Along with writing beautiful poetry, Eli Siegel also translated many poems from various languages—including several fables in verse by La Fontaine. As a person who has, on occasion, “built castles in Spain” in my imagination (and who hasn’t?), I love the critical perception of humanity that’s in this wonderful French poem, and the music in Mr. Siegel’s English translation.
Here’s how the poem begins:
The Milkmaid and the Pot of Milk, By Jean de La Fontaine
Translation by Eli Siegel
Perrette, having a pot of milk on her head,
Well-placed on a little cushion,
Thought how she would come without hindrance to the town.
In a light and short dress, she went with long strides,
Having put on that day, so that she would be more nimble,
A simple petticoat and flat shoes.
Our milkmaid so attired
Counted already in her thought
The price she got for her milk; used the money;
Bought a hundred eggs; had a triple brood of chickens.
Everything went well because of her constant care.
It is, she said, easy for me
To raise chickens about my house.
The fox will be very clever
If he doesn’t leave me enough to have a pig.
The porker to become fat won’t take much bran;
He was, when I got him, of reasonable weight:
I will have, when I sell him, fine and good money.
And who can stop me from putting in our stable,
Seeing how much money I will have, a cow and her calf,
Whom I will see leap about in the midst of a herd?