The art of translation

The art of translation

In 1936 Samuel Beckett was a contributing translator to Thorns of Thunder, a brief selection of the poems of Paul Eluard. 

Later that year Beckett wrote to his friend and fellow translator, Tom McGreevy:

“My copy of Eluard came, duly signed by author & all available translators. He does come through after a fashion, the frailty & nervousness. But no attempt seems to have been made to translate the pauses. Like Beethoven played strictly to time.”

 

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Night invention

thorns
Thorns 2

Night invention

The darkness is ours
in which I hand to you
you hand me back
all the love

water spreads
through the earth
reaches into
the root of being

in the darkness
as mirrors rest
your secret voice
is revealed

through the blinds
a moon laced with cloud
on white linen
the thorns are removed

one by one
there is no blood
to stain

no tears to dry
your mouth

is an abyss
into which
I willingly fall
and sleep comes
gently

John Lyons

When you’re old – Paul Eluard

 

Eluard_Picasso
Paul Eluard, by Picasso

           I can’t do a thing, I can’t see a thing.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t go out
You should stay indoors by the fire,
With warm clothes and the day tempered
Each evening by the night and the lamplight.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t read anymore.
Words are bad and meant for other lives.
You should stay in, your eyes glazed, resigned
Motionless, in a corner.

When you’re old, you shouldn’t talk anymore
You mustn’t sleep anymore. . . You must remember
That others are constantly thinking:
“When you’ve seen it all, you’re miserable
And when you’re old, you’ve seen it all!”

Paul Eluard (1895-1952)

Translation by John Lyons

French text :

         Je ne peux rien faire, je ne peux rien voir.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus sortir
Il faut rester dans la chambre avec le feu,
Avec de chauds vêtements et le jour adouci
Chaque soir par la nuit et la clarté des lampes.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus lire.
Les mots sont mauvais et pour d’autres vies.
Il faut rester, les yeux perdus, l’air résigné
Dans un coin, sans bouger.

Quand on est vieux, il ne faut plus parler
Il ne faut plus dormir. . . Il faut se souvenir
Que les autres pensent sans cesse:
« Quand on a tout vu, on est misérable
Et quand on est vieux c’est qu’on a tout vu! »

Paul Eluard (from Le devoir et l’inquiétude, 1916-1917)

 

Paul Éluard – Poems for Peace (1918)

Paul_ÉluardThe French poet Paul Éluard (1895-1952) was mobilised during the First World War. In June 1917, he was dispatched to a military evacuation hospital at Hargnicourt, 10 kilometres from the front line.

There he was tasked with writing to the families of the dead and wounded. He wrote more than 150 letters a day. At night he dug graves to bury the dead.


from Poems for Peace (1918)

A world dazed
a world stunned

I

All the happy women
Have their menfolk home – such warmth
as though back from the sun.
He laughs and says softly hi
Before kissing his darling.

II

Gorgeous, your breast slightly arced,
My blessed wife, you’re more mine than back in the day
Where with him and him and him and him,
I once clutched a rifle, a billy-can— our life!

III

All the comrades of the world,
O! my friends!
Not worth my wife and my kids
Sat around the table,
O! my friends!

IV

When combat was over amid the throng,
You fell asleep amid the throng.
Now you’ll feel but single breath on your face,
And your wife sharing your bed
Will bother you more than a thousand mouths.

V

My child’s capricious –
All these tantrums are an act.
I’ve a beautiful spoilt child
Makes me die laughing.

VI

Work.
My ten fingers work and my brain works,
God’s work, beast of burden work,
My daily life and our hope,
Food is our love.
Work.

VII

Darling, we need to see the white rose
of your milk bloom.
Darling, you must soon be a mother,
Make a child that looks like me…

VIII

For a long time I’d a good-for-nothing face,
But now
I’ve a face to be loved,
I’ve a face to be happy.

IX

I need a lover,
A virgin lover,
A virgin in a light dress.

X

I dream of all the beautiful women
Who go out walking at night,
Very calm,
Under a roaming moon.

XI

Fruit blossom brightens my garden,
Trees of beauty and fruit-bearing trees.
And I work and I’m alone in my garden.
And the Sun singes my hands with dark fire.

Translation by John Lyons