An early French poet

Joachim du Bellay was born around 1522 in Anjou, and lived for 37 years. He founded the “Pléaide”, a movement whose aim was to defend and foster the French language. He had a lifelong friendship with Ronsard. His best-known poem, Ulysse resulted from his many travels performed in an official capacity. Although he exulted in his exalted position as an aristocrat, he composed one of the best poems in the French language about those who “missed the boat”.

I first did more or less a word for word translation without making any effort at rhyming. I then proceeded to add not irrelevant but rhyming bits, which did not spoil the rhythm, but which did not alter the meaning of the poem in any way. I include both. I think other translators might wish to employ this little trick.

Heureux qui comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage

Ou comme cestuy-là qui conquit la toison,

Et puis est retourné, plein d’usage et de raison

Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son âge!

Quand reverrai-je hélas, de mon petit village

Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison

Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,

Qui m’est une province et beaucoup davantage?

Plus me plait le séjour qu’ont bâti mes aïeux.

Que des palais Romains le front audacieux,

Plus que le marbre me plaît l’ardoise fine:

Plus mon Loire gaulois que le Tibre latin,

Plus mon petit Liré que le mont Palatin,

Et plus que l’ar marin la douceur angevine

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Here is the first version

Happy, who like Ulysses has seen the world

Or the one who conquered the golden fleece

And went back home full of wit and wisdom

To spend with his ancestors the rest of his life

Alas, when will I see my little village

With its smoking chimney and when again

Will I see the yard of my house

Which for me is more than a province

The hearth my ancestors have built I adore

Than Roman palaces with their facades bold

More than marble I prefer fine slate

More my Gaulish Loire than the latin Tiber

To Mount Palatine my little Liré!

The serene sweetness of Anjou to air marine

The version “with bits”

Happy who like Ulysses have seen the world and Greece

Or the one who conquered the golden fleece

And went back home full of wit and wisdom in freedom

To spend with his ancestors the rest of his life free from strife

Alas, when will I see my little village, its bocage

With its smoking chimney and when again my domain

Will I see the yard of my house my cows

Which for me is more than a province to a prince?

The hearth my ancestors have built I adore and value more

Than Roman palaces with their facades bold and gold

More than marble I prefer fine slate weight for weight

More my Gaulish Loire than the latin Tiber I prefer

To Mount Palatine my little Liré, hurray!

The serene sweetness of Anjou to the air marine

***

Après avoir longtemps erré sur le rivage

Où l’on voit lamenter tant de chétifs de cour,

Tu as atteint le bord où tout le monde court,

Fuyant de pauvreté le pénible servage.

Nous autres cependant, le long de cette plage,

En vain tendons les mains vers le nautonnier sourd,

Qui nous chasse bien loin ; car, pour le faire court,

Nous n’avons un quatrain pour payer le naulage.

Ainsi donc tu jouis du repos bienheureux,

Et comme font là-bas ces doctes amoureux,

Bien avant dans un bois te perds avec ta dame :

Tu bois le long oubli de tes travaux passés,

Sans plus penser en ceux que tu as délaissés,

Criant dessus le port ou tirant à la rame.

Along the shore after years of wandering

With fickle fawners and whining weaklings

You managed to get to the edge of freedom

By fleeing poverty and painful serfdom

Whilst we erring in hope along the shore

In vain supplicate the deaf wielder of the oar

Who shoos us away; for the crossing ain’t free

And we have nought with which to pay the levy

So your blissful repose enjoying

In the manner of learned lovers there

Ere going into the woods with your lady fair

You imbibe long draughts of forgetting

Those left behind, those you now ignore

Joyfully hollering and pulling your oar

Prizewinning playwright. Mathematician. Teacher. Professional Siesta addict.