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DE EMS TAY L OR t I X

Translator’s Note I

N A PARIS BOOKSHOP about twenty-five years ago, I ran across a volume entitled Anthologie Libertine, ou La Fleur Française de la Satire Galante, a collection of upwards of two hundred pieces of light verse devoted mainly to that subject so dear to the Gallic heart, l’amour. A few date back to the fifteenth century, and one or two to the nineteenth; the majority, however, were written during the sixteenth, seven-teenth, and eighteenth centuries.

Those were the times of Henry IV, of Louis XIV and Louis XV; of Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard; of Pompadour and du Barry. Society centered about Fontainebleau and Versailles. It was an era not much more dissolute than our own, but very much more outspoken. Marriages were generally contracted for any but sentimental reasons, and it was taken almost for granted that husbands and wives would cheerfully cuckold one another.

Love-making was nothing to be taken very seriously. A gentleman entering his wife’s boudoir and hearing a sneeze from an adjoining closet would probably make a few observations concerning the deadliness of the current damp weather, and then courteously withdraw. The love poems of the day might be low on morality, but they abounded in imagination and good humor. Their day ended when nineteenth-century romanticism wiped the smile from the face of l’amour.

Some years ago I lent my volume of Anthologie Libertine to Edna St. Vincent Millay-and had a hard time getting it back. She was as enchanted with the poems as I was, and we both agreed that it was a pity there was no English translation. More recently I began translating some of the verses for my own amusement. Then, thinking back to that conversation with Miss Millay, it occurred to me that there might be others who would like to share the fun. Hence this book.

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