May 12, 2004

Silly blog games

I should be sleeping. I've taken the rest of the week off from work to study for my exams. If my wife is reading this from Idaho, honey, I did try to get some sleep, okay? It's just the listening test tomorrow, only 5% of my grade.

Really, if I pass both my classes I'll be insufferable. I work full time and study Chinese and Russian in the evenings in classes that take place in Dutch, a language I studied for about a year and a half and still speak really badly. The only way I could have made it worse would have been to take Arabic on top of everything else - an option I considered. This is about the outer limit of my abilities, assuming I haven't finally bit off more than I can chew. I have limits - I've flunked enough times before to work that out - it just never seems to prevent me from engaging in these sado-masochistic bouts of schoolwork.

Anyway, via The Virtual Stoa, I notice the latest blog game:

Yes, it's the new game, to post choice lines from twenty randomly-selected songs on your preferred random-selection-of-songs generator. Me, I used the "party shuffle" feature on my regular playlist on iTunes (617 songs) to pick out a bunch, which the same "party shuffle" feature alleged were "up and coming". Then I edited the list to remove (i) instrumental pieces and (ii) more than one track by the same artist. And this is what we were left with.

I was listening to my iTunes at that moment and contempated following the instructions. But then, I decided to do something different. The song I was listening to is one of the (IMHO) better bits of francopop. It was also a song whose lyrics I tried to translate for my literary translation class in Montreal a million years ago - a class that I didn't fail, but where I learned that I have no particular gift for literary translation.

I think I'm a good essayist. I have a basic style that I acquired as a 16 year old freshman in Indiana, primarily in response to the red pen of this woman. My writing skills have at least half a dozen times saved me from the consequences of mediocre work. I also think that I used to be a fairly good French translator, and I like to think that I still am. But, I've discovered over the years that essay skills don't automatically translate into poetry or even fiction skills, and you have to have native literary skills to do literary translation.

So, I'm going to put up the whole lyrics to the song in question - Mylène Farmer, D?senchant?e - along with a mediocre translation. It's frustrating to know when you're just missing that perfect translation in your own native language, to read poetic language and be unsure how you ought to interpret it, to know you're writing crap. Worse still, I do not own a good French-English dictionary. I never have. I always relied on monolingual dictionaries and specialised glossaries. I have a Collins-Robert at the office, but without it I find myself asking whether I've really understood something, or really considered the options in translating some passage.

It's a frustrating feeling, especially when applying decade old disused skills. Anyway, voila, not my best effort but my best effort at 1 am in insominac mode, without dictionaries:

Nager dans les eaux troubles des lendemains attendre ici la fin...Swimming in the troubled waters of days to come waiting here for the end...
Flotter dans l'air trop lourd du presque rien à qui tendre la main?Floating in the thick air of next to nothing, to whom can I reach out?
Si je dois tomber de haut que ma chute soit lente.If I have to fall very far hopefully I'll fall slow.
Je n'ai trouvé de repos que dans l'indifférence.I've never had any rest except in indifference.
Pourtant je voudrais retrouver l'innocence.However, I'd like to get my innocence back.
Mais rien n?a de sens, et rien ne va.But nothing makes sense, and nothing works.

Tout est chaos
À côté
Tous mes idéaux: des mots


All is chaos
Not quite right
All my ideals: just
soiled words

Je cherche une âme, qui
pourra m'aider.
I'm looking for a soul who
can help me out.
Je suis
d'une g?neration
from a
disenchanted generation,
Qui pourrait m'empêcher
de tout entendre
quand la raison s'effondre?
Who can stop me
from hearing everything
when reason melts away?
À quelle sainte se vouer
qui peut prétendre
nous bercer dans son ventre?
To what saint can we give ourselves over
who can hope to
lull us in her bosom?
Si la
mort est un mystère
la vie n'a rien de tendre.
death is a mystery
then there is nothing tender to life
Si le
ciel a un enfer
le ciel peut bien m'attendre.
heaven has a hell
then heaven can just wait for me
Dis moi,
dans ces vents contraires comment s'y prendre?
Tell me,
in these contrary winds, where should I go?
Plus rien n'a de sens, plus rien ne va.Nothing makes sense anymore, nothing works

Posted 2004/05/12 1:19 (Wed) | TrackBack

To me, even if I were much more fluent than I am in French or Chinese, I would still use bilingual dictionaries because there are all these very specific nouns which I know in English but not in the other language. The specific example I'm thinking of was a word that might have meant "otter", "raccoon" or some related animal -- as I remember, I never figured it out. (The problem is amplified because there are two creatures, or maybe one, extant in China called the fox-badger and the raccoon-dog in English translation).

Posted by: john emerson / zizka at May 12, 2004 7:22

Yeah, I've had to use them too, but generally only for specialised terms. I used to translate computer manuals, so I had lots of bilingual computer terminology resources. But, until this last year I had more or less assumed my translation training was never going to see real use again.

Posted by: Scott Martens at May 12, 2004 9:11

It's a great song. And just in case you're ever going to have to take German translation exam, I just listenend to this German translation of it on the radio ( they have a lyrics translation database, too -

" Tag f?r Tag im tr?ben Wasser schwimmen
und auf das Ende warten?

M?hsam durch schwere Luft gleiten ?
f?r nichts und wieder nichts!
Wem soll man die Hand reichen?

Wenn ich schon von oben herabst?rzen muss,
dann w?nsche ich mir einen langsamen Fall.
Meine Ruhe habe ich immer nur in der Meinungslosigkeit gefunden!

Wie gern h?tte ich meine Unschuld zur?ck.
Aber jetzt macht nichts mehr Sinn!
Alles ist vergebens! Umsonst!

Um mich herum regiert das Chaos!
Meine Ideale sind zu abgenutzten Worte geworden.
Ich suche nach einer helfenden Hand,
denn ich geh?re zu einer entt?uschten Generation.

Wer sollte mich davon abhalten k?nnen,
alles in mich aufzunehmen, wenn die Vernunft versagt?

Wem kann man sich noch anvertrauen?
Wer will ernsthaft behaupten: uns, wohl und beh?tet,
in seinem Bauch noch schaukeln und besch?tzen zu k?nnen?

Wenn der Tod ein R?tsel geworden ist
und das Leben nichts Angenehmes mehr zu bieten hat,
wenn der Himmel tats?chlich H?lle bedeutet,
dann kann er lange auf mich warten!

Sag mir, wie man sich in dieser Welt mit ihren Gegens?tzen
zurecht finden soll, wo nichts mehr Sinn macht und nichts mehr geht! "

Posted by: Tobias at May 14, 2004 3:20

Myl?ne works quite nicely in most any context. Remixes 2003 is a catchy album, incidentally.

Posted by: Randy McDonald at May 19, 2004 17:30

Ha, I may have been a bit slow to see this but I KNEW you were burning the midnight oil. You just wait until I get home - I am taking you straight to bed you naughty boy! heheheh!!!


Posted by: The Little Mrs. at May 27, 2004 20:27
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