03 February 2010

I love poetry

In my French class, we read an absolutely lovely poem called "Elle avait pris ce pli..." by Victor Hugo. I always assumed it would be extremely difficult to read his work in French, but I surprisingly understood the poem in my first reading. I can't seem to find an English translation of it online, so I'm attempting to translate it myself. There are twelve syllables per line, and I assume translators usually keep to these patterns in their own work. Honestly though, I'm not interested in precision. I just love the words.

This is about his eldest and most dear daughter, Léopoldine. She drowned at age 19 in 1843.

"Elle avait pris ce pli..." by Victor Hugo

Elle avait pris ce pli dans son âge enfantin
De venir dans ma chambre un peu chaque matin;
Je l'attendais ainsi qu'un rayon qu'on espère;
Elle entrait, et disait: Bonjour, mon petit père;
Prenait ma plume, ouvrait mes livres, s'asseyait
Sur mon lit, dérangeait mes papiers, et riait,
Puis soudain s'en allait comme un oiseau qui passe.
Alors, je reprenais, la tête un peu moins lasse,
Mon oeuvre interrompue, et, tout en écrivant,
Parmi mes manuscrits je rencontrais souvent
Quelque arabesque folle et qu'elle avait tracée,
Et mainte page blanche entre ses mains froissée
Où, je ne sais comment, venaient mes plus doux vers.
Elle aimait Dieu, les fleurs, les astres, les prés verts,
Et c'était un esprit avant d'être une femme.
Son regard reflétait la clarté de son âme.
Elle me consultait sur tout à tous moments.
Oh! que de soirs d'hiver radieux et charmants
Passés à raisonner langue, histoire et grammaire,
Mes quatre enfants groupés sur mes genoux, leur mère
Tout près, quelques amis causant au coin du feu !
J'appelais cette vie être content de peu !
Et dire qu'elle est morte! Hélas! que Dieu m'assiste !
Je n'étais jamais gai quand je la sentais triste ;
J'étais morne au milieu du bal le plus joyeux
Si j'avais, en partant, vu quelque ombre en ses yeux.

et maintenant, en anglais!

She used to have this habit in her youth
To come into my room a little each morning;
I used to wait for her as well as a beam that one hopes for;
She would enter and say : Hello, my little father;
Take my pen, open my books, sit herself
On my bed, mess my papers, and laugh,
Then suddenly go away like a bird in passing.
Then, I resumed, my head a little less tired,
My interrupted work, and, all while writing,
Among my manuscripts I encounterd often
Some arabesque lunatic and she had drawn,
And many a white page between these creased hands
From which, I don't know how, would come my most sweet verses.
She used to love God, flowers, stars, green meadows,
And this was her spirit before becoming a woman.
Her regard reflected the clarity of her soul.
She used to consult me on everything, at all times.
Oh! that the winter nights, radiant and charming
Passed to reason with language, history, and grammar,
My four children grouped on my knees, their mother,
All ready, some talkative friends at the corner of the fire!
I used to think this life was only just content enough!
And to think that she is dead! Alas! that God waits for me!
I was never cheerful when I felt her sadness;
I was dreary in the middle of the most joyous ball
If I, in leaving, saw any shadow in her eyes.

So. Stunning.

1 comment:

CalTexMes said...

Great job on the translation overall. Although I would change a couple of lines:

"She was a spirit/a great mind more than (just) a woman.
Her look/eyes reflected the clarity of her spirit."
"Oh! So many winter evenings, radiant and charming
Spent reasoning on language, history, and grammar,
My four children gathered on my lap, their mother
Near, ..."
"And to think that she is dead! Alas! May God support me!"