. "I Heard Chapman Speak Out Loud and Bold" by Margaret Coats My title quotes “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” a sonnet by John Keats. When Keats first read Homer, the voice he heard was not Homer’s, but that of English translator George Chapman. Verse translations are original poems; that’s the point of this essay. Here is a rare opportunity to confirm it for yourself by hearing several voices re-create in English one of France’s most celebrated lyrics. Identify the translator who speaks loudest and most boldly to you, and describe your response in the comments below. Unless you are a French speaker, your choice won’t be Charles d’Orléans (1394–1465), the author of the medieval poem behind these English ones. Never think you aren’t qualified to appreciate translated poems because you can’t read the foreign-language model. Translations are English poems, and each translator exercises his unique artistry for readers like you. . A Poem published in The London Magazine (1823) as by Charles d’Orléans and claimed as Cary’s in his posthumous Works (1846), edited by his son by Henry Francis Cary The Time hath laid his mantle by Of wind and rain and icy chill, And dons a rich embroidery Of sunlight poured on lake and hill. No beast or bird in earth or sky Whose voice doth not with gladness thrill, For Time hath laid his mantle by, Of wind and rain and icy chill. River and fountain, brook and rill, Bespangled o’er with livery gay Of silver droplets wind their way: So all their new apparel vie; The Time hath laid his mantle by. . . The Return of Spring published in The North American Review (1831) as by Longfellow from Charles d’Orléans, but online it often appears with Longfellow’s name omitted by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Now Time throws off his cloak again Of ermined frost, and wind, and rain, And clothes him in the embroidery Of glittering sun and clear blue sky. With beast and bird the forest rings, Each in his jargon cries or sings, And Time throws off his cloak again Of ermined frost, and wind, and rain. River, and fount, and tinkling brook Wear in their dainty livery Drops of silver jewelry; In newmade suit they merry look, And Time throws off his cloak again Of ermined frost, and wind, and rain. . . Rondel After Charles D'Orleans published in his book The Eighth Sin (1912) by Christopher Morley The world has cast her habiting Of wind, of frost, of cold grey rain; In sunny robes of braver grain She dons the broidery of Spring, And every tiny living thing In his own way declares amain: “The world has cast her habiting Of wind, of frost, of cold grey rain.” And streams and brooks the tidings bring, Wearing their liveries again Of gold and silver; Winter slain, April may laugh aloud, and sing: “The world has cast her habiting Of wind, of frost, of cold grey rain.” . . The Spring by Margaret Coats The Spring has left off Winter’s cloak Of wind and rain and frosty sting; She’s dressed in broidered blanketing Of beauties sunlight can evoke. The beasts and birds, wild forest folk, All roar and chirp and croak and sing The Spring. The rivers, brooks, and fountains soak The earth with silver drops, and fling Pied jewels throughout fields blossoming. All things vest new, and freshly yoke The Spring. . . Comparing only these four shows how each translation is original, but more translations by clicking on each title. . "The Year Has Change His Mantle Cold" by Michael R. Burch . Burch has three translations of the poem on the same page; the one with this title is the most often cited elsewhere online, sometimes without Burch’s name. . "The Weather's Cast Its Cloak of Grey" by Oliver Bernard . "The World Has Thrown Its Clothes Away" by Len Krisak . And here at last is the French original of the preceding English poems. It is original in the sense of being “prior to” or “model for” the translations. This one, and none of the others, was written by Charles d’Orléans. . Le temps a laissié son manteau De vent, de froidure, et de pluye, Et s’est vestu de brouderie De soleil luyant, cler et beau. Il n’y a beste, ne oyseau, Qu’en son jargon chante ou crie Le temps Riviere, fontaine, et ruisseau Portent, en livree jolie, Gouttes d’argent d’orfaverie; Chascun s’abille de nouveau Le temps . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v9B2UnZkuWKw . How can we judge whether the English translations are accurate? An English poem can never entirely convey even the meanings of the words in another language, much less the associations and nuances of phrases and sentences. In fact, this is true also of prose translations, because the translator who takes no care to render the lyric form must still make choices among the multiple meanings of each word, and cannot suggest all that the author’s chosen words imply. A judgment of accuracy is subjective, expressing the opinion of a reader who understands both languages, that the translator has conveyed most of what the reader thinks is important. To compare word choice in a translation of our very short poem, I came up with a somewhat more objective method. The Orléans spring lyric has, I would say, 28 significant words (not counting repeated words, or small functional words necessary to compose sentences). For each of these words, I asked whether the translator rendered it in a “French sense.” And because verse translators always add meaningful English words not present in the original text, I asked how many of those occur in each translation. A “French sense” is any sense the word can have in the original language. Taking the poem’s first significant word as an example, temps can mean “time” (including Time