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A une Damoyselle Malade

In his erudite, amusing and instructive book, Le Ton Beau de Marot, Douglas Hofstadter uses several poems by Marot to illustrate and discuss the (im-)possibilities of translation from one language (mental frame, context, moment in time) to another. The poem central to his book is one of Marot's most charming poems: A une Damoyselle Malade, written in Autumn 1537 as a get-well note to Jeanne d’Albret (daughter of Marguerite de Navarre). The girl, seven or eight years old, had fallen ill. Marot tries to cheer her up. Below I give the original and some of (the over 60) tranlsations Hofstadter presents in his book (not all of them his own, but the bulk is).

For the interested: Hofstadter identifies the following key-characteristics of the poem that a translator should try to take into account:

  1. It is made up of 28 lines.
  2. Each line has 3 syllables.
  3. The stress falls on the last of these syllables.
  4. It is a series of rhyming couplets (AA BB CC DD…)
  5. The semantic couplets are out of phase with the rhyming couplets: A, AB, BC,
  6. After line 14 the formal "vous" is replaced by the more colloquial "tu".
  7. The last line echoes the first.
  8. The poet slips his own name into the poem.

extra info : The French composer Jean Françaix (1912-1997) published a musical setting for piano and voice

In my humble opinion Hofstadter n° 6 is the best, content and atmosphere, a dynamic-equivalence between original and translation.

Clément Marot

Hofstadter n°2
"bland boring, and literal"

Hofstadter n°6

"first completed translation"

Robert French II (n°9)
(professional translator)

A une Damoyselle malade

 

Ma mignonne,
Je vous donne
Le bon jour;
Le séjour
C’est prison.
Guérison
Recouvrez,
Puis ouvrez
Votre porte
Et qu’on sorte
Vitement,
Car Clément
Le vous mande.
Va, friande
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
En danger
Pour manger
Confitures;
Si tu dures
Trop malade,
Couleur fade
Tu prendras,
Et perdras
L’embonpoint.
Dieu te doint
Santé bonne,
Ma mignonne.

To a Sick Damsel

 

My sweet
I bid you
A good day;
The stay
Is prison.
Health
Recover,
Then open
Your door,
And go out
Quickly,
For Clément
Tells you to.
Go, indulger
Of thy mouth,
Lying abed
In danger,
Off to eat
Fruit preserves;
If thou stay’st
Too sick,
Pale shade
Thou wilt acquire,
And wilt lose
Thy plump form.
God grant thee
Good health,
My sweet.

My Sweet Dear

 

My sweet dear,

I send cheer --

All the best!

Your forced rest

Is like jail.

So don't ail

Very long.

Just get strong --

Go outside,

Take a ride!

Do it quick,

Stay not sick --

Ban your ache,

For my sake!

Buttered bread

While in bed

Makes a mess,

So unless

You would choose

That bad news,

I suggest

That you'd best

Soon arise,

So your eyes

Will not glaze.

Douglas prays

Health be near,

My sweet dear.

Fairest Friend

 

Fairest friend,
Let me send
My embrace.
Quit this place,
Its dark halls
And dank walls.
In soft stealth,
Regain health:
Dress and flee
off with me,
Clement, who
Calls for you.
Fine gourmet,
Hid from day,
Danger's past,
So at last
Let 's be gone,
To dine on
Honeyed ham
And sweet jam.
If you're still
Wan and ill,
You will cede
Pounds you need.
May God's wealth
Bless your health
Till the end,
Fairest friend.

And as an extra Hofstadter's prosa rendering (n°5):
My small princess, I send you a warm hello. Your long stay in bed has been like a term in prison. Uncle Clement urges you to recuperate, and to get out of there soon. You've always loved sweets, so don't let being bed-ridden stop you from indulging - have some jam! And don't stay sick too long, because you'll get ghostly pak and start looking like skin and bones. God will surely bring you back to good health, my small princess.