The Dreaded Night Turtle (funkyturtle) wrote,

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage

More 16th century French poetry, but this time, it's not very good.   I have translated and pointed out why I think it sucks.  I'm open to arguments on it though.  Please feel free to explain to me how this does not suck.  I'd love to hear an alternate opinion.

<Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage>>
(“Happy who, like Ulysses, has made a good voyage.”)
by Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560)


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 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 plaît le séjour qu'ont bâti mes aïeux,
Que des palais romains le front audacieux,
Plus que le marbre dur me plaît l'ardoise fine;

Plus mon Loir gaulois, que le Tibre latin,
Plus mon petit Liré, que le mont Palatin,
Et plus que l'air marin la douceur angevine.



I dislike this poem.  I dislike it because it is whining.  It reminds me a person I work with who constantly whines about how his problems are so much more terrible than anyone else's.  You just want to smack him cuz a) most of his problems are a result of his own choices and b) the *whine* in his voice is so profoundly irritating and he keeps going on and on and won't shut up.

On to English Lit stick analysis/translation:

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,

“Happy is he, who like Ulysses, has (made/completed) a (good/pretty) voyage,”

FYI - Ulysses (aka Odysseus) went off with the Greeks to fight the Trojan war.  He's the mastermind behind the Trojan horse.  The Iliad is the story of the war.  The Odyssey is the story of him getting lost on the way home.  By the time Ulysses gets home he's been gone for 20 years, his wife is being pressured by everyone to declare him dead and get someone else in charge.  His mother believes he's dead and has died of grief, and his father is on his deathbed, dying of grief.  When he gets there, the only people who recognize him are his old wet-nurse and his dog.  He's so changed his wife doesn't believe he is who he says he is and he has to prove it.  When everyone finally clues in, there's a giant bloodbath as he ends up killing a bunch of the men trying to get his wife to marry them.  It starts a family feud and the goddess of wisdom has to step in and order everyone to play nice again.  I question the sanity of anyone who thinks Ulysses had a “good” voyage or was “happy” when he got home.

Ou comme cestuy-là qui conquit la toison,
“Or like the one who conquered the fleece”

This would be Jason (the one that goes with “of the Argonauts”) - the guy who got the Golden Fleece. 

Et puis est retourné, plein d'usage et raison,
“And then is returned, filled with usage (still useful?) and reason,”

Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son âge!

“To live between his parents for the rest of his (age/life)!”

K stop right there.  Jason didn't have a swell time either.  His great-uncle was going to have him killed, but his mom pretended he was still-born and smuggled him off to be raised by a centaur.  He shows up at court and is tricked into going on a suicide mission to get the golden fleece, something that's pretty much impossible, but which is the only way his great-uncle can get rid of him without killing him outright and pissing off Zeus (the guy who hit people with lightning bolts when they pissed him off).  He gets a bunch of guys in a boat together and they go off to get the fleece.  When he gets to the fleece, the dude who owns it isn't going to give it to him, but the dude's daugher, Medea, falls for Jason and helps him.  Medea is not a nice lady.  To keep her dad from coming after them as they run away with the fleece, she kills her brother and drops him into the sea piece by piece so his dad has to stop and pick up the pieces instead of following them. 

They get home to Jason's great-uncle, who of course is pissed that Jason's survived.  Medea convinces the great-uncle's daughters (Jason's cousins) that if they chop up their dad and boil him, they'll make him young again.  (This is where you point and go “Darwin!” but whatever.)  Needless to say that didn't work out so well.  The great-uncle's son (Jason's cousin) drives Jason and Medea into exile.  Then the badness happens.  Jason decides to marry Creusa, the daughter of the king of Corinth.  Medea is pissed off.   She gives the bride-to-be a wedding dress which stuck to her body and burned both the bride and the bride's father to death (dad was trying to save her).  (There's awesome death scenes with melting flesh and horrified people in the Greek plays dealing with this part of the story.  I highly recommend them.) 

