My Rating: ★★★☆☆

Les Pensées or The Thoughts of Lucienne Hollard McKay is a collection of poems originally written by the poet in her native French and later translated by her friend Lilian Polk. Lucienne Hollard, a frenchwoman died as an American citizen in Louisiana in 1968. She lost her entire family in World War II and became a member of the French Underground. She married an American doctor who went to France with the American Army of Occupation. They later settled in America.

The book contains the original French poems along with their English translations. The poems, written in simple French, are personal and read like short, intimate notes written to a friend. They are mostly written in blank verse and display a touching simplicity and tenderness. The dominant theme is love and this motif runs through the book like a gentle, refreshing brook. The other dominant themes are nature and religion. Quite a few poems are addressed to a nameless beloved and express an intense longing and possess a dreamlike, ethereal quality.

The introduction of the book mentions that the poems were not intended for publication. The fact remains that even when someone has fresh thoughts and is skilled enough to express them in simple and even beautiful language, the final product of that exercise may not always be a successful poem. Lucienne’s thoughts are touchingly simple, almost naïve. The manner in which she expresses them is simple too and perhaps because of their almost monotonous simplicity, the poems often fail to leave a mark on the reader’s mind. Sometimes the idea appears trite, even clichéd:
“Man with decision says that woman is a mystery.
Woman thinks that man is the reason for the mystery.
We go in circles like cat and mouse.” [Woman; p.56]

In the final analysis what makes a poem different from other kinds of composition is “a species of magic, the secret to which lies in the way the words lean upon each other, are linked and interlocked in sense and rhythm” [The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory; J.A. Cuddon; Penguin Books]. Unfortunately Lucienne’s poems, in the opinion of the present reviewer, do not meet this criterion. A good poem is like a symphony that you tend to experience and remember even after the performance is over. After closing Les Pensées , the reader may not have a turn of phrase, a line or a stanza still lingering in her mind. The poet’s tender thoughts would undoubtedly be treasured by those who knew her, but to an unknown reader The Thoughts, in spite of the sincerity and simplicity of the poet’s purpose and the dedication of all those who are associated with this publication, may not be memorable.

Les Pensées
The Thoughts of Lucienne Hollard McKay
Translated from the French by Lilian Graham Polk
Victory Publishing

My Rating: [rating=3]