I’ve had a strong French theme going on today, which is good preparation for Friday’s show as well as my upcoming Paris runaway. This morning I did my own English translation of the first part of Un Fantôme by Charles Baudelaire. I’ve also been working on Les Métamorphoses du vampire which has proven to be a difficult piece to translate, but now I have at least something I can read on Friday. Yesterday at the Poetry Café I was talking to Anouche, the main organiser of the Celebration of French Poetry night, about the Oxford World Classics edition of The Flowers of Evil (translated to English by James McGowan.) I find these translations brilliant, and certainly prefer them to most other versions I’ve seen, but Anouche felt that there was too much elaborate language in the translation to compensate for the fact that English poetry naturally doesn’t sound as dramatic as French. I don’t necessarily disagree with the practice of intentionally slightly mistranslating a few words in order to maintain a tone or sound quality, but this can also change meaning and the mood of the poem unfavourably. For example, in the first line of Un Fantôme, the word ‘tristesse’ (sadness) is for some reason translated as ‘obscurity,’ which certainly changes the emotional landscape of the poem. Also, the phrase ‘je mange’ (I eat) is translated as ‘I devour’ – unnecessary drama there as well. I don’t mean to criticise the Oxford World Classics edition, I’d certainly recommend that to anyone, but was also intrigued to write an alternate translation which might be a little less poetic but simpler and a more literal translation, and see how it would work.
(Read the original poem here.)
The Phantom (Part 1: Darkness)
In the caves of inconsolable sadness
where Destiny has already abandoned me
where never enter rosy, joyful rays
of light, alone with the gloomy hostess, Night,
Like a painter whom a mocking God
condemns to paint, alas, in darkness
I’ll cook with a funeral appetite
and boil and eat my own heart out
And every now and then she shines and lays down,
a splendid, graceful ghost,
in her dream-like oriental allure,
reaching for her full grandeur:
I recognise my beautiful visitor –
it is she! black, and thoroughly illuminated.
(I’m usually fussier about copyright but this is really quite a literal translation so there wasn’t any creative effort on my part; so credit goes to Charles Baudelaire for being the most brilliant poet ever, to Collins Concise French dictionary and Anouche, who explained many of the words to me and suggested the phrasal verb ‘eat out’ in line 8.)
On a different note, I had lunch in the French bistro La Petite Auberge on Upper Street, Islington, today. I’ve had dinner there before but lunch was a great experience, the lunch offer is 2 courses for £8.95 or 3 for £10.95, significantly less than their dinner (which is still good value and highly recommended.) Also there were about six customers in the whole restaurant at the time which meant swift service and relaxed atmosphere. My lunch companion and I don’t usually order dessert but did so due to the good offer. I had the chocolate mousse. It was amazing. And now that we’re on the topic of happy little things in life, I’d like to share that while walking home I saw a dog waiting for its owner outside a supermarket take a nap in a narrow beam of sunlight, and later two young men kicking a football in front of a big ‘No Ball Games’ sign, and these things made me very happy.