Thursday, September 2, 2010

Exercise: translating Robert Bly's Slim Fir Seed.

The nimble oven bird, the dignity of pears,
The simplicity of oars, the imperishable
Engines inside slim fir-seeds, all of these
Hint how much we long for the impermanent
To be permanent. We want the hermit wren
To keep her eggs even during the storm;
We want eternal oceans. But we are perishable;
Friends, we are salty, impermanent kingdoms.
Le FIR-SEEDS MINCE [Ramage #23] L'oiseau agile de four, la dignité des poires, la simplicité des avirons, l'impérissable/ Moteurs à l'intérieur des sapin-graines minces, toute la ces derniers conseil combien nous longtemps pour que l'impermanent soit permanent. Nous voulons le roitelet d'hermite Pour conserver ses oeufs même pendant l'orage ; Nous voulons les océans éternels. Mais nous sommes périssables ; Des amis, nous sommes des royaumes salés et impermanents.

YIKES! a nimble oven! graines de sapin sounding like sapeurs-pompiers, some incomprehensible interior syntax before the wish that impermanent be made permanent No sense of hint. I lik the choice of "roitelet" , but I'm not sure "little king" gives the same sense as "hermit thrush" nor the subjunctive relationship where we wish that the mother thrust keep her eggs,
Mes amis... not just some friends.

** Getting Started.
Listen to the three “s” in the title. How slim slides the short /i/ to the lips;
how seeds starts with a the soft sibilance of /s/ and ends with the buzzing/z/ of the plural.

The whir (of engine) of the R in fir connects by a hyphen to the broad double e which rhymes with heed, deed, reed – all of which pertain to living – take heed, the end is death; be flexible as the reed as you do your work.

call and response : /i/ to ir
from the “ih” of nimble and dignity, simplicity, slim, hint, hermit, perishable
pinned under the “er” of bird, fir, impermanent (twice) , permanent (once) (hermit) eternal

ee: eternal; seeds,
or: oars, storm

If you don’t know oven birds or hermit wrens, you will need to look them up, admire their olive and brown colors which camouflage them, and listen to their songs.
How “nimble” can jump in a lively way, whereas the hermit wren is tied in its sound, perhaps like the egg-like /o/ tied inside the word storm.

You will come to appreciate how in English, the verb “hint” holds the preposition “in”
like a secret, how “hermit” seems to make allusion to hermeunetics as if to make interpretations of the hermit wren protecting her eggs.

Working Title:
Les graines fluettes de pins
I chose “fluettes” although slim is both “pauvre” as in slim pickings, “peu probable” as in slim chance as well as physically “mince” svelte and slender. Fluette accents the shape and grace, with a breath of transitory youth.
Fir, in my mind is a general, green-boughed evergreen, whereas “pin” is a general pine, and I think of “pommes de pin” or pine cones. Seed, in general is “graines”

How cumbersome to say:
les graines de pommes de pins fluettes et transitoires

First line:

Nimble, one can call agile – but we have “associations with Jack and a candlestick, a lightness, a playfulness – not so much deft or that leger-de-main but something about jumping, not grace. what associations would a French person have with “agile”? How would a French person feel about the “m”, the rolling of the lips to make a “b”?

an ovenbird: well… thanks to google, you can hear the call, which doesn’t really sound like teacher, teacher, teacher attributed to it, but rather whistles and chirrups like many of the 70 varieties of warblers in the Eastern United States. A canary is also a warbler,
but translating nimble oven-bird into a canari agile really misses the beauty of the bird, whose olive and brown feathers camouflage it – something seen, but not heard.

Now for the dignity of pears. Since Louis Philippe was often caricatured as a pear (see the 1831 lithograph by Daumier : ) a French person might be hard-pressed to consider a pear digne although one could be deserving if in a dignified state…

Perhaps Bly was referring to prickly pears, studded with seed, short-lived and quite tricky to eat. It is not a common image.. but does force you to think of what makes a fruit “dignified” – and call attention to the pull of both sound and sense: nimble/dignity; what moves: bird with what doesn’t: pear,
“ir” and “air” sounds, one taking off and landing (bird) and one pushed into form, only to drop, ending with a /z/ sound.

