Monday, October 26, 2015

Poem of the Week 10/26

During my first year of college, for half a minute or so, I became friends with a French exchange student who was in Brooklyn College to pursue studies in the film department. I had been helping another friend out by being in his film project for class and met Morgann on set.

Morgann somehow completely missed the part where I'm the worst actress on the face of the planet 

"Courtney, look dramatic"
and asked if I'd be in his project as well. I said okay. This became a friendship where we'd talk about philosophy and cultural differences and film theory. But one of my favorite things to notice throughout the conversations were the little translation blips that just served to remind of the different backgrounds we've come from. Upon searching through old emails with him to find an example, I realize this perhaps will demonstrate what I mean: "I have no clue on what I want to be dressed like for Halloween and I do ask myself that question since May." He spoke fluently and more poetically in English than I can ever muster, but there were still little hints (aside from the obvious Parisian accent) that demonstrated his original country. One time we discussed translation and the problems inherent in translating artistic works, and he pointed me to the following poem:

A une Damoyselle malade

Ma mignonne,
Je vous donne
Le bon jour;
Le séjour
C’est prison.
Puis ouvrez
Votre porte
Et qu’on sorte
Car Clément
Le vous mande.
Va, friande
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
En danger
Pour manger
Si tu dures
Trop malade,
Couleur fade
Tu prendras,
Et perdras
Dieu te doint
Santé bonne,
Ma mignonne.

A man by the name of Douglas Hofstadter once undertook the hefty task of figuring out how to properly translate the poem - a task which seemed insurmountable. The poem is silly and playful, and not very weighty in though; however, the beauty of it lies in its form. It is a poem of 28 lines, with three syllables per line, in a series of rhyming couplets. All of this adds to the whimsy of the piece, and the question became how best to translate that. Here are some examples:

Hofstadter ended up enlisting the help of hundreds of people, from traditional translators to slam poets, trying to find what's best - trying to find what could keep the beauty of the little poem. Most interesting to me is the mention of food in the poem, because the argument could be made that the "jam" mentioned in the original is completely inconsequential. The jam is not what matters here; rather, it is the implication that jam is a vessel and so there is toast implied. This allows Hofstadter's sixth version of the poem to change the word to "buttered bread" and the second to be fruit preserves.

Similarly, the poets all take different liberties with terms of affection. Some refer to the young girl as "my dear," or "my chickadee;" Hofstadter even asked his mom to write a poem, and she referred to the original girl as "toots."

Check out these poems for yourself, though! They're so interesting and I can hardly do justice. Shh, don't tell the gov'ment.


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