Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Day 2: 'Demain, dès l’aube..' by Victor Hugo

Another classic for Day Two: Victor Hugo's 'Demain, dès l’aube..'. It seems I need to get these rather 'straight' rhymed translations out of my system before embarking on anything more experimental! The French poem is beautiful. I can't say I really think I've done it justice. I'm happier with the half-rhyme in lines 2 and 4 of the last stanza than with the full rhymes earlier in the poem. Keeping rhyme and metre in translations of pre-20th century poetry always carries the risk of sounding quaint and dated. In addition, French has more rhymes than English, so retaining all the rhymes can make the poem sound too pat, or too much like doggerel. I shall go and read some Wilfred Owen and some Don Paterson, two masters of half-rhyme - maybe they can help me translate 19th-century French poets. More thoughts on translating poetry tomorrow...

Victor Hugo, ‘Demain, dès l’aube..’

Tomorrow, when the land turns white with rising day,
I shall go. I know that you are waiting for me there.
I will go through forests, I will go by mountain ways.
I have been away from you too long for me to bear.

I shall walk, my eyes fixed only on my mind,
Deaf to every sound, and blind to every sight,
Alone, known to no-one, with bent back and crossed hands,
In sorrow, and the day for me shall be as night.

I shall not see the gold that evening rays engrave,
Nor the far-off sails turning towards home,
And when I arrive, I will place there on your grave
A bouquet of green holly and of heather in bloom.

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