Poetry in translation 2018 : winning entries
Alex McGovern, St Edmund’s School, Canterbury
|Triste, triste par Jules Laforgue
Je contemple mon feu. J’étouffe un bâillement.
Je songe à notre Terre, atome d’un moment,
Et notre sort! Toujours la même comédie,
L’Univers nous reprend, rien de nous ne subsiste,
|Sad, sad by Jules Laforgue
I contemplate my fire. I stifle a yawn.
I sing to our Earth, atom of a moment,
And our fate! Always the same comedy,
The Universe takes us back, nothing of us remains,
Reflections on the Translation Process
When I read a poem, I do not normally scratch far beneath the surface of the words to uncover the thought process and true meaning of what is being written. However, this task forced me to do just that – and how glad I was to do so. I knew this task would be challenging, because not only do you need to translate the words, but you have to also understand what idea the poet is trying to get across, and you have to reorder the words to allow this idea to be understood. This task did not only teach me new French vocabulary, but I also learnt some new English words, such as ‘inexorably’ and ‘ritornello’. This task allowed me to appreciate poetry, whether French or English, much more, which is an invaluable lesson that I shall take away from this. What I found most difficult was getting my head around the French idioms and metaphors – things that we take for granted as English speakers, not realising that when we say ‘it is raining cats and dogs’, for example, a foreign speaker may take that literally! In the phrase ‘le vent pleure’, it took me a while to realise that it wasn’t my knowledge of vocabulary that was playing with my head, but it was instead the metaphor of wind crying, something which I would have noticed immediately as a metaphor in English, but not necessarily in French. This competition has benefited me in a number of ways, and it has planted in me a love for poetry, in whatever language, which I hope will continuously grow.