Tag Archives: translation

‘The Swan’ by Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.

I am so sad that my German is non-existent, apart from the odd greeting or pleasantry. I would so love to be able to read and understand this poem in its original language, but for now Bly’s superb translation will have to do.

From what I can tell, this translation is brilliant. It reads very seamlessly, and I love the attention to the sounds as well as to the accuracy of meaning — particularly in the first line, where I love the assonance of “This clumsy living that moves lumbering”. Translating a poem is not an easy task; a poem is such a complex, loaded thing. It is not like holding up a mirror, but rather creating a new poem that captures the essence of the original, losing neither meaning, implied meaning, tone nor beauty. It seems an almost impossible task.

Rilke’s poem describes the clumsiness of swans as they walk, and then compares it to when the swan “lets himself down/ into the water”, and is suddenly transformed into the embodiment of grace. Although on land swans lumber “as if in ropes” and are terribly “awkward”, on the water, a swan is one of the most graceful sights on this earth.

Rilke takes this image and uses it to suggest that Man is like the clumsy swan in life — stumbling along as if in the dark — and that in death (“which is letting go/ of the ground we stand on and cling to every day” ) Man might be like the swan on water. On water, the swan is “pleased to be carried”, and “more like a king, further and further on”. I think this is a very beautiful, inspiring and comforting image.

The Swan reminds me of Baudelaire’s poem, ‘L’albatros’ (‘The Albatross’), which uses a very similar image to evoke an idea of the nature of the artist. More on that tomorrow…

P.S. If any of you speak German, please let me know what you think of Bly’s translation. Is there anything that you would have done differently?

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh

‘Chanson d’automne’ (‘Autumn Song’) by Paul Verlaine

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

 

Here is my translation of this autumnal poem by Verlaine:

The long sobs
Of violins
Of autumn
Wound my heart
With a monotonous
Languor.

All suffocating
And pale, when
The hour chimes,
I remember
The old days
And I weep.

And I go off
In the cold wind
Which carries me
Hither, thither,
As a
Dead leaf.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh

‘Avec le temps’ by Leo Ferre

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
On oublie le visage et l’on oublie la voix
Le coeur, quand ça bat plus, c’est pas la peine d’aller
Chercher plus loin, faut laisser faire et c’est très bien

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
L’autre qu’on adorait, qu’on cherchait sous la pluie
L’autre qu’on devinait au détour d’un regard
Entre les mots, entre les lignes et sous le fard
D’un serment maquillé qui s’en va faire sa nuit
Avec le temps tout s’évanouit

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
Même les plus chouettes souvenirs, ça, t’as une de ces gueules
A la gallerie j’farfouille dans les rayons d’la mort
Le samedi soir quand la tendresse s’en va toute seule

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
L’autre à qui l’on croyait pour un rhume, pour un rien
L’autre à qui l’on donnait du vent et des bijoux
Pour qui l’on eût vendu son âme pour quelques sous
Devant quoi l’on s’traînait comme traînent les chiens
Avec le temps, va, tout va bien

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
On oublie les passions et l’on oublie les voix
Qui vous disaient tout bas les mots des pauvres gens
Ne rentre pas trop tard, surtout ne prends pas froid
Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
Et l’on se sent blanchi comme un cheval fourbu
Et l’on se sent glacé dans un lit de hasard
Et l’on se sent tout seul peut-être mais peinard
Et l’on se sent floué par les années perdues, alors vraiment
Avec le temps on n’aime plus

These are the lyrics to one of my very favourite French songs, ‘Avec le temps’ (In Time) and for me, it is absolutely poetry. Leo Ferre (1916-1993) was a prominent singer in France from the 50s right up the the 1980s.

This song is about how love can dissipate with time. As time passes, says the song, our love and passion can often wilt and finally die. However, it is the manner in which Ferre sings the song (as I hope you will see if you watch the video below) that I find absolutely hypnotic. His expression is so poetical; you can really feel the import of each word as he sings it (and each word is so loaded). What I love most about this song is near the end when he sings “et on se sent tout seul peut etre, mais PEINARD!” I love the way he cries out — almost shouts — that word, peinard, which means “comfortable” or “hunky dory”. Paradoxically, the singer’s indignation at the death of his passion seems to spark an incredible anger and passion, which he uses to express what has happened.

I just think that this is an incredible song, with wonderfully poetical lyrics. I have tried to translate it below, but I found it a very hard task and am still not happy with it. However, I don’t think that it matters too much; the best thing really is to read the translation to have the meaning, and then listen to the song to really hear the poetry. I hope that you enjoy this as much as I do!

 

My translation

In time …
In time, it goes, everything goes away.
We forget the face and we forget the voice,
The heart, when it stops beating, there’s no point
Searching any further, you must let it go and that’s good.

In time…
In time, it goes, everything goes away.
The Other, who we adored, who we searched for in the rain;
The Other, who we guessed with one look,
Between words, between the lines and beneath the make-up
Of a masked vow, who goes off for the night…
In time, everything vanishes

In time …
In time, it goes, everything goes away,
Even the best memories, the most incredible ones,
In the cheap shops I search the aisles of death,
On Saturday evening, when tenderness disappears.

In time…
In time, it goes, everything goes,
The Other, who we believed for silly reasons,
Tho Other, who we gave nothing and jewels,
For whom we would have sold our soul for a few pennies,
Who we followed around like dogs do,
In time, it goes; everything’s fine.

In time …
In time, it goes, everything goes.
We forget the passions and we forget the voices
Which whispered the words of poor people:
“Don’t stay out too late, and, especially, don’t catch cold.”

In time…
In time, it goes, everything goes away.
And we feel pale and grey like an old horse
And we feel frozen in a bed of chance,
And we feel all alone, perhaps, but comfortable.
And we feel fooled by the lost years

So, really,
In time we don’t love any more.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh