Heureux qui comme Ulysse

Joachim du Bellay
(1522 - 1560)

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage
Ou comme celui-là qui conquit la Toison,
Et puis est retourné plein d’usage et raison,
Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son âge!

Quand reverrai-je, hélas, de mon petit village
Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison
Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,
Qui m’est une province et beaucoup davantage?

Plus me plaît le séjour qu’ont bâti mes aïeux,
Que des palais romains le front audacieux,
Plus que le marbre dur me plaît l’ardoise fine.

Plus mon Loire gaulois que le Tibre latin,
Plus mon petit Liré que le mont Palatin,
Et plus que l’air marin la douceur angevine.

If you have traveled widely like Ulysses,
Or done great labors snatching Golden Fleeces
And then returned much wiser to your home,
Then you are blessed with more than I, alas, in Rome.

But I, when will I see again my village,
Smoke from the chimney floating over tillage,
My little orchard round the cottage plain?
It is my own duchy, my domain.

More pleases me my ancestors’ abode,
Than Roman palaces where mighty Caesars trod,
And I prefer thin slate to hardened marble,

And to the Latin Tiber – my Loire of Gaul,
To Mount Palatine – Liré, though it’s so small,
And sweet Angevine air to briny harbor.

Reading the Du Bellay translation at Yale with Robert Pinsky, US Poet Laureate, an event of his FPP (Favorite Poem Project)

My introduction to reading the translation of Joachim du Bellay, Arts and Ideas Festival, June 15, 2008, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

I am told that I am the only participant in this event who does not live in CT. So, who am I and why am I here? This has to do with the theme of my selected poem – “historic homeland.” CT was the first place where we settled when we came to the United States. This was 30 years ago this past D-Day. Prior to that we lived in the Soviet Union and it was a cage from which you could not travel anywhere. When an opportunity to emigrate from the cage arose in the seventies, an emigration application for Jews was supposed to contain the following bureaucratic formula: “I am applying for an exit visa to travel to my historic homeland, the State of Israel, for permanent residence.”

Thirty years and many moves later, a number of places can claim to be a “historic homeland” for our family. The first home in the West, the first home in America, the first home in Massachusetts. Indeed, a trip to St. Petersburg Russia twenty-five years after emigrating showed that my birthplace has also become a “historic homeland” for me. I have seen many countries and made it a point to learn the language of each country before going there. It’s still a miracle, however, to come to a new place, to hear a new language, to be a citizen of the big world. And yet, I have often thought about the changeable and elusive meaning of the word “homeland.”

When a close friend was celebrating his fiftieth birthday and invited artistic contributions as gifts, I knew that his son was planning to marry a French girl from Angers, the old capital of the Anjou region. Yet another “historic homeland” for his family, I thought. I decided to find a poem where Anjou would play this role. Du Bellay, a native of Anjou, abundantly obliged. My gift was a translation of his sonnet into English. (I admit to not have stringently followed the Italian sonnet format.) Ironically, du Bellay’s exile was in Rome, a place I consider one of my homelands. That is where we were waiting for several months as refugees before entering America.