.

“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 [a laissié son manteau.]

Riviere, fontaine, et ruisseau
Portent, en livree jolie,
Gouttes d’argent d’orfaverie;
Chascun s’abille de nouveau
Le temps [a laissié son manteau.]

.

.

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. 


NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

NOTE TO POETS: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to mbryant@classicalpoets.org. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here.


CODEC News:

31 Responses

  1. Peter Surtees

    Longfellow’s version. No rills or twills or forced words. It’s the closest of the candidates to a conversational tone. My preference in poetry.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Peter, for giving your judgment that a conversational tone, without forced words, is important–and that Longfellow’s translation comes closest to achieving that. I appreciate your reading the essay and starting the discussion!

      Reply
  2. Margaret Coats

    My preference in refrain poetry is to find creative and varied use of the refrain. That’s why I especially like Christopher Morley’s change of speakers: his two-line refrain is first said by the poet, then by the living creatures, and finally by April, personified to represent Spring. His streams and brooks too bring tidings, but only by their new livery of reflective, liquid water.

    Reply
  3. Cheryl Corey

    My personal favorite is Len Krisak’s. For some reason, “livery” makes me cringe. I like your interpretation. I don’t like attempts to rhyme “again” with “rain” – although, wasn’t “again” pronounced like “rain” in Shakespeare’s time? I was very interested in your discussion about significant words, achieving a sense of the foreign language, incorporating English, and rhyme scheme, and will definitely keep all of this in mind in my own translation attempts. Thank you for this essay. Very enlightening!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Our livery equivalent these days is required uniforms at businesses, for lower ranking employees who meet the public. I notice these becoming more prevalent with a declining sense of what business attire should be. But their practicality seems a little more acceptable to freedom lovers than jeweled outfits for medieval retainers!

      The long “a” pronunciation in “again” and “said” is widespread today among British speakers. But look at “gay” and “way” in the Cary poem. I believe he was trying to maintain two rhyme sounds, which means he would have pronounced those as “guy” and “wye.” Regional variation, maybe, but English pronunciation is more in flux the more English speakers there are.

      Thanks for your attention to the essay!

      Reply
  4. Jonathan Kinsman

    Len Krisak’s is the best: it takes a good sentiment, finely wrought in the tongue (langue) of its time and makes it lively in an American way: tossing off the heaviness of winter and running naked in the spring. Or, that’s the impression Len is conveying in a Francophile kind of way. Poetry must be memorable and a good translation ratchets it up a few notches while retaining the form, it enriches the effect for the new audience. As Evan’s Disappointment has written in an essay: Tradition is the Individual Talent, and, good poets hang out together whether in time present or time stretched where a contemporary poet and her distant confident

    “. . . play the burgeoning current, growing
    upwellings of gnomic lore, borne in a blur
    but brought to light, landed in its showing
    upon this page, upon the winding whirr. . .”

    and connecting to the ever present moment of poetry. Think of Hunt and Keats (On the Grasshopper and the Cricket) and Edward Thomas and Frost (the silliness of “The Road Not Taken”). All continue to lift d’Orleans and acknowledge his gift to those who follow who write “to each other in wild surmise.”

    Reply
  5. Margaret Coats

    Thanks, Jonathan, for both your attention, and your expansion of the discussion on translation. If I may summarize what you want from a translation, it’s well-crafted, memorable phrasing that brings the original poem into “the ever present moment of poetry.” Len Krisak’s refrain, “The world has thrown its clothes away” is certainly a contemporary eye-catcher!

    Reply
  6. Brian Yapko

    Margaret, thank you for this essay which I found to be both informative and extremely entertaining! Informative because it explains the surprising latitude that the translator may have in the process. Considerable, it would seem, but nonetheless within tight constraints of theme, form, word-choice and tone. Initially, I considered that translation might be analogous to a composer who sets a poem to music – something, perhaps, that the poet never contemplated. A Shakespeare sonnet, for example (as opposed to a Shakespeare song.) But there are major differences. Properly set, music adds but does not alter the original. In contrast, when it comes to translations, it is impossible to not alter the original. You will have to negotiate adjustments in either meaning, meter, or rhyme. Improving the poem seems possible but damaging the poem seems even more possible. It’s quite a tightrope walk.

    I was entertained by the enormous variety of translations that you provided. This led me to attempt a crude non-poetic literal translation of d’Orleans’ words to see what one was left with: This – for what little it’s worth – is my literal, word for word translation which almost certainly contains errors since my French is not the greatest:

    The weather has left its coat
    of wind, of coldness, and of rain
    And it is appareled in embroidery
    of the glowing sun, clear and handsome.

