Friday, 4 April 2014

Day 3: Eight Versions of Jules Supervielle

Wrote this yesterday but didn't have time to post it.

What does it mean to translate poetry? It can't be a case of simply finding dictionary equivalents for all the words. (The same is true for any kind of translation, of course.) If we focus on the 'meaning' of the words, we lose the form. If we try too hard to keep the rhyme scheme at all costs, we risk sounding trite and/or changing the semantic content considerably. The inextricable nature of form and content has led many people to say that translating poetry is impossible. But then, translating any work of literature is impossible if by translating we mean 'copying exactly'. The translator has to think harder and further than this. How might this poem be reimagined in the language I am translating into? A good translation will be a new work of art in its own right.
To show how any one translation is always provisional, always only one of a near-infinite number of possible versions, for Day 3 I have translated the same four lines of Jules Supervielle's 'Regrets de France' eight times. Some of these are quite playful, even silly. Translation needs to move away from its tired old subservient position and learn how to have fun.

Here's the original:

La lune dans l’étang
Se souvient d’elle-même,
Veut se donner pour thème
A son enchantement,

And now my versions:

The moon in the pool
Remembers herself,
Wants to offer herself as a theme
To her enchantment


In the tarn the moon
Comes back to herself,
Longs to offer the tune
Of herself to her own sung spell,


La lune / the lagoon
Se souvient d’/ herself,
Wants / son enchantement
                        to translate her into a foreign tongue


Moon               lagoon
self                   recalls
enthralls           self
self                   importunes

for self-hewn tunes

5 (a homophonic translation - see some other examples here and here.)

Marooned on the tongue
So soothing yet tell men
Verse head on, nay, poor time
Assonant shunt ‘em on.


The moon mid-water
Remembers herself,
Seeks to set herself as subject
For her own sung spell

7 (backwards)

Enchantment her to theme for give herself wants herself remembers the lagoon in the moon


The moon
------------         a self-remembering
The pool
                                    oh to surrender the self
                                                a pattern
                                                            for its bewitching

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