marcel barang

Posts Tagged ‘translation’

Bulan Sastra

In English, Reading matters on 18/09/2016 at 9:45 pm

bulanThat’s the title of a superbly produced and edited anthology of short stories and poems by Thai and Indonesian writers published in three languages by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC) of the Thai Ministry of Culture. I edited the English section. This 660-page-long trade book is available free of charge upon request to OCAC, whose mission is to distribute it to all manner of public libraries for the promotion of regional literature. Trust me, it’s a great gift.

Wrapping the baby in swaddling clothes

In English, Reading matters on 04/10/2012 at 12:21 am

Yesterday (Tuesday) was pleasurably busy: Saneh Sangsuk was here to go through Under a demented sky, my translation of his latest masterpiece. He found half a dozen errors (some of a stupid kind: ‘cane sugar’ for ‘palm sugar’, ‘clogs’ for ‘sandals’ and the like) and spent some time explaining a few bawdy lines – such as the lewd song whose first verse is ‘Pee nee som sa Pee na som-o’, which became crystal clear when I knew it referred to breasts: ‘Lemons this year, melons next year’ – and a few cusses, such as tchet!, which he explained was a rude interjection used to chase dogs (all the ruder as being used by our nun heroine to dismiss her husband). We agreed on ‘You mangy dog!’ followed by the easier ‘You devil!’ (marn!).

Saneh, whom I’d been trying to contact even before I left for France, had called me a couple of days earlier under his own steam, as it were, to inquire about our baby’s health. He had turned off his phones (he’s got two now!) because, he said, he was fed up with people calling to tell him why he would get the SEA Write this year and with people calling to tell him why he would not get the SEA Write this year, disturbing him in his current writing spell, a novel on … euthanasia.

In the event, I was the one who informed him of which work the award went to last week! I tried several times to foist the damn book on him (I’ve got two copies, remember?) but he wouldn’t take it: he’s writing; he has no time to read – or so he said.

My thanks to the hermit of Phetchaburi for interrupting his schedule for a day just to come and see me in Bangkok, where he hadn’t set foot in months.

He must have heard a lot, though, before turning off his phones: he regaled me with reports of what some critics had said about this book, one female professor in particular (whose name he conveniently couldn’t recall) who found it repellent and unworthy of the holy SEA Write, which everyone knows crowns pious works for prissy ladies which innocent children can be trusted to read too without being laid astray.

Passages such as these, I guess:

[About the husband:] But even so he came round to see me who was a nun, no longer concerned with the world, clad in the robe of sorrow, living a life of simple peace of mind and merely persevering in the search for the absolute truth, whereas in reality he was most pleased with the practices of the nude heretics, those so called Sky-clothed that clad themselves in wind. He or his parents would invite such practitioners to eat – Sky-clothed with coarse, broken feet caked in dust, Sky-clothed with dirty hands, Sky-clothed with mottled complexions, their flesh full of rashes from the bites of ants, horseflies, mos­quitoes, midges and mites, Sky-clothed that squatted on the ground to wolf down their food, their penises hanging down to the ground, their testicles hanging down to the ground. He and his parents were devoted to the Sky-clothed. He was mystified by the daring of the Sky-clothed, didn’t see that the daring of the Sky-clothed was absence of shame. …

[Encounter with a bandit, who tells the mother of the snake-bitten child:] Let me have a look at his wound. He moved and sat up. Don’t, I said. I don’t want to see his wound yet. I can’t stand looking at it. And right then I laughed and then I cried, feeling such a throbbing pain in my chest that I didn’t know what to do next besides walking ahead, running ahead or tumbling about ahead. That man slipped his hand beneath his loincloth with a straight face, grabbed his penis and shook it to make it swell erect, smiled pleased to see its turgescence and spoke again as if talking to himself, Nabob Paiti’s wife, is it? And coming alone too! I should have this defile you but since you hug the corpse of your child and have entered the jungle alone like this, you must have lost your mind. Look at yourself. What’s the point of raping a mad woman like you? And what’s that black thing clinging to your left ear, the size of your little finger? That’s a buffalo leech, you know. His face took a disgusted expression that was plain to see. Well, let me have a look at that child of yours. I said, No need, elder brother. I have to hurry. And I discreetly heaved a sigh of relief when he said, Suit yourself. I motioned to take a step but I was startled out of my wits when he shouted, Wait! …

[Of bawdy drunks:] Their drums beat loudly, Ta-toom! Ta-toom! Ta-toom! Resonating, their bandoh were all shivers, their oboe was shrill and provocative, their lyre aggressive and caustic, their cymbals, clappers and gong a fluid addition. And the songs they sang? … They sang, Lemons this year, melons next year. If you want a man, don’t be afraid to fall pregnant. They sang, Poor Sita, you’ll have to wait for your hubby Till your yoni gets mouldy. They sang a song about a goofy trooper who returns to base too late and explains the reason for his difficulty with My woman’s got hair down there aplenty It’s such a jungle and so hot Before getting through to reach the spot The monks’ morning bell’s ringing. Vulgar, obscene songs of worldly people that spent their lives in a whirlpool of worldly pleasure, had thought only for the whirlpool of worldly pleasure and performed their various occupations for the sake of worldly pleasure only. …

Literature at its best. Positively disgusting indeed!