    There is no beast, no bird
    who his words sing or cry
    the weather [has left its coat]

    River, fountain and stream
    Carry, in lovely attire
    Drops of silver of jewelry
    Each dressed anew
    The weather has left its coat

    Although it respects the words, my literal translation sucks the soul right out of the original. It is no longer poetry. Each of the poetic versions that you have cited is vastly superior.

    That then leads to contemplating the extent to which the translating poet can – and, indeed must! – take liberties with the original text – injecting personal taste, style even new material to add in order to make it close to the poem the original poet contemplated. I was particularly impressed that Michael Burch came up with no less than three different versions of the same poem, all of which were good reads. Ultimately, I suppose, it boils down to taste and whether or not the translator captures the soul of the original poet. I mean this with all sincerity – I think I like your translation best because — for me — you best capture the heart and soul of what Charles d’Orleans was going after, managing to do it within the strict boundaries of his rondeau form and doing so without taking excessive liberties with his original text. I like to think that this is the translation of which he would most approve.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Brian. As I think you’ve shown with your literal translation, the words alone may not always fall together to make a comprehensible sentence. The translator has to do that in a language with different means of conveying ideas. And sometimes the ideas don’t fit into a line of verse; a good example is the beast-and-bird line in this poem, where there is really no more than those two words, although the French syllables add up to eight (with “beste” pronounced as two). All the English translators needed to add something there.

      When you judge my poem best for capturing the heart and soul of what Orleans was going after, I think you mean that the translator has to comprehend and absorb the entire poem. You, like other readers who know some French, can get your own idea of the poem, and then ask how well the translator presents what you found. I do a lot of adjustment after a translation is done, both to beautify the English and to better fit it to what I found in the original. My beautifications are not all the same as those Orleans uses, but I think I give similar space and focus to his kind of decor.

      Again, thanks for the very considerable attention you’ve given to the essay and its poems!

      Reply
  7. Evan Mantyk

    Dear Margaret,

    Thank you for this splendid presentation. At first I found I liked Krisak’s most since it seems the smoothest as I imagine the French sounds to listeners. Then, I felt pulled into the beauty of the poem and composed my own translation below. While doing so, I was most taken with your translation, particularly the spring refrain and the enchanting liberties taken with the last stanza. Here is mine for what it is worth:

    This time of year has shed its clothes
    Of wind and frost and rain,
    And donned embroidered dress that glows
    In sunlight without stain.

    Each beast and bird there is now knows
    To sing in its own strain
    “This time of year has shed its clothes
    Of wind and frost and rain!”

    Each river, spring, and stream that flows
    Wears gold and silver inlaid
    On servant’s uniform that shows
    This time of year has shed its clothes
    Of wind and frost and rain!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Evan, thank you for the unexpected new translation! I like it very much for several reasons. “This time of year” is probably exactly how Orleans intended “temps” to be read. And you’ve taken that second line to be a shorter (trimeter) one, which is a new way of treating the poem in English. You have to tweak the rhyme scheme to make the different line lengths alternate (except in that asymmetric line 11), which creates a new music to the piece. It reads smoothly and beautifully.

      My last-stanza liberties arise from my need to ignore that reflexive pronoun in “s’abille” and allow the verb to be transitive, so that everything is clothing Spring. But “habiller” is usually transitive, and the whole poem is about the season’s clothes. I therefore felt justified in adding the verb “yoke” to describe what all the flowing waters do to Spring by soaking the ground and producing a mantle of flowers. Just wish I could have used “mantle,” but there’s not much in English to rhyme with it. I took the idea of what a mantle does in “blanketing,” which shows my belief that a translator should slip a desired word into a poem anywhere it is useful, if not in the place where the original author puts it.

      And I agree with using etymological elements, as you and others did with the word “gold.” A dictionary will give “jewelry” as the meaning for “orfeverie,” but it derives from the words “gold”(“or”) and “make” (“faire”). A nice English coinage for it would be “goldsmithery.”

      Thank you as well for finding the video with the poem very well read in modern French. If anyone wonders, that’s why the spelling seen in the video is rather different from my transcription of the poem as it appears in medieval manuscripts. But because the poem is now a classic known to everyone in the whole range of French-speaking countries, it is good to hear it as does the principal modern audience.

