Thursday, 10 April 2014

Day 10: 'The Walk' by Thomas Hardy

Time for a change of direction: today I'm translating into French. This being as much of a first draft as any of my other NaPoTraMo efforts, and also being in my second language, I'm a bit nervous about posting it, but here we go...

The original:

The Walk

You did not walk with me
Of late to the hill-top tree
By the gated ways,
As in earlier days;
You were weak and lame,
So you never came,
And I went alone, and I did not mind,
Not thinking of you as left behind.

I walked up there to-day
Just in the former way:
Surveyed around
The familiar ground
By myself again:
What difference, then?
Only that underlying sense
Of the look of a room on returning thence.

And the translation:

La Balade

Dernièrement, tu
Ne venais plus
Te promener avec moi
Jusqu’à l’arbre du sommet
Par les petits sentiers
Comme autrefois ;
Faible, tu boitais,
Donc ne m’accompagnais jamais,
Et j’y allais tout seul, n’y réfléchissant guère ;
Je ne te croyais pas laissée en arrière.

Aujourd’hui je m’y suis promené
Comme j’ai si souvent fait ;
J’ai regardé la vue
Qui m’est si bien connue
Tout seul encore :
Quelle différence, alors ?
Rien que ce qu’on ressent, l’impression dérobée,
En retrouvant une pièce que l’on avait quittée.

The rhythm is inevitably different, and the French cannot always reproduce the concision that makes the original so poignant. ('Not thinking of you as left behind' was a line I found difficult to render elegantly in French!) I have had a go at the rhyme, though...
Comments welcome, as ever.


  1. I really like this, although my French is so abhorrent as to be unable to appreciate it fully. I suppose what has always interested me about translating verse, is that to be faithful to the target language, you inevitably have to change the syntax, and this often involves changing the order of the lines. Of course, here, the original and the target begin with different images. I just wonder (very much as a non--French speaker) what effect that has on the reader and does it change the process by which the reader accesses the poem. I suppose, as ever, I'm interested in the way the brain is grappling with the poem, and whether there is a significant difference when the succession of images changes. I don't know the answer to this.

    Also, I was at a conference the other day where the keynote was by Prof. Jim Al-Khalili. He was talking about the Golden age of Arabic science, and how it begins with an obsession with texts and translation. Between 800-1000 BC, the powers that be sought to bring any and all texts to Baghdad to be translated into Arabic i.e. the riches brought back from conquered lands comprised books primarily. It just got me thinking about how he/she who translates, has knowledge and ultimately power. While I know that that equation has negative connotations, I was struck by how incredibly important is the position of the translator, and how disadvantaged are those who cannot translate. I think about the latter often, as an interested reader, but terrible linguist! Anyway, just thought you might appreciate this food for thought. Congratulations on the blog – I think it's brilliant.

  2. I think it's an excellent translation, and "feels" like Hardy. That is, if I heard it in French I would recognise the poem.
    But re-reading Hardy's poem with its translation has made me notice something new about it. it seems to contrast thinking and seeing. He didn't think about her as left behind because he didn't have to see her absence. There is a clue then in "surveyed" about what is to come. It's the image in one's mind of the "look" of the room. Fauconnier and Turner say we need "concrete anchors" to accept death and that "nothings derive their thing-hood" from the absent thing itself. So it's imagining how absence actually looks: the person not there. So the word "look" is crucial. That's not to say you should or could have translated differently, only to say that, when we see a poem confronted with its translation, we read the poem differently.