Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"You aren't serious when you're seventeen"

In a desperate attempt to avoid facing our German class tonight, I'm joining Brandon in translating a French poem by Arthur Rimbaud.


You aren't serious when you're seventeen.
-A fine night, no need of beer or lemonade,
The raucous cafes with such brilliant sheen!
-You stroll underneath the green lime tree's shade.

The lime trees smell sweet in the sweet nights of June!
The air softly perfumed, your eyes closed but clear;
The breeze charged with noise - the city it looms -
The scents of the vine and the scents of the beer...


Suddenly you see a small scrap of deep blue,
Night sky framed with branches which drape like a pall,
Pricked by a cruel star which melts away to
the sweetest of shivers, cold, white, and small.

Night in June! Seventeen! Drink deep of bliss!
You've tapped the champagne and your head starts to spin...
You're crazy; that buzz on your lips is a kiss
which tingles and throbs like a gnat on your skin.


Your heart's castaway on the shores of romance,
Then, in the pool of pale streetlamp aglow,
Passes a minx with an air that enchants,
Tucked 'neath her daddy's grim collar's shadow.

And, as she finds you just too-too naive,
As she trots past with the tap of a schoolgirlish boot
She turns, alert, lithe, alive -- a new Eve,
And she plucks the tune off of your lips like a fruit...


You're in love. Up until August you waste.
You're in love. Your sonnets she greets with a yawn.
Your friends are all bored with your terrible taste,
Then one night -- bright angel -- she deigns to respond!

That night -- you go back to the cafe's harsh sheen
You call for the beer and the lemonade.
You aren't serious when you're seventeen
And the green lime trees line the promenade.

Here's the original French.


Brandon said...

I was wondering what you'd do with the Robinsonne! 'Is castaway' brings out a very nice side of it, particularly since you linked it to 'romance'; I've tended to focus on the 'novel' side of the image, but you are certainly right that the castaway aspect is part of what is being brought into play here.

I found aglow/shadow a little jarring on first (silent) reading, but, reading it aloud, I don't think it causes a problem for the ear, which is what matters most in poetry. (I think it works on reading aloud in part because it's a consonant-heavy line, so it slows the reader down, and individual stresses become less important.)

'She turns, alert, lithe, alive -- a new Eve' is an excellent line.

mrsdarwin said...

Aglow/shadow isn't a rhyme I'm proud of, but I had to keep tinkering with that section to find a rhyme. (I'm ashamed, but I had to consult a rhyming dictionary.) I really wanted to use the phrase "grim paternal collar" for the fourth line in the stanza, but I just couldn't work up a rhythm that fit within the line.

The Eve reference started off, as with most things here, with trying to find a rhyme both for "naive" and "boots". "Eve" and "fruit" seemed the most apt rhyme, and fit within the sense of the thing, even if it's my own gloss.

I liked the way you worked the Robinson reference in as a verb (also liked "Crusoeing" in the other translation), but it wasn't doing for me, so I went with the sense. I think a lot of my translation is a bit of a reach, but I figure that everyone is going to do something different with their take. Yours is, as always, more elegant and poetic.

Talking translation shop is one of the greatest pleasures of doing the work, I think.

Brandon said...

I have occasionally used a rhyming dictionary myself; sometimes you just know there's a possible rhyme you're missing. 'Grim paternal collar' would have been nice, although that line ends up pulling in so much at once that it doesn't give much room to maneuver. (You'd have to reorganize the entire stanza, I think, rather than doing a line-by-line.)

In poetry, unlike prose, a translation is always a 'new poem inspired by...', so there's always a balance between trying to convey the original and tryiing to make the poem work on its own.

I agree about talking shop being one of the pleasures of translating; translating poetry is a very craftsman-like activity, and while this is true of original poetry, as well, it's much more obviously so for translating, because you have an exemplar that needs to be analyzed and paralleled.

bearing said...

Here is mine, since you called.


Thanks for the challenge!

bearing said...

Reading yours now. We both went with the buzzing insect kiss, I see.

I love your second-to-last stanza the most. Your friends are all bored with your terrible taste is perfect. I was a little stuck on how it says you ARE bad taste instead of you HAVE terrible taste, but you very neatly solved that problem. Bravo!

bearing said...

Have you ever read Le Ton Beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter?

mrsdarwin said...

I have, and I enjoyed all the different takes on Ma Mignonne, but his style eventually became a bit much. I'd borrowed the book from a friend and had to return it eventually.

This informal translation club that springs up every year or so is a great deal of fun. Did you try your hand at the bit from Cyrano de Bergerac that Brandon and I worked on?

Also, Le Ton Beau de Marot came up in response to one of Brandon's Latin translation posts:

bearing said...

Something ate my earlier post. I'll try again.

I've got translation on my mind a lot these days as I think about how to structure the fourth year of high school Latin here. I'm reading some books about translation -- a college text by Mona Baker, essays by Umberto Eco, an anthology of essays by working contemporary translators. I'd love to chat some more about the choices made while working through Roman as it's lots of fun. I'm glad I attacked it first without looking at anyone's attempts, and I like the choices made for my own reasons.

I never attempted to translate the Cyrano, but it did inspire me to get a paperback and try to read it. It's quite difficult French, a little too difficult to be light reading, and so it joined the pile of unfinished French novels and plays on my bookshelf-turned-nightstand. (Along with Becket, which I really do mean to finish at some point.)

I really ought to sign up for one of the book-reading-groups at the Alliance Française one of these days, with my copious spare time.

I actually just bought a contemporary French novel, Nymphéas Noirs by Michel Bussi, for the entirely insufficient reason that I heard a review of the English translation on NPR while driving the other day. It should arrive in a couple of days. We shall see if it is any good. At any rate, it's contemporary, some kind of murder mystery. Sometime I'd like, too, to revisit the novels I read in my French literature classes in college, some of which were quite challenging, but at the time it wasn't so hard because they were being taught to me (in French) and I was having to keep up and really understand them so I could, you know, write essays about them, in French. Let me know if you ever feel like doing the read-along thing again, like you did with Maria Chapdelaine...

mrsdarwin said...

I'd love to do a follow-up post on translation choices, although at this point it may have to wait until after the Confirmation on Saturday. It would probably only be of interest to the people in this comment thread, but you know what the advantage of having your own blog is? You can write whatever you please, heh heh.

I'm working very slowly through La Force du Silence by Robert Cardinal Sarah. It's not a difficult book to read, language-wise, but translation does take a bit of time. The real hang-up, though, is that it's on the Kindle, and despite having a built in French dictionary (I just tap the word), I do not love reading on a Kindle and find it hard to remember to pick it up again, or charge it when necessary.

bearing said...

It didn't occur to me that there would be a built in French dictionary on Kindle books. I will have to try that and see if it helps. But I'm with you, I don't like reading on the Kindle, and only use it if I get the itch to read something RIGHT THIS MINUTE.