"La Toilette Pour le Bal" by Jean-François de Troy‘A Girl in Her Own Words’ by Eustache Deschamps (1346-1406), translated by Margaret Coats The Society July 16, 2021 Beauty, Humor, Poetry, Translation 23 Comments . Am I, am I beautiful? Surely my face qualifies: Forehead pearly bright to rise Over sweetest lips cerise. Tell me if I’m beautiful! Cupid’s brows I have, green eyes, Rounded chin, nose small in size, Blonde curls blowing in the breeze; Am I, am I beautiful? Firmness my high breasts comprise; Straightness my back dignifies; Ivory throat and long arms please; Tell me if I’m beautiful! Slender waist and tender thighs Well-proportioned hips apprise; Shapely legs and pretty knees, Am I, am I beautiful? Little feet can emphasize Slippers fitting fashion’s guise And my favored fineries; Tell me if I’m beautiful! Fur my cape’s warmth amplifies; Lace my neckline gratifies; Silver bangles, look at these! Am I, am I beautiful? Fine my bonnets, I surmise; Lovely robes the world espies, Silk and gold embroideries, Tell me if I’m beautiful! Fifteen years my age belies; Many treasures, though, I prize, And intend to guard the keys; Am I, am I beautiful? He who for this damsel vies Must have strength to exercise Manly virtues worshipful; Tell me if I’m beautiful! Godly vows I solemnize, Faith without a compromise, If his love be dutiful; Am I, am I beautiful? When with courtesy he tries Speaking gently, valiant, wise, He will find me merciful; Tell me if I’m beautiful! Here is earthly paradise, Everything that satisfies, Fresh and new and laughterful; Am I, am I beautiful? Coward youth with no replies, Think of what my words advise: Tell me if I’m beautiful! Am I, am I beautiful? . Translator’s note: My ending differs a little from the French text. The bracketed next-to-last line in French was written by the French editor to fill the place of a line missing in the manuscript. This is legitimate editorial procedure, as long as the editor does not pretend the line was written by the author. But I think it’s better to fill out the missing line with the alternate refrain (something actually written by the author). It makes sense with what the speaker is saying in the last stanza, and it keeps up the regular alternation of refrains. In fact, concluding with both refrains reveals the careful rhyme-and-refrain artistry of this entire charming virelai. In syllabic French, the meter of this poem is heptasyllabic. Having translated many octosyllabic French poems into English iambic tetrameter, I wanted this one to be different, but iambic trimeter was not a good choice, because that is the appropriate English meter for French poems of six-syllable lines. For this poem, therefore, I chose iambic tetrameter lines beginning with a “headless iamb” (a metrical foot of one accented syllable alone). In effect, I am counting syllables as well as stresses—but I still have opportunities for metrical variation (as did Deschamps). Examples include the lines beginning with “And,” where that word should receive little or no stress—even though it is in a position that the overall ideal pattern would stress. Variation is the vitality of a poem, even when meter may appear strict. . French original Sui je, sui je, sui je belle? Il me semble, a mon avis, Que j’ay beau front et doulx viz Et la bouche vermeillette; Dittes moy se je suis belle. J’ay vers yeulx, petis sourcis, Le chief blont, le nez traitis, Ront menton, blanche gorgette; Sui je, sui je, sui je belle? J’ay dur sain et hault assis, Lons bras, gresles doys aussis Et par le faulz sui greslette; Dittes moy se je suis belle. J’ay bonnes rains, ce m’est vis, Bon dos, bon cul de Paris, Cuisses et gambes bien faictes; Sui je, sui je, sui je belle? J’ay piez rondes et petiz, Bien chaussans, et biaux habis, Je sui gaye et joliette, Dittes moy se je sui belle. J’ay mantiaux fourrez de gris, J’ay chapiaux, j’ay biaux proffis Et d’argent mainte espinglette; Sui je, sui je, sui je belle? J’ay draps de soye et tabis, J’ay draps d’or et blans et bis, J’ay mainte bonne chosette; Dittes moy se je sui belle. Que xv ans n’ay, je vous dis; Moult est mes tresors jolys, S’en garderay la clavette; Sui je, sui je, sui je belle? Bien devra estre hardis Cilz qui sera mes amis, Qui ara tel damoiselle; Dittes moy se je sui belle. Et par Dieu je li plevis Que tresloyal, se je vis, Li seray, si ne chancelle; Sui je, sui je, sui je belle? Se courtois est et gentilz, Vaillans après, bien apris, Il gagnera se querelle; Dittes moy se je sui belle. C’est uns mondains paradiz Que d’avoir dame toudiz Ainsi fresche, ainsi nouvelle; Sui je, sui je, sui je belle? Entre vous a couardiz, Pensez a ce que je diz: [Cy fine ma chansonnette;] Sui je, sui je, sui je belle? . . 