Tuesday, 21 April 2015

About that French poem, just posted:

Here it is again, in, I hope, more legible form:

Clément Marot

Marot was born in Cahors in 1495, and died — lonely, having been exiled from his native France on suspicion of being ‘sympathetic to reform’ — in Turin in 1544.

At one time I lived in Athens with a French woman. Her English used to make me laugh; my French used to make her cry. We communicated mostly in Greek. At the time it was the fashion among some property owners painstakingly to restore their old neo-classical houses, and among others to tear them down and replace them with something in marble-faced concrete. Many of the houses being demolished had plaster statuary in their porches or gardens, and I would discreetly rescue some of this at dead of night. I got a headless Venus de Milo — I found the head on a later foray — and an elegantly lichen-covered plaster dog, about the size of a fox. This I tottered home with after Jeanne had gone to bed and placed in the middle of the living-room floor, for her to find in the morning, with the following poem copied out and stuck under his front paws:




Damoiselle que j’aime bien,
Je te donne, pour la pareille,
Tes étrennes d’un petit chien,
Qui n’est pas plus grand que l’oreille:
Il jappe, il mord, il fait merveille,
Et va déjà tout seul trois pas.
C’est pour toi que je l’appareille,
Excepté que je ne l’ai pas.

Though not as bad in this respect as modern Greek, French tends to use more syllables than English to say ‘the same thing’. (I hope anyone who has come this far now sees the reasons for the inverted commas). The choice then in translating poetry is between padding, or shortening the lines. Concision being of the essence of poetry I usually prefer the latter. Besides, the difference in syllable-count is reflected in the common metres of each language’s poetry: where French likes Alexandrines and Greek a fifteen-syllable line, the common metres of English poetry are eight or ten syllables long.


I was woken in the early hours by the unmistakable sound of a person tripping and falling heavily onto a tiled floor, followed by a shriek of terror. The astute reader will have guessed what had happened.


New Year’s Gift


Well-beloved girl,
My present for New Year:
A little canine churl
No bigger than your ear.
He’d bark, do tricks, and bite,
Take three steps at one trot,
And all for your delight,
Except that I forgot.

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