
context of the whole poem places them in direct contrast with the
Saint Apollinaire basilica. They are "à l'aise"; St. A. is "raide,"
rigid or unyielding. They are made of living flesh and blood; St. A.
is made of crumbing or worn stones. They are on a honeymoon (and
therefore presumably engaging in sexual activities); St. A. is
"ascétique," ascetic. They are concerned with matters of the moment
(such as the time a train leaves or what size tip to leave); St. A.,
despite its deterioration, retains its form through the ages. The
contrast between the honeymooners and St. A. is similar to the
contrast in the poem's thirteenth line between a meal eaten at a
cheap restaurant and the meal that was The Last Supper. The contrast
is, in essence, that between the human and the divine, or the worldly
and the otherworldly, or the profane and the sacred.
Is Eliot using this contrast to present a simple dichotomy: human
bad, divine good; profane bad, sacred good? I don't think so.
"Rigid" or "unyielding" is hardly a term of approbation, and to call
a church a factory is to cast some doubt on its sanctity. Indeed,
St. A. is "désaffectée" of or by God; you've translated this as
"unused," but it is closer to "made secular" or "de-sanctified" or
"deconsecrated." As for the honeymooners - the pun that people have
noticed from "low" in "Pays Bas" to "high" in "Terre Haute" is not, I
think, just a pun (one that I agree must be sacrificed in
translation). Characters who journey to see an early Christian
basilica and a painting of The Last Supper, both of which are
religious artifacts - and who continue their journey despite their
miseries - resemble pilgrims as much as they do tourists. That their
earthly travels are taking them home to a city named for being a high
place suggests that their spiritual pilgrimage will or may eventually
take them "home" to that ultimate high place, heaven. (In
Augustinian terms, from the City of Man to the City of God.) For an
earlier poet's image of heaven as home, see Chaucer's poem "Truth"
(aka "Balade de Bon Conseyl"), in which he declares of "this world"
that "Her is non hoom, her nis but wildernesse": Here is not home;
here is only wilderness (or, using Eliot's language, waste land).
Chaucer calls his reader (a friend of his) "pilgrim," urges him to
look up, thank God, and "Hold the heye wey, and lat thy gost thee
lede": Hold the high way, and let your ghost [soul] lead you. Lead
where? Out of what Chaucer calls "wrecchednesse" and "Lune de Miel"
calls "misères." I don't mean to suggest that Eliot had Chaucer's
poem specifically in mind when he wrote "Lune de Miel," only that
there is a long literary and religious tradition in which "Lune de
Miel" seems to participate, and a consideration of this tradition may
help when translating the poem.