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08:58 pm: Forgotten poetry: Happiness

Christophe Plantin, by Rubens

Christophe Plantin was a learned, devout and amusing man, a printer and publisher in Antwerp in the days when that city was the Rome and the Venice of Northern Europe. He published the first atlases, vast amounts of fascinating works of all kinds, he received and lodged scholars in his house, and he wrote poetry. One of his poems I discovered when I was quite young, and fell in love with its image of an ordered beauty. (I should add that my mother hated it because she thought is was selfish, bourgeois, and horribly self-sufficient. Did that make me like it better?) I have a feeling I've put it up before; but I do so again now because I rediscovered it and have been enjoying translating it. One point: the title is very hard to render in English. Technically, it would be: 'THis World's Happiness'. If to us, as to the Elizabethans and to Plantin's Francophones, 'happiness' still meant not only feeling good but also some material circumstances of having been smiled upon by Fortune, we could just use that word. As it is, I am torn between 'This world's happiness' and 'This world's good fortune'. Think both, indissociable. Also, remember that what he portrays is the happiness of this world; and that for him, as for most, there is another and greater happiness. This world's good fortune is temporary, and relative.




Avoir une maison commode, propre et belle,
Un jardin tapissé, d'espaliers odorans,
Des fruits, d'excellent vin, peu de train, peu d'enfans,
Posseder seul, sans bruit, une femme fidèle,

N'avoir dettes, amour, ni proces, ni querelle,
Ni de partage à faire, avecque ses parens,
Se contenter de peu, n'esperer rien des Grands,
Régler tous ses desseins sur un juste modèle,

Vivre avecque franchise et sans ambition,
S'adonner sans scrupule à la dévotion,
Domter ses passions, les rendre obéissantes,

Conserver l'esprit libre et le jugement fort,
Dire son Chapelet en cultivant ses entes,
C'est attendre chez soi bien doucement la mort.


To have a house convenient, clean and fair;
A wallèd garden lined with fragrant trees;
Fruit and fine wine, few servants and few children;
The only lover of a faithful wife;

No debts, no love-affairs, lawsuits nor feuds,
no wills to haggle out with relatives,
Simply content, dependent on no magnate,
And by a righteous rule to rule one’s life;

To live in frankness, from ambition far;
With conscience clear devoted to devotion,
To tame one’s passions until they obey,

To keep the spirit free and judgement strong,
Saying one’s prayers while looking to one’s pear-trees:
A kindly way at home to wait for Death.

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