by Gustave Nadaud (1820-1893)
Translated by Joshua C. Frank

“At sixty years, I’m getting old,
And I’ve been working all my days
Not being able to behold
Fulfillment of my wishing gaze.
I see that life on earth is filled
With perfect happiness for none.
My wish, it will go unfulfilled:
I’ve never been to Carcassonne!

“They see the town from up on high,
Behind the range of mountains blue;
But, to arrive there by and by,
Some five great leagues I’ll have to do;
And do as much just to come back!
Ah!  Had the grapes in plenty grown!
They all that yellow ripeness lack:
I never will see Carcassonne!

“I hear they see each day out there,
No more or less than Sunday’s sight,
The people strolling in the square
In brand-new suits and dresses white.
I hear they see the castle hulls
As big as those of Babylon,
A bishop and two generals!
I see I don’t know Carcassonne!

“The vicar’s right, a hundred times:
Foolhardiness is our condition.
Ambition leads a man to crimes
That lead him someday to perdition.
If I could find for an event
Two days around when autumn’s flown…
My God!  How I could die content
Right after seeing Carcassonne!

“My God!  My God!  Forgive me, Lord,
If this my prayer incites Your rage;
Man always grasps and tries to hoard,
Both in his childhood and old age.
My wife, ’long with my son Aignan,
Has traveled right up to Narbonne;
My godson’s been to Perpignan,
And I’ve not been to Carcassonne!”

So sang a man right near Limoux,
A country farmer bent with age.
I said to him, “Friend, why don’t you
Come travel with me, my good sage?”
We left together the next day,
But (may the Lord forgive His own!)
He died, poor man, en route halfway:
He never got to Carcassonne!


Translator’s Note: Carcassonne (CAR-kuh-SONE) is a town in the south of France, as are Narbonne (nar-BONE), Perpignan (PAIR-pee-NYAHN), and Limoux (lee-MOO).  Aignan (ay-NYAHN) is a French man’s name.  All pronunciations given are English approximations of the French pronunciations for ease of reading in English.
A great league is a pre-metric French unit of measure; the actual distance between Limoux and Carcassonne is about 13 miles (21 km) as the crow flies and 15 miles (25 km) by road.  The other two places mentioned are even farther from Limoux.



The King Who Limped

by Gustave Nadaud (1820-1893)
Translated by Joshua C. Frank

A king of France, or maybe Spain,
On his foot, he had a corn;
I think his left foot had the pain;
For pity, he would limp, forlorn.

The courtiers, ever skilled and bright,
To mimic him themselves applied;
Some from the left, some from the right,
All learned to limp on either side.

All saw real soon, there came all sorts
Of benefits from crippled stride;
From anteroom to highest courts,
Soon all would limp on either side.

Then a provincial lord one day,
Forgetting his new trade, you see,
Before the prince, walked all the way
As upright as a poplar tree.

All started laughing right away,
Except the king, who, quietly,
Murmured, “What have you to say?
You walk and do not limp, I see?”

“Sire,” he said, “You are mistaken!
I’m honeycombed with corns; besides,
If my gait appears unshaken,
It’s that I’m limping on both sides!


The signs « and » are French quotation marks.

Original French:


«Je me fais vieux, j’ai soixante ans,
J’ai travaillé toute ma vie,
Sans avoir, durant tout ce temps,
Pu satisfaire mon envie.
Je vois bien qu’il n’est ici-bas
De bonheur complet pour personne.
Mon vœu ne s’accomplira pas:
Je n’ai jamais vu Carcassonne!

«On voit la ville de là-haut,
Derrière les montagnes bleues;
Mais, pour y parvenir, il faut,
Il faut faire cinq grandes lieues;
En faire autant pour revenir!
Ah! si la vendange était bonne!
Le raisin ne veut pas jaunir:
Je ne verrai pas Carcassonne!

«On dit qu’on y voit tous les jours,
Ni plus ni moins que les dimanches,
Des gens s’en aller sur le cours,
En habits neufs, en robes blanches.
On dit qu’on y voit des châteaux
Grands comme ceux de Babylone,
Un évèque et deux généraux!
Je ne connais pas Carcassonne!

«Le vicaire a cent fois raison:
C’est des imprudents que nous sommes.
Il disait dans son oraison
Que l’ambition perd les hommes.
Si je pouvais trouver pourtant
Deux jours sur la fin de l’automne…
Mon Dieu! que je mourrais content
Après avoir vu Carcassonne!

«Mon Dieu! mon Dieu! pardonnez-moi
Si ma prière vous offense;
On voit toujours plus haut que soi,
En vieillesse comme en enfance.
Ma femme, avec mon fils Aignan,
A voyagé jusqu’à Narbonne;
Mon filleul a vu Perpignan,
Et je n’ai pas vu Carcassonne!»

Ainsi chantait, près de Limoux,
Un paysan courbé par l’âge.
Je lui dis: «Ami, levez-vous;
Nous allons faire le voyage.»
Nous partîmes le lendemain;
Mais (que le bon Dieu lui pardonne!)
Il mourut à moitié chemin:
Il n’a jamais vu Carcassonne!


Le Roi Boîteux

Un roi d’Espagne, ou bien de France,
Avait un cor, un cor au pied;
C’était au pied gauche, je pense;
Il boitait à faire pitié.

Les courtisans, espèce adroite,
S’appliquèrent à l’imiter;
Et qui de gauche, qui de droite,
Ils apprirent tous à boiter.

