.

Sonnet 181

Jesus had suffered more than we can tell,
But when released, His soul at once aspired
To save the just, whom their long wait had tired.
See Him descend to Limbo’s dreary hell
In search of those who early served Him well
And, ages since, His coming had desired.
“Dear Lord,” they cried, “exert the force required
To break our bonds and all our gloom dispel!”
Their gracious victor Prince spoke His command,
Most sweetly taking each one by the hand,
“Depart from this dark place, belovèd friend,
Come to the kingdom I prepared for you,
Shedding my blood for my disciples true,
To give you rest, and glory without end.”

.

.

Sonnet 194

Christ, meeting two on the Emmaus road
Who spoke of Him, their murdered Master dear,
And wishing to allay their doubt and fear
But not reveal Himself, said as they strode,
“Be not so dull, like beasts that bear a load!
The Scriptures tell, in their predictions clear,
How Christ must brave a thousand pains severe
To win His kingdom’s paramount abode.
If then in agony He had to die,
Does He not now enjoy His reign on high?”
Let us too suffer, praying to be led
In company with Him who comforts us,
Restoring light to eyes incredulous,
And gives His precious body for our bread.

.

.

Sonnet 206

Seven disciples in their boat one night
Saw Christ appear at daybreak on the shore;
To aid us, He advances to the fore
When we strive aimlessly by our own light.
“My faithful crew,” He called, “fish to the right,”
As if to say, “Be strong, and do still more
In preaching to the souls I send you for!
Maintain your zeal; their eagerness excite.”
Ah, when will we leave the sea of vanity
And reach the shore of blithe eternity,
Where God Himself will be our nourishment?
Our Jesus is beyond all fish delicious,
Roasted at love’s fire, fresh bread propitious,
By which the good can live as gods content.

.

.

Sonnet 266

Go to Jesus, as Nicodemus went,
To flee foul error’s drab depravity,
For He is radiant grace and sanctity,
And truth and wisdom supereminent.
He says we must receive the sacrament
Of baptism calling on the Trinity,
And joined to Him by faith and charity
Can share His realm supremely opulent.
The snake that Moses in the desert shaped
(Dread sign by which the Jews from death escaped)
Resembles Christ exalted on the Cross,
Where all His blood for love of us He shed,
To promise us eternal life ahead,
And thrash hell’s serpents who desire our loss.

.

.

French originals

CLXXXI

Jesus apres avoir mille tourments soufferts,
Et sa sainte ame étant de son corps separee,
Voulant sauver des siens la troupe bienheuree,
Descendit promptement aux lymbes et enfers.
Là se sont devant luy tous les justes offerts,
Qui sa venuë avoient si long temps desiree,
Crians, c’est toy, Seigneur, dont la force honoree
Doit romper maintenant nos liens et nos fers.
Lors ce Prince vainqueur, gracieux et humain,
Leur a dit (les prenant doucement par la main)
Sortez, mes bien-aimés, de ce lieu miserable,
Venez au regne heureux vous est appresté,
Que par mon propre sang je vous ay conquesté,
Pour vous donner repos et gloire perdurable.

CXCIIII

Christ à deux s’apparoist allans droict en Emaux,
Qui tristes devisoient ensemble de leur Maistre,
Et pour oster le doubte où il les voyoit estre,
Sans se rendre congneu leur use de ces mots,
O trop plus insensez que les lourds animaux,
Tous les divins escrits ne sont-ils pas congnoistre,
Qu’il falloit que le Christ pour son royaume accroistre,
Voire pour y entrer, endurast mille maux?
Puis donc que sans souffrir maint tourment, mainte peine
Luy-mesme n’a jouy de sa gloire hautaine,
Souffrons et le prions d’un coeur devocieux
Qu’il demeure avec nous, car la mort nous voisine,
Et que pour l’admirer nos yeux il illumine,
Nous repaissant du pain de son corps precieux.

CCVI

Sept disciples estans de nuict en la nasselle,
Christ s’apparoist à eux au matin sur le port,
Monstrant qu’il vient à nous pour nostre aide et support,
Quand par affliction nostre barque chancelle.
Peschez (dit-il) à dextre, ô ma trouppe fidelle,
C’est à dire, en preschant faictes tout vostre effort,
Si voulez faire fruict qui me plaise bien fort,
De n’avoir autre but qu’un sincere et bon zele.
Las! Quand laisserons-nous la mer de vanité,
Pour parvenir heureux au port d’eternité,
Où le bon Dieu nous veut de soy mesme repaistre:
Car il est le poisson sur tous delicieux,
Rosty au feu d’amour, et le pain precieux,
Qui donne vie aux bons, et qui dieux les fait estre.

CCLXVI

Allons à Jesus-Christ comme fit Nicodeme,
Pour de vice et erreur fuire l’obscurité,
Car il est la splendeur de grace et verité,
Voire la sapience et la verité meme.
Il nous dira qu’il faut recevoir le bapteme
Au nom de l’ineffable et sainte Trinité,
Et qu’estans joints à lui par foi et charité,
Nous jouirons en fin du Royaume supreme.
Comme le peuple juif salutaire éprouva
Le serpent que Moise au desert éleva,
Ainsi Christ exalté en la croix douleureuse,
Où tout son sang pour nous charitable il repand,
Nous sauve et garentit de l’infernal serpent,
Nous donnant par sa mort la vie bienheureuse.

.

.

Margaret Coats lives in California.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.  She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.  


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20 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    Beautiful reading for Holy Saturday.
    Is it more difficult to translate than it is to compose poetry?
    Do you find one or the other more rewarding?

