(Translated from the French of Louise Labé)

As soon as I begin to drift anew
In my bed’s feathery soft cave,
Toward the restfulness I crave,
Sadness wanders off, dissolves in you.

Then I realize the good that I pursue
And sigh so loudly for, I hold engraved
In my own heart, and I am laved
With such fierce sobbing I could break in two.

O happy night all mine! O gentle drowse,
Sweet rest so filled with peace—
Carry on my dream as nights go by.

And if my loving soul is not supposed
Ever to have good things in truth, at least
Then, let me have them in a lie.

…………………………………….© Cynthia Jobin, 2014
SONNET IX (English)

Tout aussi tôt que je commence à prendre
Dens le mol lit le repos désiré,
Mon triste esprit hors de moy retiré
S’en va vers toy incontinent se rendre.

Lors m’est avis que dedens mon sein tendre
Je tiens le bien, où j’ay tant aspiré,
Et pour lequel j’ay si haut souspiré,
Que de sanglots ay souvent cuidé fendre.

O dous sommeil, o nuit à moy heureuse!
Plaisant repos, plein de tranquilité,
Continuez toutes les nuiz mon songe:

Et si jamais ma povre âme amoureuse
Ne doit avoir de bien en vérité,
Faites au moins qu’elle en ait en mensonge.

SONNET IX (French)

As noted before (see SONNET II and SONNET VIII in archives) many translations of Louise Labé’s poetry already exist–some almost transliterations, others keeping close to lexical meaning but with little attention to the petrarchan poetic form she employed. Because French poetry is primarily syllabic and English poetry more accentual, I have observed the sonnet rhyme scheme and meter, but not the syllabic counts. What I have attempted is to make a poem from a poem.
Source: 1556 text in Renaissance French, from François Rigolot’s
Louise Labé: Oeuvres Complètes.

40 responses »

  1. Beautiful work Cynthia – it carries me to another place. I understand the difficulty in translation, but you’ve brought it to life in English with deep emotion.

  2. It is a haunting (and sad) poem Cynthia, both in French and in your lovely translation. I speculate that the words and message could well have been your own which may contribute to the excellence and the way that it lingers in one’s mind (the essence of a good poem)

    • Yes, it’s a mere intellectual exercise on the face of it, but the heart-mind has to kick in, if one hopes to get anywhere near the original. I’m pleased you think it resonates, Jane, and very happy to have you as a reader. Thank you.

  3. I enjoyed hearing you read in both languages. Awesome! And I just learned about Louise Labé’s poetry from you. Thank you very much. 🙂

  4. Un fiévreux sommeil pour La Belle Cordière! Ta traduction réveille mille plaisirs dans ma tête lourde.

    • Je ne crois pas–non pas pour un seul moment–que tu as la tête lourde….mais surement je crois que les traductrices typiques, féministes ont “la tête de pioche” et sont mal avisées à propos de la poésie de Louise. C’est ça qui m’inspire et m’encourage à la traduction non politique des oeuvres de La Belle Cordière. Merci bien, mon ami!

  5. I bow in awe yet again Cynthia. Your translation reads beautifully. I imagine you have a great sense of satisfaction on completion of a “task” such as this. About how long does it take you to complete a sonnet translation? And hearing you read so fluently is wonderful! 😊

    • And I bow back in gratitude to you, Christine. (I’d curtsy, but my hips and knees won’t let me!)
      How long does a translation take? I do a word-for-word rendition first, (which usually sounds like a foreigner’s twisted English) using dictionaries in both languages; then I read other translations of the same work; then I turn it into everyday speech, to try and get at the sense of it, and finally a bout of fisticuffs with rhyme and meter, hoping not to hobble it and to keep as true as possible to the original…….a long-winded way of saying I don’t really know how long it takes. I keep it on a back burner and fiddle with it when I’m in the mood until I think it’s the best I can do. It’s important not to compromise the original, but at the same time, I want it to “work” as a poem in English.
      Aren’t you glad you asked?
      I hope you had a nice time away. I’m glad you’re back. 🙂

      • Well we would make a fine pair attempting a courtesy then! I am glad I asked, it’s a fascinating process and Im glad I know a bit more about it.

        I am glad to be back too; it was ok but we have learned (to my emotional cost) that a holiday such as Center Parcs does nothing these days to lift my spirits. We went for the sake of all five grandchildren as its a place full of activities for them and adults too for that matter. It just reinforced my disability for some reason, and I had a couple of meltdowns which my daughters helped me through just in time before I threw the towel in and came home. So Ive picked the positives like us all being together, having meals together etc and am trying to discard the crap if you’ll excuse my language! 😊

        • My heart goes out to you. I know, alas only too well, how things that used to be fun can become difficult and strange–even enemies–while the people around you, who really do mean well, are going about, taking the simplest things for granted, that are no longer simple for you. (This is where I recall my own lack of understanding of others, in former times!)
          It’s good you had time with your loved ones, and I hope it’s not too long before the crappy stuff fades away. Hang in there! 🙂

  6. It’s funny I was only writing a very short poem a few days ago to hopefully post on Facebook, that covers a very similar subject – sleep is so precious, and I never seem to get enough of it, and even if I do the quality is not as good as it should be. So writing poetry about a good sleep somehow makes up for all that lost sleep – in a small way!