So : le canari agile, la reverence des poires
comes to mind. flighty bird, with bright voweled “ee” and the more dignified ponderance of pears. Reverence is also a bow, a sign of obeissance before a King, potentate, or the Lord.

Line 2
Now we have the image of oars, without mention of a boat –
but the homonym is “or” which could mean the plurality of choices, coupled with a paradoxical “simplicity”, and an enjambment, where the adjective “imperishable” is suspended from the noun it qualifies,
“engines” which we find out are the seeds referred to in the title.

La simplicité des rames will puzzle the best of anyone either French, or possessing a French dictionary! Since long adjectives follow nouns, it will be confusing (but certainly suspenseful) to put "les impérissables" first, waiting for moteurs – which doesn’t have the driving force of the sound of "engine". I suppose there is something imperious about “Motors that will never die”, like a kingdom handed down from King to Prince.

Oars also will be what propels the boat from the shore of the living to the shore of the dead across the river Styx. Perhaps the double sibilance of simplicité moving to the single "impérissable" works in this case.
Third Line
Ah. We see the title! But, in the case of the French, do we want to repeat the awkward pommes de pin fluettes. The sense of “all of these” picks up on the wide “e” of seeds, referring to bird, pears, oars, and fir seeds all of which contain an “r” in final position, unlike the “r” inside imperishable.

One can argue that canari, poire, rames, graines also contain “r”
two in final position, two in initial position .

A French ear will also note that the first two lines in English are beautifully symmetric Alexandrins where the hémistiche falls neatly on the 6th syllable of bird and oars.
Not so with this French.
Le canari agile / la révérence des poires (don’t pronounce poir- uh)
la simplicité des rames (7 syllables) les impérissables (6 syllables)
moteurs dans les graines de pins fluettes, tout cela
(this clunky and inept attempt at literalism needs major work)

Fourth Line
another enjambment to “Hint” which rhymes more or less with “impermanent”

Hint, is NOT an easy idea to translate into French.
fait allusion / insinue/ imprègne d’une impression subtile, suggère

There is no one syllable equivalent with the word “in” (dans) inside of
two very whispering, light and suggestive consonants (“h” and “t”).

There is also a problem with translating “long” in the sense of yearning.
Note, long not only has an enduring sound, but means something that lasts, at least for a while.
aspirer ? desirer vivement soupirer auprès de..
as in Combien de fois, en l'entendant soupirer auprès de moi,
suggère combien nous désirons l’impermanent
de devenir permanent.

Fifth Line

Now we need a hermit wren. Maybe Bly meant a hermit thrush.
Another small, inconspicuous bird with a pretty song that chuffs softly.
They get their scientific name from the tendency of some species to forage in dark crevices.
I suppose you could use the scientific name.
Its call is a beautiful fluted whistle.
It can flick its tail.
Why might a hermit wren not keep her eggs in a storm? They often build nests on the ground and lay well-camouflaged eggs, of a soft moss-green color.

Maybe it is this idea of “hermit” or the duty of a bird or mother to protect the young.

But not knowing these things in English, how in heavens’ name can we approximate them in French?

Last line:
Friends: This changes the tone – he is using an envoi:
(address an imagined or actual person or to comment on the preceding body of the poem.)He blends the ocean in the salt, playing on “salt of the earth” perhaps.

Mes Amis… les amis… nous sommes des royaumes salés, impermanent.

Now enjoy repeating the poem in English! If you do not speak English, hopefully you have asked some English-speaker to tell you the jist of this post. Ask them to read the poem. Taste a few sounds of it in the mouth. Chacun a son gout. I hope this speaks to yours.

No comments: