Angel / Un Ange Louise Labé, Épître
Sonnets, Élégies, Épitres...
baptiste.coulmont@nyu.edu
English
"To Mademoiselle Clemence de Bourges of Lyon

  •       The time having come, Mademoiselle, when the stern laws of men no longer bar women from devoting themselves to the sciences and disciplines, it seems to me that those who are able ought to employ this honorable liberty, which our sex formerly desired so much, in studying these things and show men the wrong they have done us in depriving us of the benefit and the honor which might have come to us. And if anyone reaches the stage at which she is able to put her ideas into writing, she should do it with much thought and should not scorn the glory, but adorn herself with this rather than with chains, rings, and sumptuous clothes, which we are not really able to regard as ours except by custom. But the honor which knowledge will bring us cannot be taken from us - not by the cunning of a thief, not by the violence of enemies, not by the duration of time.

          If I had been so blessed by heaven as to have a mind great enough to understand whatever it desired, I would furnish an example in this regard rather than an admonition. But having spent part of my youth in the practice of music and having found the time remaining to me too brief for the rude nature of my understanding, not being able myself to do justice to the goodwill I bear for our sex - to see it not only in beauty but in knowledge and eminence surpass or equal men - I cannot do otherwise than beg excellent Ladies to raise their minds a little above their distaffs and spindles and to exert themselves to make it clear to the world that, if we are not to command, we ought not to be disdained as companions in domestic and public affairs by those who govern and command obedience.

          And in addition to the recognition that our sex will gain by this, we will have furnished the public with a reason for men to devote more study and labor to the humanities lest they might be ashamed to see us surpass them when they have always pretended to be superior in nearly everything.

          For this reason, we must inspire one another in so worthy an undertaking from which you should not spare your intellect, already accompanied by many different graces, nor your youth and other favors of fortune, to acquire the honor which literature and the sciences are accustomed to bring those persons who follow them.

          If there is something worthy of respect after glory and honor, the pleasure which literary study usually gives us ought to move everyone of us to action. This pleasure is distinct from other diversions. When one has indulged in them for as long as one wants, one cannot boast of anything except having passed the time. But study rewards us with pleasure all its own which remains with us longer. For the pat delights us and serves us better than the present, but the pleasures of the senses are immediately lost and never return, and sometimes the memory of them is as disagreeable as the acts were delectable.

          Moreover, the other sensual pleasures are such that whatever memory of them comes to us cannot put us back in the frame of mind we were in. And however strong the impression of them we have fixed in our minds, we know well that it is nothing but a shadow of the past which deceives and betrays us. But when we put our thoughts into writing, even if afterwards our minds race through no end of distractions and are constantly agitated, nevertheless, returning much later to what we have written, we find ourselves at the same point and in the same state of mind we were in before. then we redouble our happiness, because we regain the past pleasure we had in what we were writing, or in understanding the sciences to which we were devoting ourselves. Furthermore, the judgment which our second impression makes of the first gives us a singular satisfaction.

          These two advantages which come from writing ought to spur you on, assured as you are that the first will not fail to accompany what you write, as it does all your other actions and your way of life. The second will be yours to take or refuse, depending on whether your writing please you.

          As for me, in writing these works of my youth to begin with, and after reviewing them later, I did not seek anything but an honorable pastime and a way to escape idleness, and I did not intend that anyone other than myself should ever see them. but since some of my friends found a way to read them without my knowing anything about it, and (thus we easily believe those who praise us) since they have persuaded me that I should bring them to light, I was not so bold as to refuse them. But I did threaten to make them drink half the measure of shame which would be the result.

          And because women do not willingly appear alone in public, I have chosen you to serve as my guide, dedicating this little work to you. I do not send it to you for any purpose other than to assure you of the goodwill I have borne you for a long time and to make you, seeing this roughly and badly written work of mine, long to create another which might be more polished and more elegant.

    God keep you in good health.
    From Lyon, July 24, 1555
    Your humble friend,

    Louise Labe"

    translated by Jeanne Prinne. It is item #20 in a collection of excerpts from Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation (1987), edited by Katherina M. Wilson.

    http://mh105.infi.net/~ddisse/labe.html

  • Ecole normale supérieure