Théophile de Viau: To Sleep (From French)

The image of death as a kind of protracted sleep, and sleep as "but the picture" of death, is a near-universal one, familiar to readers of French and English poetry alike ("Death be not proud...", "For in that sleep of death..." etc.) as well as readers of Latin (Lucretius' famous passage, Vergil's consanguineus Leti sopor), Persian, Arabic, Greek, Chinese, Hebrew and quite possibly every other poetic tradition on earth. Théophile, ever the realist in a classicizing world, turns the cliché on its head.
The recording of the original French is in a reconstruction of pronunciation used by the upper classes of early 17th century Paris. 

To Sleep
By Théophile de Viau (1590 – 1626)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in 17th century French

Sleep! Father of dreams and minister of ease,
Why call you death's image? You are not so. 
The versifiers wronged you long ago,
Passing that off for truth with falsities.

We should tell how you plunge us into peace
Where the mind is so sweetly reft away
That you prolong the pleasure of a day
Rather than cut it short with Fate's caprice.

O rapturing dreams! That moment in the head
When Love set all my senses in your thrall,
I had Élise all naked in my bed!

Sleep! They who made you Image of demise,
Drew Death not having known him with their eyes.
His portrait does not look like him at all.


The Original:

Ministre du repos, sommeil père des songes,
Pourquoy t'a t'on nommé l'Image de la mort ?
Que ces faiseurs de vers t'ont jadis fait de tort,
De le persuader avecques leurs mensonges !

Faut-il pas confesser qu'en l'aise où tu nous plonges,
Nos esprits sont ravis par un si doux transport
Qu'au lieu de raccourcir, à la faveur du sort,
Les plaisirs de nos jours, sommeil, tu les alonges.

Dans ce petit moment, ô songes ravissans,
Qu'amour vous a permis d'entretenir mes sens,
J'ay tenu dans mon lict Elise toute nue.

Sommeil, ceux qui t'ont fait l'Image du trespas,
Quand ils ont peint la mort ils ne l'ont point connue
Car vrayment son portraict ne luy ressemble pas.

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