Jason and friends (without Medea) end up going back to his great-uncle's and taking over the throne.  Jason's son ends up king, and Jason, who pissed off the gods by being unfaithful to Medea, ends up dying alone and unhappy.  While he's sleeping under the Argo (the big boat of awesomeness on which he had most of his adventures) the stern of the boat falls off and kills him in this big dramatic “the gods hate you!” image of ironic smiting.

Jason didn't have a happy time, didn't end up living out his life with his happy family, and all in all, the end of his journey sucked ass.  Either the author of this poem is being sarcastic, or the poet is an ignorant windbag trying to use fancy references where he doesn't know the whole story in order to wow people who don't know any better.  I'm voting for the second interpretation, but I'm open to logical arguments for the first, if you can find any.

Quand reverrai-je, hélas, de mon petit village
“When I (think back on/remember/reminisce about), alas, my little village”

Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison
“A smoking (smoke coming from the?) chimney, and what season”

Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,

“When I (think back on/remember/reminisce about) the (enclosed field/garden) of my poor house,”

Qui m'est une province et beaucoup davantage?
“Which is to me (a province/outside the city) and much more?”

The poet is talking about how his garden was like a big province to him before he left home.

Plus me plaît le séjour qu'ont bâti mes aïeux,
“I am more pleased by my (house/abode), built by my ancestors,”

Que des palais romains le front audacieux,
“Than by the Roman palaces with (bold/daring) entrances,”

Plus que le marbre dur me plaît l'ardoise fine;

“The hard marble pleases does not please me as much as the (fine/brandy/green?) slate”
 
Plus mon Loir gaulois, que le Tibre latin,
“More my gaulois (as in 'of the Gauls') Loir, than the Latin Tiber,”

The Loir is a river in France (the name means doormouse or sleep like a log) and the Tiber is a famous river in Italy

Plus mon petit Liré, que le mont Palatin,
“More my little  Liré, than the Palatine Hill,”

The Liré is some place in France, possibly a mountain.  The Palatine Hill is the centermost of the seven hills of Rome.  It looks down on the city on one side, and the circus maximus on the other.

Et plus que l'air marin la douceur angevine.
“And more than the sea air, the softness of angevine,”

Angevine  in the text is given the footnote “de l'Anjou.”  Anjou is a French province in the Loire valley.


So a non-literal translation of the poem would be:

Happy who, like Ulysses, had a good voyage
Or who, like the man who conquered the fleece,
And then came home filled with usefulness and reason
Lived out the rest of his life with his parents!

When, alas, I think of my little village
With the smoke coming out of the chimney in all seasons
I think of the little garden in my lowly house
Which is to me, a province, and much more

Nothing pleases me like the little house, built by my ancestors
Not the Roman palaces, with their ostentatious entrances
Hard marble does not please me as much as gray slate

I prefer the Gallic Loire, to the Latin Tiber,
I prefer the little  Liré to Palatine Hill
And not the sea air but the soft atmosphere of Anjou.


So when you look at it, what is it?  In the 16th century, whining boy gets to go to Italy (voluntarily), leaving his country bumpkin family behind.  He gets to Rome, and goes “I don't think we're in Kansas any more, Toto.”  Then he mopes around talking about how he likes the simple cottage life better than the impressive city lifestyle with it's deep history and culture.  No matter how awesome Rome is, he'd rather be back with Ma and Pa on the farm.  Redneck nostalgia and whining.  Lots of whining.  You just wanna slap him, even though he's been dead for over 400 years, he still needs a smacking.  Geez.  If you don't like it, leave.  I you can't leave, then suck it up!  Whatever the situation, stop whining!!!!

There's a song they play at goth night sometimes. This poem makes me think of it. I went looking for the lyrics but when you do a google search for “Hey, you, what the fuck is wrong with you?” you get a lot of entries, most of which are not song lyrics, and none of which are the lyrics I'm seeking. Too bad cuz I'd love to know who does that song.

Tags: french, heureux qui comme ulysse
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