      Reply
  8. Margaret Coats

    I forgot to add Evan’s statistics, as compared to the other translators above. He translates 17 of 28 words in a French sense, and adds 13 English words. Well within the usual range! His rhyme scheme, in 13 lines, is ABab abAb abaAB.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Evan Mantyk’s rhyme scheme, correctly stated, is
      13 lines, ABab abAB abaAB

      Reply
  9. David Watt

    Margaret, thank you very much for this scholarly essay. Being able to read a range of translations for the same poem highlights the skill of individual translators, and also shows that one piece may inspire many equally worthy translations. Having said that, my vote goes to Len Krisak for his compelling version which employs the greatest addition of English words.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks for your attention, David. I too think a compelling English poem is a better translation than one adhering as closely as possible to meanings of words in the original. Accuracy, yes, but artistry is what brings new readers to the translated poet.

      Reply
  10. Yael

    This is a very interesting and delightful journey into poetry translation, thank you Margaret! To my taste Cary’s translation isn’t half bad, and I like yours and Evan’s translations really well also. But because I do read French, I find all the different translations somewhat lacking in aspects of meaning or meter or rhyme, as would be expected due to the impossibility of rendering French poetry precisely into quality English poetry.
    Even though it would be a total flop from a poetry standpoint, a satisfying translation of the original poem might be an interlinear type of translation which merely decodes the French words into English and leaves the non-French speaking reader with an idea of what the poem is speaking of, literally, while listening to the audio recording for the rhyming sounds of the beautiful French language.
    So my bottom line: everyone just go ahead and learn French, you won’t regret it, I promise:)

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Yael, for a most interesting perspective. When I was a child I loved poetry, and soon came to know that there was poetry in every language. To really appreciate poetry, I took advantage of opportunities to learn other languages during long years of schooling. The first was French, which I studied from 7th grade through graduate school. Having learned one language well encouraged me with others. I quite agree with you that no one interested in poetry will regret learning French–or some other language.

      Interlinear translation can be very useful for someone who knows a foreign language imperfectly. I use an interlinear version of the Hebrew psalms. Although I studied Biblical Hebrew, the poetry is more complex than narrative, and the interlinear reveals actual word order, giving an instructive view of thought process and artistic order in each poem.

      I’ll count you as voting for Orleans as the best, with honorable mentions for Cary, Mantyk, and me. Thanks!

      Reply
  11. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Margaret, what a wonderful post. I have thoroughly enjoyed each translation for different reasons. I love the musicality of language and to my ear, Longfellow’s “River, and fount, and tinkling brook/ Wear in their dainty livery/ Drops of silver jewelry” is perfect. I also love the image of “The rivers, brooks, and fountains soak/The earth with silver drops, and fling/Pied jewels throughout fields blossoming.” by the gifted translator, Dr. Coats. In fact, there is something in all of them I admire, and particularly I like Evan’s opening stanza.

    I speak secondary school level French and love the sound of the language… everything sounds deliciously seductive in French. I think the best way to enjoy these poems is to read every English translation with a French accent. 🙂

    On a serious note, Margaret, this exercise has me wanting to try my hand a translation… it’s wholly inspirational and encouraging to know that one has a little poetic license when it comes to bringing poems in other languages to a wider audience. Thank you very much indeed!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Susan, I’m glad the essay and poems have encouraged you to try translation. Even if a poet never publishes translation efforts, they are worthwhile in learning about your own potential to embrace another poet’s work. If you’ve ever said, “I wish I had written that,” this is your opportunity. You can become a foreign-language poem’s author in English!

      HOW TO BE A TRANSLATOR POET
      You need to have basic reading ability in a foreign language. Find an anthology of poems in that language at a library, or at websites where many books are available, such as Internet Archive. Some anthologies include English translations, which can help you decide fast whether you like the poem or the poet. If you are attracted to a certain poet, find a volume by him or her if possible. This gives you a much greater choice of poems.

      Start small by choosing a short poem. Get to know it thoroughly by looking up all except the simplest words. Make sure you understand grammar and sentence structure. Take note of the lyric form, and do something to reproduce it in English, because form is an important part of a poem. That doesn’t mean you have to copy the original form exactly. Translations quoted in this essay show variations in form, but they are all related to the form chosen by the French poet.

      If you might publish your translations, choose out-of-copyright poems. In the United States, copyright extends through the poet’s life and 70 years after (as well, any book published in the US before 1923 is out of copyright). In Mexico, copyright is author’s life plus 100 years. Notice that in this essay, the Society respects the copyright of Burch, Bernard, and Krisak by linking to websites where those living translators had chosen to publish. We did not copy their poems.