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. NOTE: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 23 Responses Sally Cook July 16, 2021 Dear Margaret – What a joyous, lilting song of a translation! In addition it shows so many similarities/derivation between the two languages. Thank you for sharing it. Reply Margaret Coats July 16, 2021 The girl and her language have quite a lilt to them. I’m glad I was able to bring that into English. Thank you! Reply Peter Hartley July 16, 2021 Margaret,- she’s certainly convinced me she’s beautiful. I only wish I could comment on this translation other than from the standpoint of a complete ignoramus, but it does stand up remarkably well in itself by ignoring the fact that it is a translation of anything at all. The only mediaeval French I know is “Honi soit qui mal y pense” and even that, my I pad is having awful problems with. What you have achieved for me though is to send me off listening to “Le Chansonnier Cordiform” which I’d nearly forgotten I had, about four hours of exquisite music, songs by Dufay, Binchois, Ockeghem and Busnoys and others all near enough contemporaries of your Eustache Deschamps. Thank you for sending me haring off, rooting through my 30-year-old vinyl collection! Reply Margaret Coats July 16, 2021 Peter, I’m glad the English poem stands well on its own, because that’s the fun of it for most readers. And I’m glad it inspired you to go on to the music. Deschamps was the nephew and student of the great Machaut, and I feel some influence of that in his poetry. However, when he wrote a double ballade on the occasion of Machaut’s death, he commissioned someone else to write music for it. That must have been some job, especially if it involved a double choir singing the two distinct parts of the poem in polyphony, or even in some kind of elaborate alternation such as we hear in Machaut’s music. Reply Gail July 16, 2021 Sorting out the French out loud is a blast. It’s a bit like having a go at Chaucer in the original. (What happened to all the ‘i’s’?) Love that last line in the French–sui je, sui je, sui je belle. I wish my French was better–we moved school districts when I was ready for my 3rd year, so I was at the bottom of the waiting list for the only section. So I took Latin! Then Spanish . . . Jill-of-all-trades, mistress-of-some! (I’m an amazing housewife and mom!) HA! Thanks for the translation, Margaret. I’d certainly never have found this on my own. Reply Margaret Coats July 16, 2021 It’s a joy to know that I brought this sprightly French poem to your attention! If you’re wondering why it has more “je’s” than the English has “I’s,” it’s because the French “belle” is so much shorter than the English “beautiful.” I’m translating as closely as possible to the French form of seven syllables per line. Had to take out a “sui je” to get “beautiful” in the English. You’ve certainly had good language exposure that helps a lot with close reading of poetry in our own language. I too had a school district problem and had to switch from French to Spanish for a year–and no ancient classical language until college. But it’s all worthwhile. Thanks for reading and commenting. Reply Brian Yapko July 16, 2021 Margaret, this is a marvelous poem of timeless beauty which also feels remarkably contemporary (am I reading it correctly to detect more than a little narcissism in the young lady who is the speaker? And only some lip service to her faith? ) I have enough fractured French to be delighted by your choices and to observe that it was probably much more difficult to find suitable rhymes in English than in French. You have succeeded admirably. Question: Was this originally a song? The repeated refrain of “Sui je, sui, je, sui je belle”/”Dittes moy si je suis belle” sounds quite musical to me. Thank you for a most enjoyable read! Reply Margaret Coats July 16, 2021 Sorry, Brian, my reply to you somehow posted below Joseph Salemi’s comment! Reply Paul Freeman July 16, 2021 I never cease to be amazed. That’s wonderful. Reply Margaret Coats July 16, 2021 Thank you, Paul! Reply Joseph S. Salemi July 16, 2021 A great job of translation, Margaret, the like of which can’t be done by too many of our current clubfooted academics. My one objection: You translate “bon cul de Paris” with the somewhat mincing “well-proportioned hips.” The absolutely literal “a good Parisian ass” would have fit the meter just as perfectly, and been truer to the medieval context. There’s no need to translate for the Dauphin edition. Reply Margaret Coats July 16, 2021 And after I missed “hault assis” in line 10, where my sentence structure was otherwise occupied! Joseph, your suggestion might fit the meter, but not the grammar or syntax, and I would have to re-do the rhyme scheme. You might be mollified to know that I considered “buns” for “hips” (it is plural), but I am satisfied at having spoken of all the body parts mentioned in language that suits my poem as a whole. “Thighs” is much better than the medieval “kidneys” in line 14. My local medievalist specializes in farce not to represent the Middle Ages well, but because we are bawdy and vulgar, and medieval farce is just like us! I don’t compete