Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Stick to Racine, lads

Received wisdom says poetry cannot be translated - not surprising since personal reactions to poems vary more widely than those to prose. But how far off the mark? Take Portia's celebrated lines from Livre de Poche:

La vertu du clémence est de n'etre forcée,
Elle descend comme la douce pluie du ciel
Sur ce bas monde; elle est double bénédiction
Elle bénit qui la donne et qui la recoit,
Elle est la plus forte chez les plus forts, et sied,
Mieux que la couronne au monarque sur son trone


I was surprised. My experience with "poetic" passages of Shakespeare in French is that subtleties disappear leaving more or less factual narrative. The above does a better job even though it occasionally clunks (forcée instead of strained is a bit - pun intended - forced). But then the lines are moderately straightforward in English anyway. "Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I" would be a harder row to hoe.

So I turned instead to the Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet:

Alors je vois que la reine Mab vous a visité
C’est l’accoucheuse des fées et elle vient
Pas plus grosse qu’une pierre d’agate à l’index d’un échevin,
Trainé par un attelage de petits atomes,
Se poser sur le nez des hommes quand ils dorment.
Son char est une noisette vide,


This to me is far more a summary. Because French requires most adjectives to follow the noun the rendering of “fairies’ midwife” makes it sounds like a government post. The qualifiers ruin the conciseness of “Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep” and although I know char has other meanings to me it’s a tank (the Army sort). You know, I shouldn’t be trying this on.