emily dickinson
Emily Dickinson

My Poetry Review of Emily Dickinson’s A Precious, Mouldering Pleasure ‘t is receives more hits daily on my blog than any post and is the second result on Google for this search of over 9,000 results. (see Further Readings) Why is this poem so loved?

In A Precious, Mouldering Pleasure ‘t is, Dickinson alludes to great writers of the past such as Plato, Sophocles, Sappho, Beatrice, and Dante and signifies the sadness that one feels when a good story comes to an end as well as when a good writer’s life comes to an end.  She reassures us, however, that the writer’s legacy and voice will live on through their stories.

This blog post is my first attempt to translate a poem from English to French..   I chose Dickinson’s poem to translate in order to dig deeper into her imagery, double entendre, her great play on words, and personification. For example, how does one “meet a book”? Which French verb do I use to convey this meaning? To use the common verb of meeting as in two familiar friends, one uses se rencontrer. But Dickinson is meeting a book for the first time; being introduced to it.  Fortunately, rencontrer also gives the meaning “to get to know”, which I believe was her intent in the poem as well as our intent when we first open the pages.

A second example is the line “He lived where dreams were born”.  The verb “to live” can be translated to reside, to be alive, to exist, to survive…etc.  I chose vivre as in “to exist” as I believe the authors and poets still exist in their works today. So fun!

I believe this poem is so well loved because we can all relate to her experience of reading great classics in literature and prose and how these works become a part of you!

[As in all my translated works, I welcome corrections and suggestions from my French speaking friends around the world who read my posts.]


shakesp 1
Reading “A Moveable Feast” Shakespeare & Co (8/14)

 A Precious, Mouldering Pleasure ‘t is by Emily Dickinson

A precious, mouldering pleasure ’t is
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,

His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.

His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;

What interested scholars most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty,
And Sophoclès a man;

When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified.
Facts, centuries before,

He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town
And tell you all your dreams were true:
He lived where dreams were born.

His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.

My translation to French:

C’est un moulant précieux et un plaisir
Pour rencontrer un livre ancien,
Dans les vêtements de l’époque ;
Un privilège, je pense,

Sa main vénérable à prendre,
Et chauffant dans le nôtre,
Un passage précédent, ou deux, pour faire
À des moments où il était jeune.

Ses opinions originales pour inspecter,
Ses connaissances à dévoiler
Sur ce qui concerne notre intention mutuelle,
La littérature ancienne ;

Ce qui était le plus intéressant pour les savants,
Quelles compétitions
Quand Platon était une certitude,
Et Sophoclès un homme ;

Quand Sappho était une fille vivante,
Et Béatrice portait
La robe que Dante déifiait.
Les faits, des siècles précédents,

Il traverse familièrement,
Comme on devrait venir à la ville
Et il vous dit que tous vos rêves étaient vrais :
Il a vécu où les rêves sont nés.

Sa présence est un enchantement,
Vous le priez de ne pas aller ;
Les tomes anciens secouent la tête de vélin
Et tourmente, comme vous voulez.

Further Readings :


Copyright 2016 by Robyn Lowrie.  May be quoted in part or full with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)