      And then have fun creating a translation original to you!

      Reply
  12. BDW

    Ms. Coats again demonstrates her critical acumen with her mini-essay on comparing translations into English of “Le temps a laissié son mateau” by Charles de’Orléans (1394-1465), an interesting poet as relates to his imprisonment in England for around two dozen years and his strange book of English poetry. I must admit, in my studies of French literature, I jumped from “Roman de la rose” to Villon never thinking about the works of Charles d’Orléans—French literature is so huge and vast—and it is good she again brings that “new note” to that huge canvas. One of the key elements of the recent poetry of Ms. Coats is her embrace of the poetry of Charles d’Orléans. As an aside, Ms. Coats’ translation reminded me of the early 1980s, when, with Catheryn Tihanyi, my wife and I helped translate Georges Mounin’s “Semiotic praxis”.

    As frequently her analysis is so nice, it inspired me to counter it (an important idea unappreciated @SCP) with my own tennos—not a translation—which I will forgo from printing here, unless desired. The element I most admired in her translation was its attending to line counts and rhyme placement; yet what most interests about her analysis is how she approaches translation. I have never been that assiduous in that aspect of translating, i. e., specifically counting out the “French sense words”. Her counting of words is deeply appreciated by this writer, as that has been a focus, since his early studies in semiotics, etc., not in the manner, say, of Amanda Hall as in “The Gift of Life”, but rather more critically, as it relates to poetic composition, e. g., comparing varied sonnet structures to those of bildings.

    Finally, although I enjoy the exploratory essays of Mr. Sedia and the occasional offhand remarks of Mr. Salemi, of all the writers @SPC, it is the criticism and poetry of Ms. Coats I most respond to, especially for her clarity, but also for various distinctive qualities and her thoughtfulness.

    Reply
  13. Margaret Coats

    Bruce, thanks for reading and responding to this piece, which as you say is a minimal essay. It’s necessary to say a little about word choice and form choice when we discuss translations of a particular poem, but it’s more important to see what various poets do with it. I didn’t interpret the varied translations because that’s exactly what the readers can do. I would be very happy to see your tennos here, presuming it is an adaptation of the Orleans poem. I included the final poem entitled “Winter” to show what an adaptation can be, in contrast to the several translations. Of course there can be a great range of adaptation, and we already know you have chosen to employ your own form. If it moves beyond the thought of the spring lyric, but still treats any matters that pertain to the essay, it has a place in this post. Thank you for offering it.

    Reply
  14. BDW

    The following poem, a response to a poem by Charles de’Orléans (1394-1465), was an excuse to use “mantle”, “embroidery”, “jargoning” and “livery”. My poems occasionally are excuses to use various words.

    W-Inter
    by Claude I. S Weber

    Time lets his mantle go away, in wind and frost and rain,
    his vestitured embroidery, appears so pure and plain.
    There is no beast nor bird that cries or chants sweet jargoning.
    O, time has set aside his mantle; birds have taken wing.
    The river, fountain and the stream wear lovely livery,
    so clear and beautif’lly displayed, with silver jewelry.
    Yes, time has dropped his mantle and his garments to the ground,
    returning to his leafless self, brown limbs, bare trunk, unbound.
    Instead of pleasing melodies, he sings deep-toned old hymns.
    O, time has cast his mantle off into the foggy mist.

    Claude I. S. Weber is a poet of France and weather.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Claude, for this imaginative adaptation. I wish I could have used “mantle” in my poem. The mantle in yours is the leaves, not the wind, frost, and rain–which makes a great difference to the birds. While the streams are still flowing, the birds have given up jargoning, and the music of the poem turns to deep-toned hymns. The absent leaf cover does not mute them, and in fact seems to keep the hymns clear of possible muffling from the mist, as the leaves, cast into the mist’s direction, absorb it. A careful refashioning of Orleans’ mantle to keep the W-Inter fog away!

      Reply
  15. Tom Rimer

    I spent a several hours, off and on, reading and rereading these various translations and Margaret’s intriguing commentary on the poem. Equally fascinating and instructive were the comments by those who responded to her request for a vote on their favorite translation. One of the pleasures of this exercise for me was to read backwards from the commentators and translations to the original poem itself, and to see the range of possibilities inherent in these twelve lines I would never have guessed at.
    I learned much from all of these efforts , but as a reader familiar with French, I continued to sense one among my responses that seemed most important to me — the delightful freshness and the beautiful simplicity of the original. For that reason, I would have to choose the Len Krisak translation, which for me caught more than any of the others, the feel of the charming rush of spring.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks for your comment, Tom, and especially for explaining your procedure: reading the original French, deciding what is best about it, and then looking for the translator who has achieved that same quality.

