Francescae meae laudes, and some questions

So I’m attempting to translate Francescae meae laudes, a poem I previously regarded as impossible to translate – not because the language is particularly difficult but because the atmosphere, the ambiance, is difficult to carry across into English. Oh well, I’ll let Baudelaire himself explain why he wrote in Medieval Latin:

Ne semble-t-il pas au lecteur, comme à moi, que la langue de la dernière décadence latine – suprême soupir d’une personne robuste, déjà transformée et préparée pour la vie spirituelle – est singulièrement propre à exprimer la passion telle que l’a comprise et sentie le monde poétique moderne ? La mysticité est l’autre pôle de cet aimant dont Catulle et sa bande, poètes brutaux et purement épidermiques, n’ont connu que le pôle sensualité. Dans cette merveilleuse langue, le solécisme, le barbarisme me paraissent rendre les négligences forcées d’une passion qui s’oublie et se moque des règles. Les mots, pris dans une acception nouvelle, révèlent la maladresse charmante du barbare du nord, agenouillé devant la beauté romaine. Le calembour lui-même, quand il traverse ces pédantesques bégayements, ne joue-t-il pas la grâce sauvage et baroque de l’enfance ?

Doesn’t it seem to the reader, like to me, that the language of the last Latin decline(?) – final sigh of a hardy man, already transformed and prepared for spiritual life – is strangely appropriate to explain the passion that understood it and sensed the modern poetic world? Mysticism is the other pole of this magnet of which Catullus and his group, brutal and purely superficial poets, only knew the pole of sensuality. In this marvellous language, it seems to me that the solecisms, the barbarity make the oversights forced by a passion that forgets itself and that mocks roles. The words, taken in a new sense, reveal the charming clumsiness of the northern savage, kneeling before Roman beauty. The play on words itself, when it crosses these pedantic stutterings, doesn’t it play on the baroque and untamed charm of childhood?

So there you have it in my bad translation – Baudelaire wrote in Medieval Latin to express passion and spirituality at once. Personally I disagree with everything he wrote – I adore the way that Classical Latin is complex, sensual and spiritual (certain erotic poets such as Propertius – for those who aren’t classicists and are wondering why I’ve suddenly started talking about sex, erotic poets followed a different set of tropes and traditions from more recent love poets and so strictly speaking you’re not allowed to call them love poets – would incorporate prayer-forms into some of their poetry and almost venerate their puellae, or mistresses, at points, a tradition carried on from the lyric poet-critic-schollar Callimachus). And I don’t think that makes me particularly barbaric or superficial, especially as erotic poetry is chock-full of references to pretty much everything else in Greek and Roman culture. But hey, it’s a matter of taste…

…Anyway, the main problem with translating this poem isn’t the grammatical difficulty (although since it’s in Medieval rather than Classical Latin, my Lewis and Short had a little bit of a problem with it), it’s the ambiance. Firstly, it was written in Medieval Latin to express spirituality and passion. That is difficult, if not impossible, to carry into modern English, and so I decided on a macaronic English-Latin mixture to preserve as much of the spirituality as possible.

This brings me to the second problem: there is relatively little macaronic English-Latin poetry, and most of what’s there is humorous or satirical rather than serious. Now, add this to my never having tried to write a serious macaronic poem before (seriously, translating poetry can be like writing a whole new poem, especially if you’re being very liberal with it), and you have one hell of a problem on your hands.

So do any random commenters out there have any advice or experience with macaronic translations, or any advice for translating this poem in general? I don’t mind if the criticism is harsh, as long as it’s honest.


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