Friday, January 14, 2011

A Dickens of a Time Finding a Quote

Louise Labé and Charles Dickens? I'd never before heard the names of the sixteenth century French poetess and the nineteenth century novelist linked in any way. However, while searching for a translation of some of Louise's poetry to post today for the Quote of the Week, I came across a translation of her 14th sonnet in Household Words, the English magazine published weekly from 1850-1859 by Dickens. In this magazine, which offered readers a mix of fiction and nonfiction articles, Dickens serialized his own Hard Times, as well as works by other contemporary authors like Elizabeth Gaskell. The unsigned nonfiction articles he included discuss social issues, as well as topics of literary history and criticism.

The April 30, 1853 issue features an engaging article, "The Ropemaker's Wife," about the Lyonnaise poetess. Although the account of her life includes some rather fanciful embellishments, the article expresses a sincere respect for her work. Although Dickens probably did not write the article or translate the cited poems himself, he did choose to include it in the journal. I find it curious to imagine him contemplating her work, although I'm not sure why. Mostly I'm surprised that he'd ever even heard of her, much less featured her in his magazine.

I'll leave you with the article's translation of Louise's sonnet "Tant que mes yeux pourront larmes espandre." Remarkably, the translation removes any trace of the original poem's "you," the man whom Louise addresses in her complaint. Instead of a passionate avowal of her obsession with this man, the translation becomes a rather tame lament over the passing of a love her "spirit" once knew. Evidence of Victorian mores at play?

For those of you who want to compare the translation to the original French, here is the poem taken from the 1986 edition by François Rigolot:

Tant que mes yeux pourront larmes espandre,
A l'heur passé avec toy regretter:
Et qu'aus sanglots et souspirs resister
Pourra ma voix, et un peu faire entendre:

Tant que ma main pourra les cordes tendre
Du mignart Lut, pour tes graces chanter:
Tant que l'esprit se voudra contenter
De ne vouloir rien fors que toy comprendre:

Je ne souhaitte encore point mourir.
Mais quand mes yeus je sentiray tarir,
Ma voix cassee, et ma main impuissante,

Et mon esprit en ce mortel sejour
Ne pouvant plus montrer signe d'amante:
Prirey la Mort noircir mon plus cler jour.

Intriguing thoughts for a Friday afternoon!

1 comment:

AnneC. said...

What a great poem! and the translation is REALLY well done! thanks for sharing!