Étienne de la Boëtie

I bought a little book of French verse, published in 1942, during the war; the poems in it go right back to the eleventh century, and are present French poetry of eight hundred years. Unlike English, French does not seem to have altered greatly, and it is still readable although there are some different ways of spelling and some words which I cannot understand at all, not find what they mean. I guess there are items of eleventh century vocabulary which no longer exist in the modern world. However, they are charming, and speak eloquently across the years… I really believe that people do not fundamentally change, even though superficially they may seem to. people have always loved, and lost, and hated and been kind and been brave, and been cowards and been dishonest, and been good, and been loving…

This sonnet is by Étienne de la Boëtie who was born on June 1st 1530, and died a young man, on August 18th, 1563. He was a renowned judge and philosopher, poet and writer, and it is claimed that he had a major influence on, or even founded modern drench political philosophy. I think this poem begins ‘Today, the heat of the sun gilds the long hair of beautiful Cérès’. There are several words in the following verses which I don’t understand, and at the moment cannot find a translation; however it does not stop me enjoying this enchanting sonnet.

Ce jourd’huy du Soleil la chaleur alteree

Ce jourd’huy du Soleil la chaleur alteree
A jauny le long poil de la belle Ceres :
Ores il se retire ; et nous gaignons le frais,
Ma Marguerite et moy, de la douce seree,

Nous traçons dans les bois quelque voye esgaree :
Amour marche devant, et nous marchons apres.
Si le vert ne nous plaist des espesses forests,
Nous descendons pour voir la couleur de la pree ;

Nous vivons francs d’esmoy, et n’avons point soucy
Des Roys, ny de la cour, ny des villes aussi.
Ô Medoc, mon païs solitaire et sauvage,

Il n’est point de païs plus plaisant à mes yeux :
Tu es au bout du monde, et je t’en aime mieux ;
Nous sçavons apres tous les malheurs de nostre aage.


  1. Isabel Lunn

    Mick is a great fan of de la Boétie and when we visited Sarlat which is his birthplace he bought a book about him. Mick’s done a translation of the sonnet which he’s sending to you along with some notes about de la Boétie.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.