      Since this essay has now been up for two weeks, it’s a good time to make a preliminary vote count, and Len Krisak is the winning translator so far. I am giving half credit to poets mentioned favorably, even if they were not the favorite of the commenter. After Krisak came a group of three poets in second place: Orleans the author of the French original, Longfellow, and myself. Third place went to Christopher Morley and Evan Mantyk. And there were honorable mentions for Henry Francis Cary and Michael Burch.

      The polls will be open indefinitely, and anyone else who votes can change the outcome!

      Reply
  16. Paul Freeman

    To be honest, Margaret, I preferred your version. The rondeau format was the clincher, making it simpler and more vibrant.

    A couple of changes, if I might be so bold. ‘All roar’ I’d change to ‘Roar loud’ (which removes the repetition of ‘all’, as well), and I’d change ‘vest new’ simply to ‘renew’.

    Thanks for the enjoyable reads.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks for moving me up in the polls! And thanks for your suggestions. I really need to keep “vest” to translate “s’habille” with a clothing word, but I agree with you about the animal sounds line. I too do not like to repeat a filler word such as “all” unnecessarily. But rather than put an adverb in there, why not more bird-and-beast utterances? I’ve already gone beyond the French “cry” for beasts and “sing” for birds. Since Orleans says each one speaks in his own jargon, why not more of a catalogue? The following is three sounds for beasts and three for birds, with “chirrup” as a nice metrical touch.

      Roar, chirrup, bleat, coo, croak, and sing
      The Spring.

      Reply
  17. Paul Freeman

    I understand the need to retain ‘vest’. To my eye, ‘clothed’ reads well enough as an alternate, but to my ear, when spoken, not so much.

    As another suggestion, ‘roar and chirrup and croak and sing’ has a certain musicality to it when ‘and’ is so deliberately repeated. More than four natures sounds to my ear was a bit congested.

    Thanks for getting me to revisit your rondeau – it really is up there with the best and makes me realise what to strive for.

    Reply
  18. Joshua C. Frank

    Margaret, I like yours the best. It sounds the best, it preserves the most from the original, and it keeps the rhyme. I can’t stand translations that don’t keep the original rhyme.

    I’d love to see a translation contest where there’s one poem in each of several languages, and each of us has to translate the poem in the language of our choice into English.

    Here’s my attempt with this one. I wanted to make sure it worked regardless of how the refrain was to be interpreted.

    The Season’s Left Its Winter Wear
    Translated by Joshua C. Frank

    The season’s left its winter wear
    Of wind and cold and rain so free,
    And dressed up in embroidery
    Of shining sun so bright and fair.

    The beasts and birds from everywhere
    In their jargon sing with glee.
    The season’s left its winter wear.

    River, fountain, creek, out there
    Carry, in fine livery,
    Drops of silversmithery;
    Each one dresses with new flair.
    The season’s left its winter wear.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Very nice translation, Josh. This just goes to show that when we carefully consider a great poem in a foreign language, other poets are naturally moved to translate it, and many more good poems result.

      Thank you for preferring my translation, and for giving your reasons, which correspond well to my ideas about translation.

      Concerning your proposal of a translation contest, the first question is, where do we find the same good poem already translated into several languages? We would have to look among translations of only the world’s best lyrics. But there is one lyric collection with translations into more languages than we would need, namely, the Hebrew psalms. A very few of us read Hebrew, and others could work from Greek or Latin or modern languages. In our newly produced psalms, we would probably discover the difference between first and second and maybe third generation translations, depending on how many intervening translators there were. And of course we would all have the possibility of looking at numerous already existing English versions of the same poem. This may not be what you meant to propose!

      Reply
      • Joshua C. Frank

        Actually, I was thinking of something entirely different. Someone such as you would choose a single French poem for us to translate into English. Then each person who speaks French would take a shot at writing a poetic translation in English. The best one wins the French part of the contest. Then the same would be done for Spanish, German, Italian, etc., one poem chosen for every language, the number of languages limited only by the ones spoken by SCP members (so, if no one at the SCP speaks Swahili, there’s no Swahili poem in the contest). Once all the finalists are chosen in this way, a single winner among their English translations is chosen independently of the original-language poems.

        The idea came from the fact that one of my mother’s favorite poems is Rilke’s “The Panther,” but only one specific English translation of the original German; she doesn’t like any other English translation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.