« Reading Mistral was good but writing to him and
visiting him was even better. First I made sure to introduce myself properly
and thus decided to write to him in verses: in French and in verses, through
a poem dedicated to Mireio using the very rhythm that Mistral used to, trying
to master the ever so difficult seven-verses stanzas. I probably didn’t
do too bad as Mistral replied to me. Replying to everybody who ever wrote
to him was a habit he had developed after the chagrin he felt at the harsh
lack of reply from Jasmine to whom he had sent a small “complimenting piece”,
then aged fifteen. Yet his letters could differ a great deal and the one
he addressed to me was of a very encouraging kind and it ended with an interesting
1901 date of the first encounter between Emile RIPERT and Frédéric
| E ounour de segur farias à la
Prouvenço, se patriouticamen vous adounassias de cor à l’estudi
de sa lengo ; mai aco se coumando pas, es une passion coume une
autro, es esta la mieuno à vint an n’i’a proun que l’on partajado(You
would surely honour The Provence if you were to put your patriotic
heart in the studies of its speech ; but this can’t be forced and
it should be felt as any passion makes one feel : it became mine
when I was twenty years old and I have since then shared it with
I felt encouraged by those words and the trust
this great poet was granting me along with this new unpublished stanza
that he had written for me only. I therefore decided to go to Maillane
and make the most of the Easter break. All what this trip ended up representing
to me, the emotions it triggered within my soul, the new hopes it released,
all of those I wrote down in a long poem rightly entitled «Pilgrimage
I was driven by what pilgrims feel, by this
frankness, this innocent belief and naive sense of admiration so common
to a twenty-year-old soul. After a short journey on the Tarascon-bound
train, I stopped at Graveson train station. Once there, maybe because
there was no cart to Maillane, maybe because I had left out that option,
maybe because I wanted to gain a little merit and get to enjoy the landscape,
maybe because I didn’t want to arrive too early, I decided to finish the
rest of my journey on foot. On the way I saluted the Petit Saint Jean
Inn famous for its pretty waitress whose beauty had been celebrated by
the keen Aubanel ; I then continued my way on the path that was still
white at this time of the year, passing under the early Spring lush plane
trees heading towards Maillane. It was early April, the fields were blossoming
and the Easter-like weather felt mild, soft, tender and luminous.
I pushed the gate open, walked around the house,
heard the dogs barking and saw them rushing towards me; suddenly I saw the
familiar-looking and majestic figure of the Poet standing on the threshold
of his door: he looked exactly like I had imagined him in my dreams. He
called for the dogs and gestured them back. I introduced myself; Mistral
was willing to remember the poem and the letter I had sent him and to which
he had replied.
Eglise de Maillane où Mistral fut baptisé
Emile RIPERT’s book cover - 1931
With MISTRAL on the roads of Provence
I explored the village,
its squares and cafés…
I was feeling quite emotional.
I stood by the church for a moment, gathering
some courage and eventually headed towards the small house where
I had been told the poet lived; my heart was beating hard.
La maison au Lézard
The memory of what we told each other
during this conversation is slowly fading and yet more than forty
years later, I remember this characteristic about Alphonse
Daudet whom I naturally used to admire a lot and to whom I wanted
to resemble a little, as a French writer from Provence.
La salle à Manger de Mistral
Emile thus became Mistral’s disciple with whom he went on sharing a strong
friendship from 1901 until 1914, date of Mistral’s death.
had died in December 1897, hardly five years before our encounter;
his memory was still fresh in the great poet’s heart who had been
his friend since his youth.
Filled with emotions, he told me about
his last years of his life, his illness and his sufferings.
Mistral would conclude with his wounded
and blunt affection.
« I would sometimes
tell him: come back to ours, to the goodness of our healing sun!
He would reply :
Ah ! What would
they say of that, in Paris ?
Eh ! Crebo couioun »
Mistral would conclude
with his wounded and blunt affection.
Spring 1907, back from Italy and as I
was heading for Paris, I decided to stop at Maillane. From then
on, Mistral had started to take me seriously not only because of
my verses-writing but also because I had submitted him my plan to
use the genesis of Félibrige and its pieces as my thesis for my
Doctorate. He had of course been of tremendous support and the following
year as I was awarded a professorship at the Toulon High-School
I started my research work at the local and Targo library; research
that would seven years later lead to the final draft of my theses
about The Provencal Renaissance and
The Versification of Mistral.
The Provencal Renaissance
I have received Mistral’s letters
that I am religiously keeping; he gave me precious details about his early
writings, showing an extraordinarily reliable memory and he would write
them as neatly as his early works.
It was around the fall of 1912 that I made my
last visit to Maillane; I recall the leaves turning yellow and the night
falling onto the square where Mistral saw me back to my cart. The cart
left noisily under the sound of horses’ hooves, the bells and the crack
of the whip. The great poet waved good bye to me, a good bye that was
to be a farewell indeed.
La place de Maillane
Yet for more than one whole year I
kept on writing to the master who was more than willing to give
me precious pieces of advice right until the end ; his last letter
is dated January 1914 and his handwriting was neater than ever.
Eventually in March as I was meant to give a lecture on « Mistral,
A Christian Poet » to
an Evangelical circle in Marseilles, I had sent the poet an invitation
card. A few days later he sent me a postcard representing him at
the foot of the cross that stood at the Maillane crossroad, with
those simple words on it, two eight-syllable words without any rhyme.
« Sias trop brave, au Paradis vaqui
que mounte sènso escalo » (you are too kind, here I
am climbing to Heaven without any ladder... .)
Without any ladder indeed and to Heaven he climbed
fifteen days later, on the 25th of March, day of The Annunciation of Virgin
Mary. Since then I never received anything from him, but for the feeling
that sometimes I sense his immortal presence and his paternal protection.
The Founder of FELIBRIGE