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Both are quite rewarding, but I learned the art by doing a great deal of translation. Translating goes more quickly once I’ve found a poem I’d like to put into English, because I know how the poem develops and how it will end. Having said that, I’ll add that Anne de Marquets, a learned Dominican nun, is the most difficult to translate of dozens of authors I’ve rendered into English. Her sonnets are so packed with Scriptural, liturgical, doctrinal, and devotional features that it’s a struggle to include as much as possible in the English.

      Reply
      • Joe Tessitore

        A comment posted a while ago said (and I’m paraphrasing) that a good translation “shouldn’t really rhyme”.

        I think you’ve put the lie to that.

      • Margaret Coats

        That was a foolish comment. While I respect translators who try to translate meaning only (and not a poem’s music), they never entirely succeed. They have to neglect the multiple meanings and connotations of words, wordplay, and the relation of words to one another in the poem, not to mention echoes of earlier poems in the original language, because these matters all depend on that original language, and can only be rendered in English by a scholarly discourse that is not a poem. Meaning-only translations are most suitable for bilingual editions, where the reader can use them as cribs to understand the poem in the original. A rhymed poem deserves a rhyming translation, so that readers who don’t read the original language, can nevertheless feel the poem’s music.

  2. BRIAN YAPKO

    Margaret, each one of these sonnets is a treasure, although I think the comforting words of Christ in Sonnet 194 make it my favorite of the quartet. But I love many of the lines in all four: “To flee foul error’s drab depravity,” for example, has spectacular alliteration. Truly, all four are infused with the beauty of the English language even though they are translations. In glancing at the originals am I correct that the originals were not written in modern French? That would make the task of translation all the more difficult — you could have gone the route of translating into Shakespearian language rather than modern. I think you made the right choice because each of these feels both timeless and relevant. A beautiful and impressive job. Happy Easter!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      You’re right, Brian, these sonnets are in Renaissance French, which is more Latinate than modern French, especially in this author. In that line you like, she has “obscurity” to contrast with “splendor” in the next line, as a dark/light contrast when we recognize the Latin roots she has in mind. But “obscure” and “splendid” don’t really suggest dark and light in modern English, so I used the adjectives “drab” and “radiant,” and turned Sister Anne’s “vice” into my rhyme word “depravity.” Thus the alliteration in that line is my own–but translations are also new poems in the new language. They serve the original poet best by reflecting her art in words that are the best representations I can offer in my poem of her artistry, while not saying anything she wouldn’t have said.

      Reply
    • Loretta Garcia

      Our family enjoyed reading this wonderfully translated tribute to our Blessed Lord as we’ve just experienced the Sacred Triduum! Thank you Dr. Coats!

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Thanks, Loretta, and please tell your family I’m glad to know they enjoyed the poems. There are so many ways that art can reinforce the meaning and beauty of the sacred action, and you are quite right to say that we have just experienced that at church, at home, and here as well.

  3. Cynthia Erlandson

    I agree with Joe and Brian, about the rhyme, and about the whole idea of how complex translation must be. Whenever we’re writing poetry, I think we’re necessarily multi-tasking — trying to use as many poetic devices at the same time as are appropriate. But when I know I’m reading a translation, I am in awe of the even-much-more multi-tasking the translator is doing! I was especially observing that you were able to use precise rhymes throughout. “Supereminent”, in particular, I thought quite brilliant!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you for your appreciation. My rhymes have become more precise here at SCP, thanks to the views of Mr. Anderson and Dr. Salemi. It is always fun to use a long rhyme word, and “supereminent” perfectly fits Sister Anne’s line where she says, “Truly wisdom and truth itself.” She uses two words at the beginning and end of her line, and I was able to replace them with a five-syllable compound!

      Reply
  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Margaret, these accessible and beautiful translations are an Easter gift. They are plain and clear, yet still sing with the music of a perfectly wrought sonnet. Thank you very much! Wishing you and your family a very happy Easter from me and Mike.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, and a very happy Easter Sunday and season to you and Mike! I probably should say “Easter cycle,” as these poems run from today (Holy Saturday) to Trinity Sunday. That was Sister Anne’s turning point, and as you see from the numbers, she wrote 85 poems on the various texts and aspects of Easter. I’m glad you find my renditions accessible and musical.

      Reply
  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    Both the sonnets and the translations are quite beautiful.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you on my part, and on behalf of Sister Anne. Pierre de Ronsard wrote an effusive commendatory sonnet for her.

      Reply
  6. Jo Anne Pulley

    Margaret! Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful sonnets and translations. I’m using these as points of reflection in this glorious Octave of Easter.

    A most blessed Octave to you and yours!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Jo Anne! I’m so pleased to give Sister Anne an English-speaking audience, as she was careful to deal with many aspects of liturgy and devotion in good order. You’ll notice that Sonnet 194 is for Easter Wednesday, and Sonnet 206 reflects on a Gospel passage not many days farther out. A blessed Easter Octave and season to you, too!

      Reply
  7. Jonicis Bulalacao

    Well translated. Thoughts and sentiments are well brought out. Thanks, Margaret.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Joni. I’m glad to bring Sister Anne’s thoughtful poems to people who read English.

      Reply
  8. Tom and Laurence Rimer

    We noticed Margaret’s comment to Jonicis Bulalacao (above) about “these thoughtful poems to people who read English.” The particular joy for us is that, for my wife Laurence (who is French) and for me (to some extent), we can make out the general meaning of those beautiful old sonnets in the original. And a comparison with Margaret’s beautiful translations reveals at once just what a gifted translator she is. Such beautiful and reverent poems.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you both for coming to read these poems, in French and in English. The French is a little sample of the 1605 book, Sonets spirituels, edited by Marie de Fortia, sister in religion of the author. The 480 sonnets are accessible at Gallica, online platform of La Bibliotheque Nationale, but I find it difficult to use, and was happy to type these up for presentation here.

      Reply

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