with him. But I do appreciate your attention and commendation! Reply Margaret Coats July 16, 2021 Adolescent girls tend to worry about whatever is NOT perfect in face, figure, or clothes. The only problem for this one is that no one is giving her the attention she finds she deserves. A judicious gentleman might certainly wonder if he could rely on the fidelity of a woman with such a high opinion of herself. But although we have narcissism here, I think the refrains, as questions, focus on adolescent insecurity. That’s how Deschamps makes the girl and the poem appealing–and it is one of his best known works. That’s a very interesting question about whether this was a song intended for singing and instrumental accompaniment. It probably has settings and singers, but from Deschamps’ own poetic theory, these would be unnecessary. He wrote the first treatise on French versification, where he says quite clearly that natural music is what we find in words. Any other music he calls “artificial.” That’s not necessarily pejorative; artificial music is art that he studied and appreciated. But to his mind, the music of nature is found in poetry by itself. This should give us great respect for words and their sounds! Reply Susan Jarvis Bryant July 17, 2021 Margaret, the voluptuous, melodious language lifts this poem to aural ecstasy. I simply had to read it aloud. French is a language that is naturally seductive and you have managed to seduce this reader with your incredible ability to choose the right combination of words to make the poem sing in English. Thank you! Reply Margaret Coats July 17, 2021 Susan, when I first read this poem, years ago, I thought it was untranslatable. I could see its meaning (with a little help from a medieval French glossary), but didn’t understand how its playful loveliness could be approximated in English. Therefore everything you say is a high compliment. Thanks! Reply Yael July 17, 2021 This is an amazing translation Margaret. This German who used to be quite fluent in French a long time ago, would have also thought this poem to be untranslatable, due to the differences in character between the two languages. But you didn’t only translate it, you also created a perfectly beautiful English poem which is a work of art in its own right and can stand alone by itself. I really enjoyed reading both of them, thank you. In fact, not being very familiar with most poetry and poets, if you had left out the French original and told me the English text was a poem from the Victorian era I would have believed you without a doubt, as I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Reply Margaret Coats July 18, 2021 Thank you, Yael, for this great compliment from a reader of French. One of the joys of publishing translations here is that a few readers can also thoroughly appreciate the original. There is so much good but unknown or forgotten poetry in our multiple poetic traditions! I am very happy to know that you enjoyed both poems in this post. Reply David Watt July 20, 2021 Margaret, you did a beautiful job of what appears to be a difficult translation. Your English translation retains a definite French style due to the choice of appropriately elegant words. Reply Margaret Coats July 20, 2021 Thank you, David. Word choice is very important to present this girl who wants elegance and desirability to go together–and to evoke a response! I’m glad she comes across sounding French. The rhyming demanded non-English word order for many sentences, and that too probably helps give her a foreign accent! Reply C.B. Anderson July 25, 2021 But really, Margaret, did the girl wonder whether she was “beautiful” or “pretty?” Reply Margaret Coats July 25, 2021 You’ve read her well, C. B. She has plenty of evidence to be confident about being attractive. But she’s also true to that adolescent insecurity I mentioned above, needing confirmation from others so much that every stanza ends with a question or a demand! Reply Tom and Laurence Rimer August 5, 2021 My wife Laurence, who is French, was absolutely delighted both with the original poem and with your (as she put it) “joyous” translation. Like a couple of your other readers, she noted that some of the original French is a bit salty. Human nature being what it is, the poem has something of a contemporary flavor — perhaps you should send the translation in to the Style section of the New York Times! Reply Margaret Coats August 7, 2021 I am delighted that Laurence found the translation “joyous.” I think you are right, Tom, that there is a contemporary flavor here with youth culture being very much self-absorbed, yet craving notice from others. Part of human nature, indeed, to which style and fashion cater in any age. The New York Times at present might have problems with a piece like this, however, as direct speech about the beauty of female body parts could be seen as politically incorrect. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.