Muses, if praises you sing, I recommend that you
Extol Champlain for his courage:
Not fearing danger, he has seen so many places
His reports are pleasing to our ears.
He has seen Peru, Mexico and the wonder
Of the infernal Vulcan that spews so much fire;
And the falls of Mocosa, that offend the eye
Of those who dare to see their unequalled cascade.
He promises us to venture further still,
Convert the heathens and find the Levant.
Heading North or South to go to China.
Charitably ‘tis all for the love of God.
Bah! Cowards who never move from one place to another!
Their lives, honestly, strike me as narrow.
Translated January 2021 by Jonathan Kaplansky
Click here to see the poem in its original French language form.
Source of original poem: Dow, Charles Mason. Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls , Albany: State of New York, 1921
Originally published: Champlain, Samuel de. Des sauvages ou Voyage de Samuel Champlain De Brouage, fait en la France Nouvelle l’an mil six cens trois, 1604
From Dow: “It is an interesting fact that the first book printed in Europe which contains a reference to Niagara Falls, should also contain this sonnet in which allusion is made to the Falls. The sonnet follows the dedication. The old spelling of the original is followed in the quotation. Research has not revealed any information regarding the author.” vol, 2, p693
From the 1899 book Old Trails on the Niagara Frontier by Frank Hayward Severance (p. 276-277): “The poetry of Niagara Falls is contemporary with the first knowledge of the cataract among civilized men. One may make this statement with positiveness, inasmuch as the first book printed in Europe which mentions Niagara Falls contains a poem in which allusion is made to that wonder … It seems proper, in quoting this first of all Niagara poems, to follow as closely as may be in modern type the archaic spelling of the original … I regret that some further research has failed to discover any further information regarding the poet De La Franchise. Obviously, he took rather more than the permissible measure of poet’s licence in saying that Champlain had seen Peru, a country far beyond the known range of Champlain’s travels. But in the phrase “les saults Mocosans,” the falls of Mocosa, we have the ancient name of the undefined territory afterwards labeled “Virginia.” The intent of the allusion is made plainer by Marc Lescarbot, who in 1610 wrote a poem in which he speaks of “great falls which the Indians say they encounter in ascending the St. Lawrence as far as the neighbourhood of Virginia.” The allusion can only be to Niagara.”
Jonathan Kaplansky works as a literary translator of French in Montreal. He won a
French Voices Award to translate Annie Ernaux’s Things Seen (La vie extérieure), and
recently translated a book by Jean-Pierre Le Glaunec: The Cry of Vertières: Liberation,
Memory, and the Beginning of Haiti.