Translations of "J’ay perdu ma tourterelle"

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 There has been very little recent historical or interpretive commentary on “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle,” a situation that I have tried to rectify above. Apart from its scheme the poem has been supremely unimportant in the twentieth century. Yet because of its influential form the poem has been on occasion been quoted, anthologized, and especially translated, and therefore I examine here some of the more important of these sporadic moments of critical attention. The English translations, in particular, reveal the character of the twentieth-century critical reception of “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle.”1

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 English translations of “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle” have not chosen to or have not been able to convey the poem’s plain style, preferring instead to render it as archaic. I have found seven published translations of “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle” into English verse: one by George Wyndham (1906), one by John Payne (1907), one by Wilfrid Charles Thorley (1920), one by William Frederic Giese (1946), one by Elizabeth Gerteiny (1973), one by Philip K. Jason (1980), and one by Anne Waldman (1987).2 These translations without exception, though to a greater or lesser degree, employ archaisms that Passerat himself would have disliked; Patterson writes that Passerat was “opposed to those linguistic antiquarians who, in pushing to excess the search for a purified Latin style, deliberately sought out the most archaic of words. […] In Passerat’s estimation this deliberate affectation of archaisms was […] an affront to good taste” (146-7). Of the modern translations, the one that best conveys the straightforward diction and tone of Passerat’s original is probably Jason’s; however, Jason does not attempt the rhyme, and what he calls his “rather free rendering” is in fact a purely functional convenience (145). It is appended in a footnote to his scholarly article on the inherent qualities of the villanelle scheme, which is titled “Modern Versions of the Villanelle.” But since Jason generally retains Passerat’s seven-syllable line, and since he lineates his translation as a poem, I have included it in the list of poetic translations.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Yet even Jason’s uncomplicated and accurate piece translates “tu” as “thou,” as do all the translations except Waldman’s and Wyndham’s. This translation, of course, is grammatically accurate, since there is no other English equivalent for the informal second-person pronoun distinction in French–but “thou” is inevitably archaic in English, while “tu” is not archaic in French. Gerteiny’s 1973 translation, in fact, incorporates a grammatical error in the third tercet through using “thou”: “Say ye thou hast lealty shown? / Peer to thine, my constancy; / So go I or be undone” (70). The word “ye” can denote either the polite singular pronoun or the plural pronoun (just as the French word “vous” can denote either the polite singular or the plural), but neither of these senses of “ye” is possible when coupled with the informal singular “thou.” Anne Waldman’s 1987 translation gives the second line of the second tercet as “Alas! I really do,” combining a highly archaic word with a highly colloquial phrase in a highly irregular diction.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Giese’s translation of 1946 is somewhat less archaic than Gerteiny’s, and it bravely addresses the difficulty of rhyming “turtledove,” adopting the classic expedient of eye-rhyme. In Giese’s translation, the fifth tercet becomes “Thy sad plaining fills the grove, / Mine re-echoes far and near: / I have lost my turtle-dove” (67). Thorley’s 1920 translation, like those of Payne and Gerteiny, translates “tourterelle” as something other than “turtledove” for the sake of a more common rhyme sound. Thorley also deliberately generates an effect of antiquity by using archaic spellings even for common modern words such as “own” and “blown”; he renders the first tercet as “I have lost my turtle fleet: / Is that her owne voice blowne bye? / After her I fayne would beat” (90). Payne’s translation of 1907 is emphatically committed to the practice of archaism, rendering the first tercet as “I have lost my turtle-doo. / Is’t not she I hear hard by? / After her I’d fain ensue,” a translation that also introduces either a neologism or an obscure term with the word “turtle-doo” for the sake of an easier rhyme (539).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The earliest translation, George Wyndham’s of 1906, is perhaps the best of the rhymed verse translations; it eschews the archaic “thou” and renders “tourterelle” in the simplest fashion as “turtle-dove.” The first tercet becomes “I have lost my turtle-dove; / Is not that her call to me? / To be with her were enough.” But even Wyndham’s translation does not correspond as well as it might to Passerat’s original. For instance, Wyndham introduces a strong enjambment in the fifth tercet: “Seeing no more in the grove / Her’s, no beauty can I see; / To be with her were enough,” and enjambment is a far more serious and unusual thing in early French poetry than in English poetry. Wyndham also makes greater use of syntactic inversion than does Passerat, and he includes an exclamation point in the final quatrain of both his English translation and the text of the French original, a variant that Edmund Gosse and George Saintsbury had both previously printed.3 This small punctuation change nevertheless significantly alters the calm, resigned tone of the concluding quatrain of the original.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 I include here a new verse translation of my own. One of the chief difficulties of translating “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle” into verse is that by far the most natural translation for “tourterelle” is “turtledove,” a word that in English has few exact rhymes. Jason omits rhyme altogether; Gerteiny, Payne, and Thorley choose easier rhyme sounds (though Gerteiny still uses off-rhyme); Giese employs eye-rhyme; Wyndham and Waldman employ both eye-rhyme and off-rhyme–and Waldman also chooses to render the poem as non-metrical. None of these solutions quite suits the original with its insistently perfect line-endings. The many forms of tenacious reiteration in “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle” made it seem allowable to introduce a form of reiteration not present in the original, one that made the task of reproducing the rhyme scheme much easier. Surely no poet has ever had more legitimate cause to rhyme “love” and “dove”–even repeatedly, as I have chosen to do. This repetition can serve as a substitute for the homographia of the original’s rhymes.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Villanelle

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 I have lost my turtledove:
Isn’t that her gentle coo?
I will go and find my love.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Here you mourn your mated love;
Oh, God–I am mourning too:
I have lost my turtledove.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 If you trust your faithful dove,
Trust my faith is just as true;
I will go and find my love.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Plaintively you speak your love;
All my speech is turned into
“I have lost my turtledove.”

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Such a beauty was my dove,
Other beauties will not do;
I will go and find my love.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Death, again entreated of,
Take one who is offered you:
I have lost my turtledove;
I will go and find my love.

  1. A version of this section and the translation of “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle” it contains appeared under the title “Lost Classic: Jean Passerat, ‘J’ay perdu ma tourterelle'” Meridian 12 (2003) 30-7.
  2. George Wyndham, “Villanelle,” Ronsard and La Pléiade, with Selections from their Poetry and Some Translations in the Original Metres (London and NY: Macmillan, 1906) 249-50; Wilfrid Charles Thorley, “Villanelle,” Fleurs-de-lys, a Book of French Poetry Freely Translated into English Verse (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1920) 90; William Frederic Giese, “Villanelle,” French Lyrics, in English Verse (Madison, WI: The University Press, 1946) 67; John Payne, “Villanelle,” Flowers from France: The Renaissance Period, from Ronsard to Saint-Amant (London: Villon Society, 1907): 132-3 reprinted in Huntington Cairns, The Limits of Art (Washington DC: Pantheon, 1948) 539; Elizabeth Gerteiny, “Villanelle (Jean Passerat: 1534-1602),” Poet Lore 68 (1973) 70; Philip K. Jason, “Modern Versions of the Villanelle,” College Literature 7 (1980) 145; Anne Waldman, “Villanelle,” The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms, ed. Ron Padgett and Teachers & Writers Collaborative (NY: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1987) 197-8. See also the admirably simple prose translation in Geoffrey Brereton, ed., The Penguin Book of French Verse (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958) 91-2.
  3. Wyndham 189, 250; Edmund Gosse, “A Plea for Certain Exotic Forms of Verse,” Cornhill Magazine 36 (1877) 65; George Saintsbury, ed., French Lyrics (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887) 114.
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