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"Versions from Moliere"

Two Translations from act I, scene 1 of Moliere’s The Misanthrope

Tony Harrison (1973)

Disgusting! Every modish socialite
bends over backward to appear polite.
There’s nothing I loathe more than empty grins
and cringing grimaces and wagging chins,
politeness mongers, charmers with two faces,
dabblers in nonsensical fine phrases,
outvying one another in their little game
of praise-me-and-I’ll-praise-you. It’s all the same
if you’re idiot or hero. What’s the good
of friendship and respect if it’s bestowed
on any nincompoop and simpleton
your praiser-to-the-skies next happens on?
No! No! Not one right-thinking man, not one
‘d want such ten-a-penny honours done.
Glittering praise can lose its brilliance
when we see it shared with half of France.
Esteem’s based on a scale, it’s not much worse
praising nothing than the universe.

Richard Wilbur (1955)

No, no, this formula you’d have me follow,
However fashionable, is false and hollow,
And I despise the frenzied operations
Of all these barterers of protestations,
These lavishers of meaningless embraces,
These utterers of commonplaces,
Who court and flatter everyone on earth
And praise the fool no less than the man of worth.
Should you rejoice that someone fondles you,
Offers his love and service, swears to be true,
And fills your ears with praises of your name,
When to the first damned fop he’ll say the same?
No, no: no self-respecting heart would dream
Of prizing so promiscuous an esteem;
However high the praise, there’s nothing worse
Than sharing honors with the universe.

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