How About the Sir Thomas Wyatt of France?

I was delighted to find on the shelves of a local library a "scholarly" publication that provided translations from the work of a major French poet who was lost for some time and only rediscovered in the 1940's.  I present the excerpt below in a manner opposite that of the publication--the French first, for those who read it well (very well) to formulate their own opinions before reading the translation.

from Emblems of Desire: Selections from the "Délie" of Maurice Sceve
Ed. and Tr. Richard Sieburth


L'oeil trop ardent en mes ieunes erreurs
Girouettoit, mal cault, a l'impourueue
Voicy (ô paour d'agreables terreurs)
Mon Basilisque auec sa poignant' veue
Perçant Corps, Coeur, & Raison despourueue,
Vint penetrer en l'Ame de mon Ame.
    Grand  fut le coup, qui san tranchante lame
Fait, que viuant le Corps, l'Esprit desuie;
Piteuse hostie au conspect de toy, Dame,
Constituée Idole de ma vie.


The Eye, too afire with my youthful errors
Whirled like a weathercock, without design;
When suddenly (what delight, what terrors)
My Basilisk, now sharpening its sights,
Pierced Body, & Heart, put Reason to flight,
Lancing deep into the Soul of my Soul.
     The Blow was hard, which without whetted blade
kills the Spirit through the Body survive,
Pitiful victim, I, now faced with you,
Lady appointed idol of my life.

The French was particularly difficult until you realized that typographically Old French appears to have emulated some of the conventions of Middle English (or more likely, vice versa) and that many of those "u"s in the French are actually "v"s.  Hence viuant is actually vivant (living).  For one who speaks French natively, this is no more challenge than reading Elizabethan English is for an English speaker--however, for one who is merely an occasional visitor to the frontiers of the language--this provided sufficient challenge for an evening of puzzling.

The editor and translator says in his introductory notes that Sceve has been compared to the magnificent French Symboliste Stéphane Mallarmé (known to many for being the inspiration for Claude Debussy's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un Faune.  And there are elements of the poem that seem to have symboliste correspondences (pardon the pun).  And there is something about the language--in translation at least, that suggests this.  However, I'm not completely certain that the French itself does.  And it is premature for me to make that evaluation having read the dedicatory poem and this first piece.  Indeed, as weak as my own grasp of the language is, I doubt that I will ever be placed to make such a comparison.  But the suggestion was enough for me to drag out that entire 19th century line of poets, starting with Baudelaire and ending with Rimbaud and Verlaine.

So, perhaps more later, although nothing terribly deep nor thoughtful as I can only begin to touch the surface here.  But the surface is so lovely and so tempting that I thought it worth sharing.


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