January 12, 2023
Le Roman de la Rose (excerpts)
MANY men say that in our dreams
There are but lies and idle themes;
And yet a man can dream such dreams
As are not lies, rather, it seems,
Their meaning, later, becomes clear.
We may invoke as witness here,
Macrobius who did not deem
All things mere folly seen in dream,
When he wrote about the vision
That to Scipio was given.
Though whoe’er believes, or says,
That tis mere foolishness, always,
To think such dreams can come to pass,
May call me a poor fool at last,
If he so wish, nonetheless I
Believe a dream may signify
The good or ill that visits men;
For, at night, in sleeping then,
Many do dream much covertly,
That’s later seen quite openly.
In my twentieth year of age
When Love, at that early stage,
Exacts its tribute, I, one night,
Laid me down, as any might,
And fell into a slumber deep,
And saw a vision in my sleep,
So lovely that it gave delight.
Yet there was naught in the sight
That failed to prove as true, at last,
As in the dream it came to pass.
Now I would that dream relate,
In rhyme, your hearts so to elate,
As Love begs me, nay commands.
And if any, of me, should demand
What I would name this Romance,
That I commence, and so advance,
It is the Romance of the Rose,
That doth the art of Love enclose.
Tis fine and new, all I conceive,
And may God grant that she receive
This with grace for whom I labour,
For she is so filled with honour,
And so worthy of love, that same,
Rose indeed should be her name.
I was aware that it was dawn,
Five years ago at least; a morn
In May it was, or so I dreamed;
The time of love, for so it seemed,
The season when all things delight,
Bush and hedgerow shine bright,
With the fresh leaves they display
Thus seeking to adorn the day;
And the trees regain their verdure,
Branches stripped bare by winter;
While the very ground joys too,
Sweetly moistened by the dew,
And all that poverty now gone,
Which it suffered winter long.
Then so proud the earth doth grow
That it would have a fresher robe,
And knows how to form a dress
A hundred pairs of colours bless,
Of grass and flowers, in grey-blue,
Violet, and many another hue;
Such indeed is the robe I mean,
In which the earth would preen.
The little birds which were dumb
While the winter-cold did numb,
In that season, harsh and bitter,
Now, with May’s calmer weather,
Show their pure delight in song;
Pleasure in their hearts so strong
They must perforce sing aloud.
Then the nightingale is proud
To sound its notes, and rejoice,
Then the lark will find its voice;
And like the rest, on joy alight.
So too must young folk delight
In pleasure, and prove amorous,
In that season sweet and joyous.
Hard his heart who loves not in May,
When the birds their hearts display
In their sweet and moving song.
In that lovely season among
All things stirred thus by love
I dreamed that night I moved,
For I was aware in my sleep
The world did full morning keep,
And so I had risen from my bed,
Dressed, laved my hands and head,
Drawn a needle of silver, in haste,
From a fine little needle-case,
And threaded the needle, for I
Longed from the town to fly,
To hear the little birds singing,
Setting all the branches ringing,
In the freshness of the season.
So I stitched my sleeves in fashion,
And went wandering, quite alone,
Listening to the sweet birds’ tone,
For they full-throated so did sing,
Among the gardens flourishing.
JOYFUL, happy, with ne’er a sigh,
I turned towards the river, for I
Heard it murmuring quite near;
And I knew of naught so dear
Than the joy beside that stream,
Which descended, in my dream,
Deep and wide, from out the fell,
As clear and cold as from a well,
And noisy as a fountain; and then,
Twas little smaller than the Seine,
But spread more widely in its flow.
Not one so lovely did I know;
It filled my heart with delight
To gaze upon so sweet a sight,
So fine its course, so fair the place.
As I refreshed and cleansed my face,
In that clear and shining water,
I saw that all its bed, the deeper
Part, was cleanly paved with gravel.
The meadow, fair, wide and level,
Spread right to the river’s border.
Clear and pure, was the weather
And the morning, mild and fine.
So I walked; the path all mine,
Wandering along, downstream,
Following the bank, in my dream.
AS I advanced, the stream beside,
I found a garden, long and wide,
Closed by a wall, strong and tall.
High was the wall itself and square,
In lieu of a hedge, enclosing there
A garden, where no shepherd came
With his flock to mar the same.
This garden was set in a fair place.
Any who’d led me within, apace,
By means of a ladder or a stair,
Had known fair thanks, I declare.
For never such joy or such delight
Saw any man, I’ll answer quite,
As in that garden he might see.
That place of winged minstrelsy,
Was not some poor barren niche;
Ne’er was there any place so rich
In trees, so full of birds in song;
Three times as many were among
The branches as in all of France.
Fair harmonies they did advance;
So sweet their singing in the air,
That all the world in it should share.
And for my part I so joyed to hear
Their lovely song anoint my ear,
I’d not have ta’en a heap of gold,
To turn away from that sweet fold,
An if the way had been open wide,
To view, praise God, the birds inside,
That sang there, so melodiously,
And in such a charmed assembly,
The dance of love, in all its notes,
Prettily, from their sweet throats.
Hearing their harmonious singing,
I was almost mad with longing
Wondering what device or art
Might serve to penetrate its heart.
But nowhere could I find a place
Of entry, not one single trace;
For, know, I nowise knew, I say,
Of an opening, or passage-way
Through which I readily might go;
Nor was there any there to show
The means, for I was all alone,
Much distressed, and did groan;
Till I bethought me there was no
Fair garden made in this world so,
Without a door, to pass thereby,
Or opening, or ladder on high.
So I then advanced in haste
Making a compass of the place,
All about the square enclosure,
Until I found a fair embrasure,
A little gate, narrow and tight.
It was there alone a man might
Enter, so I knocked loudly there,
For I saw no other way to fare.
Source: Poetry in Translation
French text: Le Roman de la Rose
by Guillaume de Lorris (1200 - 1238)
Translated by A.S. Kline (© 2019)
A S. Kline is a poet, author and translator. He was born in 1947 and lives in England. He graduated in Mathematics from the University of Manchester, and was Chief Information Officer (Systems Director) of a large UK Company, before dedicating himself to his literary work and interests. His work consists of translations of poetry; critical works, biographical history with poetry as a central theme; and his own original poetry. He has translated into English from Latin, Ancient Greek, Classical Chinese and the European languages. Read more about him at https://tonykline.co.uk