On vit bientôt le bénéfice
Que cette mode rapportait;
Et, de l’antichambre à l’office,
Tout le monde boitait, boitait.

Un jour, un seigneur de province,
Oubliant son nouveau métier,
Vint à passer devant le prince,
Ferme et droit comme un peuplier.

Tout le monde se mit à rire,
Excepté le roi, qui, tout bas,
Murmura : «Monsieur, qu’est-ce à dire?
Je crois que vous ne boitez pas?

— Sire, quelle erreur est la vôtre!
Je suis criblé de cors; voyez:
Si je marche plus droit qu’un autre,
C’est que je boite des deux pieds.»



Joshua C. Frank works in the field of statistics and lives near Austin, Texas. 

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18 Responses

  1. James Sale

    Particularly enjoyed the Carcassonne poem – it had a dramatic tension: would he ever get there? Sadly, alas, not it seems! Thanks for this.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, James! I’m glad you like it.

      Maybe if he had lived to see Carcassonne, he would have been disappointed with it.

  2. Roy E. Peterson

    Both of these translations are beautifully done! The first is a wonderful presentation for those who have never fulfilled their dream of going to a particular place and then the fate of attempting to go there perhaps to fulfill a bucket list. The second is a beautiful story with a response that was both wise and funny. Love them both!

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    Two very fine and meticulous translations! It takes a lot of skill and patience to produce metrical and rhymed Englishings that stick to the meaning of the translated text, and also retain its rhyme scheme.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Joe! High praise indeed coming from someone with all your translation experience and attention to detail.

      I find translating French poetry to be a helpful rhyming exercise, since so many more words rhyme with each other in French than in English.

      I can’t even imagine how hard your task must be to translate from older forms of Italian, all the way back to Latin! There are people today who speak modern French as their native language; those other languages don’t have that advantage. (Medieval French poetry shows me that the French language hasn’t changed much since then.)

  4. Brian Yapko

    Josh, assuming that my college French hasn’t failed me, I believe that both of these poems are just as charming in your translation as in the original. I think you’ve succeeded in bringing the poet’s intent into English quite admirably. “Carcassonne” speaks longingly of a man’s “best laid plans” and is quite moving in its consideration of dreams that will never be achieved. In all candor, I much prefer the wistful quality of your translation to the sung version which, though charming, does not hit me with as much emotional force as your words alone.

    The King Who Limped is a delightful tale — rather reminiscent of Hans Christian Anderson. Your translation is very amusing and accurate. This is one of the few poems I can think of which cries out for illustration. Well done on both!

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Brian! What a huge compliment that you prefer my version of “Carcassonne” to the original, and like my version of “The King Who Limped” as much!

      Also, what an interesting idea, illustrations for “The King Who Limped!”

  5. Margaret Coats

    Like the unfortunate speaker, I’ve never seen Carcassonne. In my case, there were too many nearby fascinating destinations in my imagination. Still, Josh, your lovely translation puts the beautifully preserved medieval fortress town back on my list. At present, it’s not work that interferes with travel that should be possible, but ridiculous fears and restrictions we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. The Carcassonne song comes at an especially good time for us to rethink where we still want to go, and to be grateful for the magical places we have been able to visit. Thanks for this poem reminding us of the intriguing power of a place, however near or far!

    • Joshua C. Frank

      You’re welcome, Margaret! That’s nice to hear, that my translation made you want to see Carcassonne.

  6. Jeff Eardley

    Joshua, I may be fortunate in being someone who has driven from England to Carcassonne and spent a couple of nights in the old town, the memory of which was re-kindled by your delightful poem of unrequited desire. The King who limped could soon apply to our new one over here. I enjoyed these immensely. You are highly skilled at bringing these works to a wider audience. Thank you.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Jeff, for such a compliment! That’s funny, about King Charles; I laughed out loud when I read that!

      Is Carcassonne really like the speaker has heard it described?

      • Jeff Eardley

        Carcassonne is a beautiful location set in the rolling vineyard region of Languedoc with the Mediterranean nearby. Incidentally, we English had a famous songwriter, Jake Thakray, who modelled himself on Georges Brassens and is worth a YouTube. Thanks again for a superb read.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        I’ll have to listen to him! Thanks!

        There’s also Pierre de Gaillande who sings Brassens songs in English in his “Bad Reputation” album.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Sourav! It is a difficult task, but not as difficult as it sounds (unless it’s a long poem where every line rhymes with one of two syllables, which I’ve seen!). My translations aren’t word-for-word or even image-for-image. The idea is to express the idea in metrical, rhyming English in such a way that nothing important in the original is missed.

  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Josh, thank you very much for using your obvious skill to bring these delightful works to a greater audience – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them and marvel at your attention to fine detail and your patience. I also smiled at your comment: “Maybe if he had lived to see Carcassonne, he would have been disappointed with it.” I have learned not to have a preconceived notion of any destination… my fertile imagination has let me down on many an occasion.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Susan! So nice to hear from you! I’m glad you like my choice of works and my translations of them.

      It’s funny how it is… if a Frenchman hadn’t introduced me to Georges Brassens, I never would have heard them sung, I wouldn’t know they exist, and no one here would be reading them in English.

      Rhyming a translated pair of lines actually isn’t so hard; the real challenge would be rhyming a bunch of lines with each other. It’s not too different from composing a poem in English: the idea is there, we just need to say it in English rhyme and meter.

      And, yes, I’ve learned the same lesson as you, the hard way…


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