Friday, 31 July 2009


As promised, following yesterday's Blogland detour through some French poetry, I have endeavoured to give literal translations; I've left the words, as much as possible, in the order in which they were written, rather than re-arranging to the accepted, English syntax. In this way, I hoped to give a better correlation between the original, and my version.

Literal translation of Pastel by Theophile Gautier

I love to see you in your oval frames,
yellowing portraits of beauties from an earlier age,
holding in your hands, roses - a little pale -
as befits flowers a hundred years old.

The winter wind, in touching your cheeks,
has made your carnations and lillies* die.
You have nothing left but spots **of mud
and on the sidewalk*** you languish, all sullied.

It is past, the gentle reign of courtesans.
La Parabere, along with La Pompadour,
would only find rebellious subjects, now,
and in their tombs Love is buried also.

You, meanwhile, ancient portraits one forgets,
you sniff your bouquets of flowers with no scent,
and smile with melancholy
at the memory of your gallant conquests.

*1) i.e. made your pink and white complexions 'die' - in the sense of expire, or fade.
** 2) hints at the idea of beauty spots?or maybe fly-blown, as a describing a mirror's black specks?
***3) on the quais, or walkways of bridges which span the river, maybe even riverbanks?

Literal translation of Chinoiserie.

It is not you, no madame, that I love.
Nor you either, Juliette, nor you
Ophelie, nor Beatrix; not even
Laure the Blonde, with her great, sweet/gentle eyes.

The one I love at present, is in China.
She lives with her old parents
in a tower of fine porcelain
by the Yellow River, where there are cormorants.

She has eyes tip-tilted towards the temples:
a foot small enough to hold in the hand:
a skin more translucent than the parchment of a lamp:
the nails long, and painted bright red.

Through her lattice she inclines her head,
which the swallow in flight comes to touch,
and each evening, as adroitly as a poet,
she sings of weeping willow and peach blossoms.

This poem was inspired by the painting on a Willow Patterned, fine porcelain plate - or so I was lead to believe, so the words 'in China' have a double meaning.

I hope this gives you a flavour of the actual French language, a feel of its lyrical flow. It would take a greater poet/linguist than I to write a grammatical English poem which could catch even a fraction of the nuances of the original. You see, I had to resort to a French word in that last sentence anyway, as I could think of none better!


  1. Wish I had been gifted with poetic capability, and another language. These sound so lovely Jinksy.
    Love Granny

  2. I can't right or wright or write a piece of poetry and the ones my mom taught me in the 1930s are racist these days so I can't say them or write them now.

  3. Amazing to think that Pastel is a literal translation - must have been made by someone with a natural flair for poetry.

  4. Always some interesting nugget here, jinksy!

  5. i'm glad you translated them. they are a delight to read.

  6. I love the "Pastel" translation...I find it very sad!

  7. Thanks for the translations - I have always wished that I could write poetry. My skills at a poet would struggle to even make it on to the front of a valentines card ... and that's not hard!

  8. Jinksy, nice! And I like the French translation over the German( as we tend to speak in reverse to the English, it could make for a awkward read ). Then again, there's the "Old English" of Chaucer's world( still working on that... )

  9. Hello Jinksy,

    Thanks for translating. Both poems are beautiful, even in literal form. 'Pastel' does have that melancholy associated with reminiscence.

  10. Indeed and the French also have wonderfully artistic stamps, don't they. I love their flowery language.
    Blessings Star

  11. I wish I could write poetry, but it is just not there. Je suis vacant, or is that en vacance?

  12. Isn't it funny Jinksy - in French they sound so wonderful when they are read out - in translation the meaning is quite sad in a way.
    They always say that French is the language of love - an Italian friend always says that Italian is the language of poetry.

  13. Thank you for the translations, Jinksy. Both are really lovely poems.

  14. This is so beautiful and the literal translation is wonderful to read. It's interesting to read something exactly as it was intended to be read, albeit minus some of the cadence that might have been in the foreign, original words. Hopefully that made sense.

  15. I am leaving a comment in lieu (some French to match your post) of Jackie who has sent me on a mission to tell people that she cannot get online today or she would be commenting (or should I say, having a tete a tete?)



  16. Poetry is so very hard to translate; who said "poetry is what gets lost in translation". I am no poet, don't even consider myself a writer; I have, however, tried to read translations of foreign poetry to members of poetry groups who do not know the original language and it's always fallen flat. Words that can move me to tears leave them cold.
    I hate that that should be so, I hate that I can't "make" others see and feel and taste and smell the poets who mean the most to me.
    Oh dear, Jinksy, you have hit a nerve.

  17. So hauntingly sad yet so beautiful, thanks for the translation my friend you do have a wonderful gift......many hugs to you....:-)

  18. I think the translation of the second poem is beautiful. I am thinking about why the double meaning of 'in China' would be significant. The poem was inspired by a painting on china, and his love is a girl from China. Am I totally missing some deeper meaning to that?


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