His memories in a trunk

Reflections on literature, language(s), and music

French with the poets I

I’ve given here before some poems in other languages — I don’t know if anyone else appreciates these little presentations, but at least they’re fun for me! — and having just read through Jean de La Fontaine‘s (1621-1695) fable (in verse) on the tortoise and the hare (“Le lièvre et la tortue” [VI, 10], also in Aesop, but I don’t think it’s in the Panchatantra) with my two oldest sons, it occurred to me that it would be a nice one to do in French. The Fables are, of course, quite fun, and you’ll find the French text of all of them with some annotations (in French) here. The text follows immediately below, followed by some remarks on grammar and vocabulary; the rhymes will be obvious. As always, read aloud!

Let’s begin: first the texte intégral, followed by some hints, mostly lexical, tied to the text. I confess that I’d like to give more commentary than I am giving, but time and tiredness make me settle for what’s here; hopefully it will be useful to someone.

Rien ne sert de courir ; il faut partir à point.
Le Lièvre et la Tortue en sont un témoignage.
Gageons, dit celle-ci, que vous n’atteindrez point
Si tôt que moi ce but. Si tôt ? Êtes-vous sage ?
Repartit l’Animal léger.
Ma Commère, il vous faut purger
Avec quatre grains d’ellébore.
Sage ou non, je parie encore.
Ainsi fut fait : et de tous deux
On mit près du but les enjeux.
Savoir quoi, ce n’est pas l’affaire ;
Ni de quel juge l’on convint.
Notre Lièvre n’avait que quatre pas à faire ;
J’entends de ceux qu’il fait lorsque prêt d’être atteint
Il s’éloigne des Chiens, les renvoie aux calendes,
Et leur fait arpenter les landes.
Ayant, dis-je, du temps de reste pour brouter,
Pour dormir, et pour écouter
D’où vient le vent, il laisse la Tortue
Aller son train de Sénateur.
Elle part, elle s’évertue ;
Elle se hâte avec lenteur.
Lui cependant méprise une telle victoire ;
Tient la gageure à peu de gloire ;
Croit qu’il y va de son honneur
De partir tard. Il broute, il se repose,
Il s’amuse à toute autre chose
Qu’à la gageure. À la fin, quand il vit
Que l’autre touchait presque au bout de la carrière,
Il partit comme un trait ; mais les élans qu’il fit
Furent vains : la Tortue arriva la première.
Eh bien, lui cria-t-elle, avais-je pas raison ?
De quoi vous sert votre vitesse ?
Moi l’emporter ! et que serait-ce
Si vous portiez une maison ?

Gageons. “to wager”; the related noun la gageure occurs later. Ma Commère, il vous faut purger//Avec quatre grains d’ellébore. The last word, which derives from Greek and occurs in English as “hellebore”, refers to a variety of medicinal plant sometimes mentioned in folklore of various cultures; it was thought to cure madness. Surely these lines might serve as a fine reprimand to ambitious or boasting interlocutors, but of course they’d need to get it to be meaningful! je parie. parier is “to bet.” les enjeux. An enjeu is a “stake”. aux calendes. Oftener, I think, aux calendes grecques, as in English, an idiom referring to a point in time that will never come. arpenter. to go up and down. brouter. to nibble, graze; the verb comes again a few lines later. s’évertue. to try one’s best. la carrière. Not really “career” as commonly now, but the meaning is pretty clear from the context. un trait. “line, stroke, dash”; the phrase means something like “straightaway”. les élans. “momentum, impetus, rush”. emporter. “to sweep away”; the expression here expresses surprise, perhaps somewhat feigned.

So much for this fun little tale. The poetry itself is nothing stellar, but it’s not bad. I learned some new vocabulary myself, and perhaps you did, too. Maybe the lesson itself will also come in useful for us all someday!
Till next time!

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