I have been immersed in the world of poetry since I was a young child. My father Jean, who also taught French literature, introduced me to the works of the 19th century poets Mallarme and Baudelaire, 15th century poet Villon and all the classical and modern French poetry. My father also recited poems he wrote himself. I can still recite his long poems today.
The word poetry comes from the Greek word to fabricate. Words and sentences are densely arranged with a certain rhythm, meter and rhyme in order to resonate within listeners, facilitating memorization. That is the essence of poetry.
There was oral poetry long before the invention of writing. People were reciting poetry even before they started writing characters in Sumer, China and Egypt. And it is fascinating that we can be moved by poems written hundreds of years ago. That immutability enchants me.
In a sense, currencies are like poetry. Like a haiku poem created 500 years ago, a gold coin continues to exist as it was minted. That is a very important point. It teaches us the importance of something immutable, which keeps its value over time.
My family prized poetry and literature like treasures.
My sister Francoise, who was two years younger than me, was devoted to writing poetry. She was an English professor who never married, and died three years ago.
My brother Dominique, who is six years my junior, was successively a comedian and a director in the theatrical world. Now he is head of a European school for street theater in Marseille.
I wrote my first poem at 7. It was dedicated to my mother. And in starting this story on my life, I have rediscovered the notes to a poem that I wrote at age 10 titled "La Maison (Home of my dreams)."
Tu me sembles benie
Par les dieux du foyer ...
In English, it goes something like this:
You appear blessed to me
By the household gods
Like an adorable nest
On a forsaken earth
And when the cold spreads over the earth
Oh what happiness when I return to you
And soon when I will quiet down
You will protect me under your august roof
When I was 12, my father asked me to recite my own poetry in front of his guests. I'm not sure that the poem was worthy of a public recital. But my father wanted to introduce the work of his young son. It was for me the greatest pleasure and the vivid memory remains to this day.
The title of the poem was "Le Reveil," or "The Awakening." It's a wonder I can still recite it all from memory:
Lentement les heures sonnent;
Et moi qui me laissais aller
Aux reves qui endorment
Je dois encor' me reveiller ..."
In English it would go like this:
Slowly the hours strike;
And as I have let myself go
To the dreams that lull to sleep
I have to awaken again
The gist of the poem is that you must wake up after hours of sleep and return to reality after your many dreams and fantasies.
My father's friend Leopold Senghor, a Senegalese poet, also came to our house to recite his poems. He later became the first president of the newly formed Republic of Senegal in 1960. At our home, I remember my sister, brother and me acting as a choir, saying at the end of each stanza: "He spoke well!"
I consider Mallarme the greatest among the French poets. I also like Baudelaire and Rimbaud. In English, I am thrilled by the sonnets of Shakespeare. What an unbelievable talent to produce not just plays, but poetry with enduring, complex sentiments.
I also loved to read books. My favorite book before I was school age was "Gulliver's Travels." Etched in my mind are images of Gulliver dragging 25 ships by their anchors and chains in the ocean, and Gulliver tied down and immobilized by the tiny people of Lilliput. At age 10, "One Thousand and One Nights" impressed me. I was also fascinated by some swashbucklers. Tales like "The Three Musketeers," by Alexandre Dumas, made profound and lasting impressions on me.
The books on the shelves in my father's study looked beyond count to the eyes of a child. There were books of literature, poetry, philosophy and a number of essays. My library was my father's collection, not the library at school.
Jean-Claude Trichet is former president of the European Central Bank.