.

The Velocipede

Half brain, and half a pair of wheels,
Transcending anthropology,
Calf poised on manufactured heels,
Half brain, and half a pair of wheels,
This novel animal reveals
Darwinian zoology:
Half brain, and half a pair of wheels,
Transcending anthropology.

.

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Summer

He scintillates, the savage Summer,
His bosom filled with ruddy roses;
To brutal burning he exposes
Both withered age and green newcomer.

A shameless, cruel, placid mummer,
Desire on young lips he imposes;
He scintillates, the savage Summer,
His bosom filled with ruddy roses.

This haughty king holds secrets glummer
Than godly splendors he discloses
Above horizons heat encloses;
Wild, tawny, clear, yet white-hot strummer,
He scintillates, the savage Summer.

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The Stars

The heavens glittering with stars
In frosty brilliance shimmering
Resemble billows slumbering
With white caps under sails and spars.

When day pulls azure veils toward bars,
We see the dark sky flickering,
The heavens glittering with stars
In frosty brilliance shimmering.

What painter could with peerless arts,
O God, show sparkles glimmering
From diamond bonfires simmering
That to my ravished eyes you bring,
The heavens glittering with stars!

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French originals

LE VÉLOCIPÈDE

Moitié roue et moitié cerveau,
Voici l’homme vélocipède;
Il va plus docile qu’un veau.
Moitié roue et moitié cerveau,
Il se rit, animal nouveau,
De Buffon et de Lacépède!
Moitié roue et moitié cerveau,
Voici l’homme vélocipède.

Translator’s note: Line 6 of the French triolet
mocks naturalist freethinkers Buffon and
Lacépède. To translate the joke, I substitute
Darwin.

L’ÉTÉ

Il brille, le sauvage Été,
La poitrine pleine de roses;
Il brûle tout, hommes et choses,
Dans sa placide cruauté.

Il met le désir effronté
Sur les jeunes lèvres décloses;
Il brille, le sauvage Été,
La poitrine pleine de roses.

Roi superbe, il plane irrité
Dans des splendeurs d’apothéoses
Sur les horizons grandioses;
Fauve dans la blanche clarté,
Il brille, le sauvage Été.

LES ÉTOILES

Les cieux resplendissant d’Étoiles
Aux radieux frissonnements
Ressemblent à des flots dormants
Que sillonnent de blanches voiles.

Quand l’azur déchire ses voiles,
Nous voyons les bleus firmaments,
Les cieux resplendissant d’Étoiles
Aux radieux frissonnements.

Quel peintre mettra sur ses toiles,
O Dieu, ces clairs fourmillements,
Ces fournaises de diamants
Qu’à mes yeux ravis tu dévoiles,
Les cieux resplendissant d’Étoiles.

.

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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. 


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20 Responses

  1. Roy E. Peterson

    Margaret, my French is virtually nonexistent, but perusing your translations, you seem not only to have captured the essence of each poem but stayed as close to the rhyme scheme and words as anyone could ever do. The substitution of Darwin makes a lot of sense. These translations were a delight to read!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I’m glad you liked them, Roy. I do try to keep rhyme schemes in translations exactly the same, but the little change in the last stanza of “The Stars” suits the meaning of the French and the poetic effect in English much better than adhering strictly to the standard rondel pattern. That’s when variation is worth it!

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Sally, on behalf of Theodore de Banville who gave me such elegance to work with!

      Reply
  2. Joshua C. Frank

    Margaret, these are great. Good translations, good English-language poems in their own right; if I didn’t know, I would think they had originally been written in English, especially since Darwin was such a great substitution. “The Velocipede” is my favorite.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Joshua. Translations need to be good in their own right, or what reader will bother to get acquainted with the original author? Your appreciation suggests that he, too, would be pleased!

      Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    These are amazingly adept renderings into English, of the sort that very few translators can manage. Many translations today are either pedestrian or inaccurate. These are as alive as the French originals, and faithful to them.

    I love the line “With white caps under sails and spars.”

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I have a feeling that our idiom “white caps” may be “blanches voiles” or “white sails” in French, as the poem says waves have a wake of them. And with “dormants” or “sleeping” waves, we can also think of “night caps.” Glad you like the line!

      Reply
  4. Jeff Eardley

    Margaret, simmering, glimmering, shimmering, glittering and flickering. What a star of translation you are. These are lovely to read, particularly, “The Velocipede” from a writer that I have never heard of.. but I have now. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Jeff. Banville was a kind of early formalist, who thought Romantic poetry was too sloppy. Although he wrote carefully and clearly in more common lyric forms, he was also one who took up these medieval forms and made good use of them, as many of us are doing today. If you read French at all, he is worthwhile reading.

      Reply
  5. Paul Freeman

    Thanks for the three fine reads, Margaret. I particularly enjoyed ‘Summer’.

    And what an amazing illustration to accompany ‘The Velocipede’! That fella’s going at a cracking rate.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Banville’s “Summer” is a forceful poem showing the season as attractive and oppressive at once. I too admire the illustration, so well suited as it is to “The Velocipede,” with the velocipede-man (coattails flying) demonstrating his evolutionary superiority by winning a race with a horse!

      Reply
  6. Brian Yapko

    Margaret, all of these little poems are gems both as translations and as a delightful pieces of poetry in their own right. I’m particularly impressed with your ability to find and use meaningful rhymes for “summer.” I also am impressed by the slightly strange good humor of The Velocipede — de Banville’s singularly unlikely subject for a poem which you really made the most of. I think your Darwin “translation” was a most clever choice. But of the three I most enjoyed The Stars. It is a lovely poem with lovely imagery. Most memorable for me are those “diamond bonfires simmering” – a splendid translation of the otherwise unrhymable “blazes of diamonds.”

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      “The Stars” is also my favorite, because Banville takes a scene that is somewhat commonplace (looking up at the stars and wondering at the beauty of God’s creation), and makes a personal jewel of it. This is the poem where I see this poet most clearly. He waits until the last few words to turn it into a first person singular utterance, and then we realize that the carefully crafted loveliness of the whole reveals the man’s heart.

      Reply
  7. Jack “Michael” Dashiell

    I do more than pardon your French, translated as it is, these are witty, brilliant and marvelous poems.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you! I chose three different topics as a Banville variety pack, and I’m happy that all of them pleased you.

      Reply
  8. Clare Tierney

    Thanks for telling me about this. Wish I had that power on a spinner! The drought heat is savage, and would love to see stars like these over some cool billows. Very nice lines.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you for your comment, Clare. I’m glad you enjoy all three poems, and I hope we pass through this drought soon!

      Reply
  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Margaret, these translations are impressive and intriguing. I’m smitten with these forms – the rondel is becoming my new favorite. I tackled one recently, and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. The triolet is remarkable… I love the humor. I agree with Brian on the clever “Darwin” choice. This is a grin of a translation that I am sure would make Théodore de Banville proud, changes and all. My favorite is “Summer”. I love the searing hiss of the sibilance in the repeating line. It reminds me of the hellish boil we’re experiencing in Texas right now… and our air con is on the blink! I also like the cruel blow of these wonderful lines: “To brutal burning he exposes /Both withered age and green newcomer”. I appreciate your skills – thank you very much indeed!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Best wishes, Susan, for quick relief from the savage Texas summer, even if you like the poem. As you are on the coastal plains, it must be humid; you did say “boiling”! Glad these pieces could provide some entertainment, as examples of the forms you are working with. We can really use some more good examples of the fair forms in English, and these are so short they don’t take much time before you can relax for a vacation break–my favorite part of summer.

      Reply

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