Prologue to “Lais” by Marie de France

Whoever gets knowledge from God, science,
and a talent for speech, eloquence,
Shouldn’t shut up or hide away;
No, that person should gladly display.
When everyone hears about some great good
Then it flourishes as it should;
When folks praise it at full power,
Then the good deed’s in full flower.
Among the ancients it was the tradition
(On this point we can quote Priscian)

When they wrote their books in the olden day
What they had to say they’d obscurely say.
They knew that some day others would come
And need to know what they’d written down;
Those future readers would gloss the letter,
Add their own meaning to make the book better.
Those old philosophers, wise and good,
Among themselves they understood
Mankind, in the future tense,
Would develop a subtler sense
Without trespassing to explore
What’s in the words, and no more.

Whoever wants to be safe from vice
Should study and learn (heed this advice)
And undertake some difficult labor;
Then trouble is a distant neighbor–
From great sorrows one can escape.
Thus my idea began to take shape:
I’d find some good story or song
To translate from Latin into our tongue;
But was the prize worth the fight?
So many others had already tried it.
Then I thought of the lais I’d heard;
I had no doubt, I was assured
They’d been composed for memory’s sake
About real adventures–no mistake:
They heard the tale, composed the song,
Sent it forth. They didn’t get it wrong.
I’ve heard so many lais, I would regret
Letting them go, letting people forget.
So I rhymed them and wrote them down aright.
Often my candle burned late at night.

In your honor, noble king,
Whose might and courtesy make the world ring–
All joys flow from you or run to you,
Whose heart is the root of every virtue–
For you these lais I undertook,
To bring them together, rhymed, in this book.
In my heart I always meant
To offer you this, my present.
Great joy to my heart you bring
If you accept my offering–
I’ll be glad forever and a day!
Please don’t think that I say
This from conceit–pride’s not my sin.
Just listen now, and I’ll begin.

From: http://people.clas.ufl.edu/jshoaf/files/prologue.pdf

Date: 12th century (original); 1992 (translation)

By: Marie de France (12th century)

Translated by: Judith P. Shoaf (19??- )

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