Poetry in translation 2018 : winning entries

Poetry in translation 2018 : winning entries

June 6, 2018 Competitions Poetry in Translation 0



Alex McGovern, St Edmund’s School, Canterbury

Triste, triste par Jules Laforgue

Je contemple mon feu. J’étouffe un bâillement.
Le vent pleure. La pluie à ma vitre ruisselle.
Un piano voisin joue une ritournelle.
Comme la vie est triste et coule lentement.

Je songe à notre Terre, atome d’un moment,
Dans l’infini criblé d’étoiles éternelles,
Au peu qu’ont déchiffré nos débiles prunelles,
Au Tout qui nous est clos inexorablement.

Et notre sort! Toujours la même comédie,
Des vices, des chagrins, le spleen, la maladie,
Puis nous allons fleurir les beaux pissenlits d’or.

L’Univers nous reprend, rien de nous ne subsiste,
Cependant qu’ici-bas tout continue encor.
Comme nous sommes seuls! Comme la vie est triste!

Sad, sad by Jules Laforgue

I contemplate my fire. I stifle a yawn.
The wind cries. The rain streams against my window.
Next door a piano plays a ritornello.
How life is sad and flows slowly.

I sing to our Earth, atom of a moment,
In the infinite riddled with eternal stars,
To the few that have deciphered our feeble eyes,
To all that is inexorably closed to us.

And our fate! Always the same comedy,
Of vices, of sorrows, the melancholy, the illness,
Then we will bloom the beautiful golden dandelions.

The Universe takes us back, nothing of us remains,
But here everything still continues.
How alone we are! How sad is life!

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.

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