Ballade 37 from Other Ballades

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audio of Ballade 37 from Other Ballades
Maryann Corbett reads the poem in translation, Ballade 37 from Other Ballades by Christine de Pizan (translated from the Middle French.)

Ballade 37 from Other Ballades

      The Roman de la Rose was one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages. Its misogynistic outlook was the subject of an intense fourteenth-century debate, in which Christine fought hard in women’s defense.

      In Athens, centuries ago,
      lived men who were the very flower
      of learning. Yet with all they knew,
      all their keen reasoning, one error
      tripped them: their store of gods was broader
      than the One True one. Every preacher
      who came to school them ran, retreating,
      ill-served for trying to teach them better:
               You tell the truth, you risk a beating.

      Great Aristotle found it so
      when, versed in all the highest matter
      of science, he fled before the blow
      of error there. An even greater
      ill befell Socrates, that master
      of understanding, and many another
      suffered because of envy’s seething.
      Under the heavens nothing’s truer:
               You tell the truth, you risk a beating.

      Thus do the world’s opinions go.
      The quarrel it’s picked with me is bitter
      because its claims are baseless, low,
      and slick with calumny and slander.
      To young and old, I make my answer:
      The Romance of the Rose, that pleasure
      to gawkers? Only fit for burning!
      But speaking only makes it clearer:
               You tell the truth, you risk a beating.

      O Prince, truth is indeed a bother
      to liars in love with their own cheating.
      It’s why the son lies to his father:
               You tell the truth, you risk a beating.

original Middle French poem

Autres Balades : XXXVII

      Jadis avoit en la cité d’Athènes
      Fleur d’estude de clergie souvraine ;
      Mais, non obstant les sentences certaines
      De leur grant sens, une erreur trop vilaine
      Les decepvoit, car pluseurs divers dieux
      Aouroient, dont aucuns pour leur mieulx
      Y preschierent qu’ilz devoient savoir
      Qu’il n’est qu’un Dieu, mais mal en prist à cieux ;
      On est souvent batu pour dire voir.

      Aristote le très sage, aux haultaines
      Sciences prompt, d’ycelle cité, pleine
      De tel erreur, fu fuitis ; maintes peines
      Il en souffri Socrates qui fontaine
      De sens estoit ; fu chaciéde cil lieux
      Pluseurs autres occis des envieulx
      Pour verité dire, et apercevoir
      Peut bien chascun que partout soubz les cieulx
      On est souvent batu pour dire voir.

      Se ainsi va des sentences mondaines ;
      Pour ce le di que pluseurs ont ataine
      Sur moy, pour tant que paroles très vaines,
      Deshonnestes et diffame incertaine,
      Reprendre osay, en jeunes et en vieulx,
      Et le Romant, plaisant aux curieux,
      De la Rose, que l’en devroit ardoir !
      Mais pour ce mot maint me sauldroit aux yeux
      On est souvent batu pour dire voir.

      Princes, certes, voir dire est anyeux
      Aux mençongeurs qui veulent decevoir,
      Pour ce au pere voit on mentir le fieulx :
      On est souvent batu pour dire voir.