TRANSLATING APOLLINAIRE 2

translating apollinaireIntroduction

1. dealing with short lines.

2. analyzing the original structure.

3. avoiding the banal and fatuous.

Literal Translation

A slight but devilishly tricky poem is Le Pont du Mirabeau in the Alcools collection. Original text {7} and machine code translation: {13}

LE PONT MIRABEAU

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Les mains dans les mains restons face à face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l'onde si lasse

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

L'amour s'en va comme cette eau courante
L'amour s'en va
Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l'Espérance est violente

Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passé
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

THE BRIDGE MIRABEAU

Under the bridge Mirabeau flows the Seine
And our loves
It is necessary that it me in memory
The joy always came after the penalty.

Come the night rings the hour
The days leave I remain

The hands in the hands let us remain facing face
While under
The bridge of our arm passes
Eternal looks the so tired wave

Come the night rings the hour
The days leave I remain

Love leaves as this running water
Love leaves
As life is slow
And as Hope is violent

Come the night rings the hour
The days leave I remain

Pass the days and pass the weeks
Not past time
Nor loves return
Under the bridge Mirabeau flows the Seine

Other Translations

Its difficulties are the short lines, and Apollinaire's lackadaisical and somewhat contrived rhyming, which just about works in the French but not in English. Previous translators have rather muddled through:

Stanzas 1 and 2: William Meredith {11}

Under Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine.
Why must I be reminded again
Of our love?
Doesn't happiness issue from pain?

Bring on the night, ring out the hour.
The days wear on but I endure.

Face to face, hand in hand, so
That beneath
The bridge our make, the slow
Wave of our looking can flow.

A very pleasing (pararhymed) refrain, but the stanzas do not respect the structure of the original, and the 'slow' etc. rhymes of the second stanza manhandle the sense too much.

Stanza 2: Anne Hyde Greet {10}

Hand in hand let us stay face to face
While past the
Bridge of our embrace
Flows one long look's weary wave.

Let night come sound the hour
Time draws in I remain

Observes the stress pattern and rhyme scheme: excellent until the fourth line, which collapses under excessive alliteration. The refrain isn't rhymed.

Stanza 3: Tony Kline {9}

Love vanishes like the water's flow
Love vanishes
How life is slow
And how Hope lives blow by blow.

Comes the night sounds the hour
The days go by I endure.

An excellent first two lines, but the third has only two stresses, and the sense in the fourth is wrenched to meet the rhyme. The refrain is pararhymed.

Stanza 4: Oliver Bernard {12}

The days pass and the weeks pass but in vain
Neither time past
Nor love comes back again
Under the Pont Mirabeau flows the Seine

Let the night come: strike the hour
The days go past while I stand here

Refrain is only pararhymed.

If we look at the piece carefully, we find whatever musicality it does possess, probably by way of Verlaine, is not simple but has the spasmodic artlessness of children's songs. Dividing the lines up by pauses:

Sous le pont | Mirabeau | coule la Seine |
Et nos amours ||
Faut-il | qu'il m'en | souvienne |
La joie venait | toujours | après la peine ||

Vienne la nuit | sonne l'heure |
Les jours s'en vont | je demeure ||

Les mains dans les mains | restons | face à face |
Tandis que | sous
Le pont | de nos bras | passe |
Des éternels regards | l'onde | si lasse ||

L'amour s'en va | comme cette eau | courante |
L'amour s'en va |
Comme | la vie est lente |
Et comme | l'Espérance est | violente ||

Passent les jours| et passent les | semaines |
Ni temps passé |
Ni les amours | reviennent ||
Sous le pont | Mirabeau | coule la Seine ||

A regular structure, therefore, the lines being arranged 3a 1b 2a 3a by phrasing (where a is rhyme). If we wish to find a stress pattern, (despite the syllabic nature of French verse) then it's 4-6, 2, 3 and 5-6 stresses to the line.

First Attempt

If we keep to the axaa rhyme scheme, adopt a 5 2 3 5 stress pattern, and follow the phrasing noted above, we get something like:

Beneath Pont | Mirabeau | flows the Seine |
and so our loves. ||
And must I now | again |
recall that joy | will follow | after pain. ||

Comes the night, | the hours complain. |
The days continue, | I remain. ||

Hand in hand and | resting | face to face.|
Through bridging
arms | our gazings | trace
a endless sadness | in | the water's race. |

Comes the night, | the hours complain. |
The days continue, | I remain. ||

Love goes on | and | like the water's flow |
it goes away |
and life it seems | is slow, |
though hope | is ever violent | though. ||

Comes the night, | the hours complain. |
The days continue, | I remain. ||

The days and weeks | are passing | just the same |
but time that's past |
and love | won't come again. ||
Beneath Pont | Mirabeau | flows the Seine ||

That solves problems with some of the previous translations, most notably:

1. the lines often lacked a proper integrity; they didn't hang together.
2. the phrasing in some cases was banal, what we find in amateur verse that hasn't been worked at sufficiently.
3. the content was fatuous: Apollinaire comes close to the sentimental, and we don't want something for www.poetry.com.