personified or a period of time or a moment in time) or “occasion” or “season” or “weather.” It does not mean “world” or “year” or “spring,” as some of the above translators have rendered it. However, “year” has some justification as a period of time, and “spring” is possible if temps is understood as “season”—especially because the French word for spring is printemps (prime time or principal season). . Cary translates 20 of 28 words in a French sense, and adds 14 English words. Longfellow translates 25 of 28 words in a French sense, and adds 11 English words. Morley translates 16 of 28 words in a French sense, and adds 18 English words. Coats translates 22 of 28 words in a French sense, and adds 16 English words. Burch translates 21 of 28 words in a French sense, and adds 11 English words. Bernard translates 22 of 28 words in a French sense, and adds 17 English words. Krisak translates 15 of 28 words in a French sense, and adds 21 English words. . With these as the results of my improvised inquiry into translator practice, I think we can relax about accuracy. There is no outlier here, no translator who is unfaithful or rigorously faithful. All the poets observe similar limits when it comes to rendering French words on the one hand, and importing English words on the other. Each fashions a creative work of art that corresponds to the Orléans spring poem, yet stands uniquely as the English poet’s own. The reader can, therefore, do what he or she does best, in judging the quality of each English poem. With regard to the variance in lyric form among the translations, let me point out that I quote the French original from a scholarly edition based on medieval manuscripts. The square brackets include words not found in the manuscripts. Scribes saved time and effort in copying refrain poetry by writing only the first words of a line or lines to be repeated, as shorthand to tell a reader, “Repeat here.” Sad to say, this shorthand does not tell how much to repeat. Complex lyric forms may repeat two or three or more lines, and different numbers of lines at different places in the same poem where the “Repeat” shorthand appears. The reader, editor, or translator must rely on good sense and experience with poetic tradition to judge how much repetition is best. Current French practice in textbooks and popular anthologies has set the standard for the Orléans spring lyric as 12 lines with a full-line refrain, for which I give the rhyme scheme below. This standard probably did not exist when Cary and Longfellow composed their translations, before the poem had become a prescribed classic in French schools. Notice that Longfellow, who may have looked like the most careful translator in my above test of word choices, is the one who allows himself the most freedom in the way he renders the form with rhyme. . Orléans 12 lines Abba abA abbaA Cary 13 lines ABab abAB baaaA Longfellow 14 lines A1A2bb ccA1A2 dbbdA1A2 Morley 14 lines ABba abAB abbaAB Coats 12 lines Rabba abR abbaR Burch 12 lines Abab abA abbaA Bernard 13 lines ABba abAB abbaA Krisak 13 lines ABba abAB abbaA . My own decision to translate the poem with a rentrement rather than a refrain is based on the knowledge that Orléans was one of the poets who developed the rentrement. It began to appear at his time because poets, knowing how their works would look in manuscript, played the artistic game of trying to compose poems that would make sense even when read exactly as transcribed, without repetitions of the full line or lines. That, anyway, is what literary historians think. I am sure Orléans played this game because I read every one of his 140 similar 12-line poems, and found that only about sixty actually require the full-line refrain. It cannot be a coincidence that more than half his poems in this form and at this length could be read with a rentrement. To demonstrate again that each translation is an original poem, I conclude with an adaptation of the Cary poem. It was published anonymously in The Western Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal of Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1833. The poem does not depend on Orléans, for it clearly works from Cary’s translation. Just possibly, it takes the word “suit” from Longfellow. The author may have been familiar with the many complex forms of French refrain poetry, because he produces an elaborate example with three refrains, introducing a new rhyme sound in each stanza. But he does so in an English (or rather, American) poem, that reveals by imitation how much inspiration an original translation can provide. . Winter Old Time hath laid his mantle by, His summer suit of gaudy green, With all its rich embroidery Of sunlight poured on rustic scene. No beast or bird, in earth or sky, Whose voice doth now with gladness thrill, Since Time hath laid his mantle by, That gayly clad each grove and hill— His summer suit of gaudy green, With all its rich embroidery. River and fountain, brook and rill, Through leafless groves of sober grey, O’er frozen rock, and icy hill, Now hold their solitary way, And e’en the winds in sadness sigh, Since Time hath laid his mantle by, His summer suit of living green, With all its rich embroidery. The birds have ceased their notes of love, And winged to sunnier climes their way; There is no music in the grove, No warmth nor beauty in the day. All nature droops, all pleasures die, Since Time hath laid his mantle by, His summer suit of living green, With all its rich embroidery. . . Margaret Coats lives in California. She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University. She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.