On 14 April, poet and translator Emmanuel Moses gave a talk, and led a workshop, on the translation of poetry, for students in the MA in Cultural Translation. Impossible task, in which the question is one of resignation: which effect (rhyme, rhythm, sense) will be abandoned in an attempt to preserve the others?

We worked on two short, odd, perfect poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, in one case also looking at Paul Celan’s miraculous translation into German. Here are those poems; some of our attempts at translation follow:

J’ai cueilli ce brin de bruyère
L’automne est morte souviens-t’en
Nous ne nous verrons plus sur terre
Odeur du temps brin de bruyère
Et souviens-toi que je t’attends

this is Paul Celan’s translation –

Der Abschied
Ich pflückt den Halm vom Kraut der Heide.
Der Herbst ist tot – sei eingedenk.
Auf Erden scheiden wir nun beide.
O Duft der Zeit, o Halm der Heide.
Und daβ ich warten werde, denk.

La Carpe
Dans vos viviers, dans vos étangs,
Carpes, que vous vivez longtemps!
Est-ce que la mort vous oublie,
Poissons de la mélancolie.

here are some of our translations –

I picked the sprig of moorland heather
T’was Autumn’s death, do remember
On Earth no more we’ll be together
Perfume of times, of moorland heather
Know it, I wait, our Fall less somber

(trans. Daniel Carniaux)

I gathered a stem of heather
Autumn is dead, remember
We will not meet again here
Scent of time, a stem of heather
I wait for you, remember

(trans Bonnie Gill)

The Goodbye
I have gathered sprigs of heather.
The autumn is dead. Remember this.
We will not see each other on earth anymore.
The smell of the season; sprigs of heather.
And remember that I wait for you.

(trans. Marie Garcia)

I plucked a sprig of heather
Autumn is dead remember that
We’ll see no more of us on Earth
Scent of time sprig of heather
and remember that for you I wait

(trans. Alex James)

I pulled up this sprig of heather
dead the year is mind it well
we shanna more be here together
reeks the time sprig of heather
and mind it well I’m waiting still

(trans. Geoff Gilbert)

The Farewell
I gathered this sprig of heather
Autumn, remember, is through
No more shall we share this weather
Odour of time sprig of heather
And remember I wait for you

(trans. Dan Gunn)

The Carp
Waiting around in wells and in ponds
Why Carp, why wait-you so long?
Or Is it that you are immortal,
A Fish of neither heaven nor hell?

(trans. Daniel Carniaux)
In your pools and in your ponds,
live long carp! Carp, live long.
Perhaps death will still yet
you melancholy fish forget.

(trans. Bonnie Gill)

The Carpe
In your ponds and reservoirs,
Carp, may you live evermore!
Unremembered by sweet death,
Poor, disconsolate Ichthys.

(trans. Marie Garcia)

The Carp
In your tank, in your nets
Carp, that outlives the rest!
To forget death your only wish
O poor and melancholy fish

(trans. Alex James)

Carp in your pond, in your fish-tank
A life so long it runs rank
Has death uttered sorry
To fish devoted to melancholy

(trans. Dan Gunn)

Carp domestic, carp in your lagoon;
Carp, your doom is distant!
Is death just missing
You bony sad black fish.

(trans. Geoff Gilbert)