    This is really very beautiful, and conveys so much about our human condition and that need to let go of the anxious day thoughts and feelings and just let them drift and melt away in sleep – wonderful! And well done Cynthia for translating it, I would have probably never heard of it otherwise. And I’m feeling a little sleepy now! 😉

    • Nighty-nite, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite…..and may you be safe from ghoulies and ghosties, long-leggety beasties, and things that go bump in the night…..

      (I’d love to read your poem about sleep, but I don’t do Facebook!) Thanks, Suzy

  7. Well…this is simply breath taking, breath breaking…and perhaps I am a big sap…but I cry at those end words:

    And if my loving soul is not supposed
    Ever to have good things in truth, at least
    Then, let me have them in a lie

    My plea is to have good things in truth, but I understand the plea here, completely. I find it interesting, compelling and confounding that this poet can both acknowledge that there is a difference between the truth and the lie while at the same time accept one for the other (in place of the other) as though to eliminate that difference…and therein lies quite a puzzle, for we can get so comfortable in the lie as to forget the truth, or even to question whether there is a “difference” between them at all, whether there is something else and how to go about it, around it, or for it.

    This is so beautiful, and so, so sad.

    • I don’t at all think it’s sappy to be moved to tears over that final sestet. The first time I read the poem, I felt the same way. (And I have a friend–a male– who got all misty-eyed when I read it to him! Maybe it was my reading… 🙂 ) I used Labé’s exact word: “mensonge” = “lie”. But a broader interpretation of this and her other work has led me to believe she meant something more like “fiction”, “dream”, “illusion”, the imaginative life..more than she meant malicious deception. She’s after something beyond everyday practicality, maybe a “higher” truth that might seem, to conventional minds, a lie or an idolatry. Do I confuse? I hope not. I’m grateful for your very lovely comment, Anna.

      • I assumed that the word lie meant those other things: fiction, dream, illusion. I think what I find most salient is that the poet differentiates between the dream and whatever is not the dream, and accepts the dream as a kind of lesser thing, the thing to have at least, in place of what is possible at most.

        I think as far as seeing the dream (the lie) as a higher truth…I must confess, I am not at all comfortable with that elevation. It seems to me, in this poem, not above all else, but something she accepts in place of all else, and perhaps that is what is the higher of the two.

        …conventional minds, eh?

        • The word “higher” was not Louise’s, but my own choice—and a poor one, I see. I use “conventional minds” to refer to those who would insist on considering Labé summarily as “woman” when she regarded herself primarily as “poet”, a thing nearly inconceivable in her time….and maybe still in ours. For a feminist version of this poem, Google the translation by Annie Finch….who thinks Labé must be talking to a male lover in this poem, instead of a good night’s sleep and a sweet dream.

          • Funny — I am no feminist scholar, nor scholar in any sense these days, but I never once considered this poem simply about a good night’s sleep and a sweet dream, but from the start I was drawn into it for, and because of, the presence of the lover.

            And I still purely enjoy that she is making a distinction here in her poem between two things that perhaps can only be distinguished through experience — that of the difference between “truth” and a “lie”. It seems she understood and for that I beat my own breast and shed my own tears…a kind of triumph.

            Thank you for the mention of Annie Finch. You are a treasure, Cynthia.

  8. Here is Annie Finch’s Translation:

    As soon as I, at last, begin to take
    the rest I have been needing in my soft bed,
    my soul grows sad and, shivering, is led
    to fly to you and surrender. I mistake
    myself, imagining my tender breast will make
    a pillow for the longed-for, darling head
    for which I’ve sighed so hard, for which I’ve shed
    tears and sobbed sobs until I thought I’d break.
    Sweet sleep! Night so full of happiness!
    Tender rest all tranquil and unvisited
    by pain–keep sending this dream every night!
    And if my poor soul ever can’t possess
    its actual good, then send to me, instead,
    at least the lie—the wrong, deceptive sight.

    (By the way, there is no mention of a “darling head” in the original French.)

    • Ah, thank you. In your version the poem both sings and sobs, but in this one the reading is tricky and the words don’t “sweep” me away. Translation is an art.

  9. There is much more to this sonnet than I first imagined! I still like the “Cynthia” translation better as I am a huge Cynthia fan! Yay for you!! 😊 I enjoyed your conversation with Anna, hence this additional comment. 😊

    • It tickles me to think I have a fan….and I guess you do as I do, Christine, that is, visit some blogs more than once to enjoy the conversations that are possible among the comments….a nice feature of blogging, more fun (at least for talky types, of which I am one,sometimes, in the right company) than the perfunctory thanks and likes. Hope you’re having a decent Sunday!

      • Yes absolutely! I hate all the comments like “good poem” etc etc, it means nothing. I, however, sometimes find it difficult to shut up!! 😄. My Sunday is pleasantly quiet thanks Cynthia. I shattered myself emotionally while away so indulging in a little aelf care for a few days and sod everyrhing else!

        • 🙂

          (I keep returning to read about your conquering the fear of walking your dog, Jack, alongside your scooter..and the triumph of all that. There’s the fear, then the belief you can do it, then the actual doing it! In so many seemingly small ways, this keeps happening..)

  10. Poetry in one language is both an art and a skill (as we all know!). To translate, as you have done, and capture and express the essence creates a transcended piece…way beyond intellectual endeavour! Beautiful. Simply beautiful! Thank you!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this, Rob. You are certainly one who knows the interesting challenge of balancing art and skill. Why do we do this? I think because it’s the best kind of work…!
      Thank you so much for your visit and comment.

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