Of the Fair Breast
by Clement Marot (1496-1544)
Translated by Norman R. Shapiro
Breast, whiter than an egg, and quite
As smooth as satin, fresh and white;
Breast that would shame the rose; plump Breast,
Of all things known, the loveliest;
Firm Breast; indeed, not Breast at all;
Rather, a small, round ivory ball,
And in the middle, a cherry placed,
Or berry, and with such beauty graced
That, though I neither touch nor see
It bare, I vow such must it be.
Breast red-tipped; Breast taut, and that never
Waggles about, whithersoever,
Coming or going, running, leaping;
Left Breast—coy, sweet—your distance keeping,
Properly, from your mate, discreet.
Breast that reflects, from top to teat,
The body whole of your possessor!
Ah! Were I but her breast-caresser!
Many’s the man that, when he sees you,
Tingles with lust to hold and squeeze you;
But he must rein his appetite,
Never draw near lest soon he might
Burn with a fire quite otherwise!
O Breast of perfect shape and size,
Alluring Breast, who, night and day,
Cry: ‘‘Find me a husband, quick, I pray!’’
Breast swelling full and comely; Breast
Quick to add inches to her chest;
Ah! Right the man who says that he
Is blest who fills you generously
With milk, to turn you, ma petite,
From virgin’s Breast to Breast complete.
Epigrammes, I, lxxix
ma petite means my baby or my sweetheart
Clement Marot (1496-1544) is a French Poet considered by many to be a bridge between the medieval and renaissance periods. Renaissance poets drew from classical Greek and Latin traditions and attempted to innovate within those confines.
Among Shapiro's translations of Marot's poetry are two contrasting poems, "Of the Fair Breast" and "Of the Ugly Breast." None of Marot's sharp satirical humor is lost in Shapiro's versions. I have posted below the first poem.
Shapiro, who has been a professor at Wesleyan for the past 40 years, has translated this poem effortlessly just as it flows from the pen.
Painting by Titian Vecellio (1477-1576)
Source :, Norman Shapiro - Lyrics of the French Renaissance_ Marot, Du Bellay, Ronsard : Yale University Press (2002)