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Guillaume, Sieur du Bartas (1544–1590): Les Pyrénées

Translated by Timothy Adès

The Lord of Salluste was a Huguenot who fought for Henry of Navarre (Henri IV of France). His epic poem on the Creation of the World was hugely admired, not least by Milton and Goethe. Nerval hailed him as a precursor, an ‘ancestor’. One of his many translators was James VI of Scotland: he was sent there to try for a marriage of James to Henry’s sister. He also went to Denmark.

Honneyman speculated that some of Shakespeare’s Sonnets are translations of suppressed work by Agrippa d’Aubigné, a poet at the Navarrese court: that Henry himself was the Fair Friend, his Queen Marguerite the Dark Lady, and du Bartas the Rival Poet.

published in Modern Poetry in Translation

I wrote an old–fashioned version and a modern version. Only on this website have they appeared together!

François, arreste–toi, ne passe la campagne
Que Nature mura de rochers d’un costé,
Que l’Auriège entrefend d’un cours précipité;
Campagne qui n’a point en beauté de compagne.

Passant, ce que tu vois n’est point une montagne:
C’est un grand Briarée, un géant haut monté
Qui garde ce passage, et défend, indomté,
De l’Espagne la France, et de France l’Espagne.

Il tend à l’une l’un, à l’autre l’autre bras,
Il porte sur son chef l’antique faix d’Atlas,
Dans deux contraires mers il pose ses deux plantes.

Les espaisses forests sont ses cheveux espais;
Les rochers sont ses os; les rivières bruyantes
L’éternelle sueur que luy cause un tel faix.

published in Outposts:

Frenchman, hold hard, nor pass beyond that land
That nature fortified with rocky walls,
That Ariège thrusts through with headlong falls,
Land garlanded, most gallant and most grand.

What thou seest, passing here, is no high–land;
Rather a mighty Briareus, a giant
Set high to guard this passage, and, defiant,
Spain’s way to France, France’s to Spain command.

One arm to France, t’other to Spain is spread;
Upon his crest sits Atlas’ ancient weight;
His feet the two opposing seas betread.

The thickets are the thick hairs of his head;
The rocks his bones; the roaring mountain–spate,
The sweat his burthen ever makes him shed.

published in Modern Poetry in Translation:

FRENCH NATIONALS STOP HERE. NO TRANSIT through
The Ariège (Dept. no. 9).
A natural break: cascade, scarp, anticline.
No contest: champion country. Get that view!

VISITORS
THIS IS NOT A MOUNTAIN CHAIN.
You’re looking at a brontosaurus which
Has got across the middle of the pitch
Showing a No Way card to France and Spain.

Ne passez pas. No pase el paso usted.
His spiky neck is what jacks up the sky;
Feet in the Bay of Biscay and the Med;

The forest canopy tops out his head;
His bones are rocks. The long–term power supply?
Sweat, leached from stres–points on the watershed.

Translations: copyright © Timothy Adès

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