A une Damoyselle Malade

To rebound from the Radiolab post the other day, I thought I’d give you my own version of Clement Marot’s ‘A une Damoyselle Malade‘ (‘To a Sickly Little Lady’). A 16th century poem which became somewhat of an obsession for Douglas Hofstadter who saw it as an ultimate challenge in translation and published a book with over 60 versions of the poem in English.

The French poem is catchy, cute, playful and intelligent. Here are some of Hofstadter’s key rules in translating it, which I have tried to follow:

  1. It has to be 28 lines.
  2. Each line has to have 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 last line echoes the first.
  6. The poet slips his own name into the poem.

Obviously, the aim is also to retain the essence of the poem itself – the style, nature and contect. Of course, poetry is never a word-by-word translation and there are always compromises. But I gave it my best shot whilst riding on the bus yesterday, so here goes.

A une Damoyselle malade

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

To a sickly Little Lady
Little dove,
Hello Love,
How are you?
Don’t be blue,
Illness ‘tis,
Prison is,
But don’t fret,
Better get
Very soon,
And the moon
You shall see
Filled with glee,
Out with me,
Una D.
So eat up
From your cup,
Have some jam
(don’t try spam –
‘tis no good)
But with food
Lose that pain,
And you’ll gain,
Coloured cheek;
Don’t be meek,
I’m not wrong,
You’ll get strong.
God sends love,
Little dove.

If you like this little poem and want to read many more versions, pick up Le Ton Beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter.


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