Correcting Errors

But we're still very far from home. At present we have:

1. poor phrasing though hope is ever violent though.
2. inappropriate styles: a endless sadness in the water's race: not Apollinaire's manner or period.
3. silly errors in translation: The days continue: they leave.
4. off rhyme: just the same.
5. the odd obscurity: the hours complain: of what?

To avoid the last problem we could write:

Comes the night, the hours sound,
the days are leaving, I stick around.

Only that sounds too colloquial for the remainder of the poem.

Comes the night, the hours sound,
the days will leave me still around.

Is hardly better.

Comes the night, the hours sound,
the days will leave me in this ground.

Is not so colloquial but suggests the author is about to be interred. We have to change the rhyme:

Night hours in striking have their say.
The days will leave, and I stay.

Now the 'violent', which works in French because part of the courante lente violente rhymes. In English it's much more difficult: the meaning is clear enough, but it's rather banal as it stands. Avoiding the word gives us worse problems, however:

Love is lost into the water's flow:
it goes away.
Life continues, slow
it seems, but hope will stay to shake us though.

Another example appears in La Chanson du Mal Aimé, where the epigraph:

I was singing this refrain
in nineteen three, not knowing my
love and phoenix were the same,
and if they fled the
evening sky
they were reborn when morning came.

could be 'improved' into:

I was singing this refrain
in nineteen three, not knowing my
love and phoenix were the same,
and fire that fled the evening sky
would be reborn when morning came.

Final Draft

But Apollinaire is less 'finished' than that, and it's not what he wrote. As to a restorer working on a master painting, the true quality of the work becomes apparent to the translator, but it's not always a happy insight.

Returning to Le Pont du Mirabeau with these and similar changes, we get:

Beneath Pont Mirabeau there flows the Seine
and so our loves.
How much must I again
recall that joy will ever follow pain?

Sound the night-bells, have their say.
The days depart, but here I stay.

Hand in hand and gazing, face to face,
through bridging arms,
we watch the waters race,
the waves so weary in their endless chase.

Sound the night-bells, have their say.
The days depart, but here I stay.

Love goes on and, like the water's flow,
it goes away.
Whatever hopes we'd know,
and fiercely, lives continue, long and slow.

Sound the night-bells, have their say.
The days depart, but here I stay.

There pass the days and pass the weeks and then
that time is past,
and love won't come again.
Beneath Pont Mirabeau there flows the Seine.

A bit spaced out to meet the verse form, but with the lines more pulling together.

References and Resources

1. Guillaume Apollinaire. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guillaume_Apollinaire Wikipedia entry.

2. Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/apollina.htm Usual good Books and Writers entry.

3. Guillaume Apollinaire. http://www.todayinliterature.com/staging/biography/guillaume.apollinaire.asp Today In Literature entry.

4. Guillaume Apollinaire. http://www.ubu.com/sound/app.html Ubuweb Sound: recordings of theree poems (but not La Chanson du Mal Aimé)

5. Guillaume Apollinaire. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Guillaume_Apollinaire Wikiquote with several short translations.

6. Guillaume Apollinaire. http://www.wiu.edu/Apollinaire/index.htm. Official site (in French)

7. Alcools by Guillaume Apollinaire. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15462 French text in Gutenberg.

8. Burnshaw, Stanley (ed.) The Poem Itself. (Penguin Books, 1960), 82-3.

9. Tony Kline. Poetry in Translation. http://www.tonykline.co.uk/

10. Alcools: Guillaume Apollinaire. Translated by Anne Hyde Greet. (Univ. California Press, 1965)

11. Alcools: Guillaume Apollinaire: Poems 1898-1913. Translated by William Meredith. (Doubleday, 1964)

12. Guillaume Apollinaire: Selected Poems. Translated by Oliver Bernard (Penguin, 1965). Unacknowledged snippets at http://www.armory.com/%7Ethrace/ev/siir/Apollinaire.html NNA.

13. Free Translation. http://ets.freetranslation.com/

 

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