I spent the rest of the day entering the corrections, checking up Indian place names and Indian names, and sending the result to my favourite editor who will work her magic on my English. Publication in about a fortnight, I guess.

Another copy is with Le Seuil, Saneh’s French publisher…

A thousand kisses deep (2)

In English, French, Reading matters on 10/06/2012 at 3:49 pm

Last night, a snafu in emails (thanks, GB!) made me aware of a second version of ‘A thousand kisses deep’, the one poignantly recited rather than sung by Leonard Cohen in London some four years ago ( Amazingly it has nothing in common with the first version (see 15/12/2009 entry) except for the title line. So – better late than never or, as we say in ludic French, vieux motard que j’aimais – I couldn’t resist the pleasure to turn it into French.
[PS: Went a bit too fast yesterday, so some corrections, as suggested by my favourite editor, are in order.]

A thousand kisses deep (recited version – Leonard Cohen, 2008)

Au fin fond de mille baisers (version récitée)

You came to me this morning
And you handled me like meat
You’d have to be a man to know
How good that feels, how sweet

Tu es venue à moi ce matin
Et m’as manié palpé comme un morceau de la viande
Faudrait que tu sois un homme pour savoir comprendre
Le plaisir que ça fait, la douceur que c’est

My mirror twin, my next of kin
I’d know you in my sleep
And who but you would take me in
A thousand kisses deep

Ma sœur à l’identique, ma proche parente
Je te reconnaîtrais dans mon sommeil
Et qui sinon toi m’abuserait
Au fin fond de mille baisers

I loved you when you opened
Like a lily to the heat
You see I’m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet

Je t’ai aimée quand tu t’es ouverte
Comme un lys à la chaleur
Tu vois je ne suis qu’un de ces bonhommes de neige
Debout sous la pluie et la neige fondue

Who loved you with his frozen love
His second-hand physique
With all he is and all he was
A thousand kisses deep

Qui t’a aimée de son amour gelé
De son physique d’occase
De tout ce qu’il est, de tout ce qu’il fut
Au fin fond de mille baisers

I know you had to lie to me
I know you had to cheat
To pose all hot and high
Behind the veils of sheer deceit

Je sais que tu as dû me mentir
Je sais que tu as dû tricher
Pour poser brûlante et défoncée
Sous des voiles de la pure tromperie

Our perfect porn aristocrat
So elegant and cheap
I’m old but I’m still into that
A thousand kisses deep

Notre aristocrate porno parfait
Si élégant et facile
Je suis vieux mais toujours accro [/je persévère]
Au fin fond de mille baisers

I’m good at love, I’m good at hate
It’s in between I freeze
Been working out but it’s too late
(It’s been too late for years)

Je suis doué pour l’amour, doué pour la haine
C’est entre les deux que je me fige
Je m’entraîne mais c’est trop tard
Ça fait des années que c’est trop tard

But you look good, you really do
They love you on the street
If you were here I’d kneel for you
A thousand kisses deep

Mais tu as l’air en forme, oui, vraiment
Les gens dans la rue t’adorent
Si tu étais là je m’agenouillerais pour toi
Au fin fond de mille baisers

The autumn moved across your skin
Got something in my eye
A light that doesn’t need to live
And doesn’t need to die

L’automne a parcouru ta peau
J’ai quelque chose dans l’œil
Une lumière qui n’a pas besoin de vivre
Et n’a pas besoin de mourir

A riddle in the book of love
Obscure and obsolete
And witnessed here in time and blood
A thousand kisses deep

Une énigme dans le livre de l’amour
Obscure et obsolète
Dont témoignent ici le temps et le sang
Au fin fond de mille baisers

But I’m still working with the wine
Still dancing cheek to cheek
The band is playing ‘Auld Lang Syne’
But the heart will not retreat

Mais je continue d’apprécier le vin
De danser joue contre joue
L’orchestre joue ‘Auld Lang Syne’
Mais le cœur refuse de battre en retraite

I ran with Diz, I sang with Ray
I never had their sweep
But once or twice they let me play
A thousand kisses deep

Je me suis enfui avec Diz, j’ai chanté avec Ray
Je n’ai jamais eu leur envergure
Mais une fois ou deux elles ils m’ont laissé jouer
Au fin fond de mille baisers

I loved you when you opened
Like a lily to the heat
You see I’m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet

Je t’ai aimée quand tu t’es ouverte
Comme un lys à la chaleur
Tu vois je ne suis qu’un de ces bonhommes de neige
Debout sous la pluie et la neige fondue

Who loved you with his frozen love
His second-hand physique
With all he is and all he was
A thousand kisses deep

Qui t’a aimée de son amour de glace
Et de son physique usagé
De tout ce qu’il fut, de tout ce qu’il est
Au fin fond de mille baisers

But you don’t need to hear me now
And every word I speak
It counts against me anyhow
A thousand kisses deep

Mais tu n’as pas besoin de m’entendre à présent
Et tous les mots que je dis prononce
Ça compte Jouent contre moi de toute façon
Au fin fond de mille baisers

Veni vidi veto

In English, Reading matters on 29/04/2011 at 3:59 pm


Maybe I’m a lousy translator. Or just a lousy reader: when I found this story in the last issue of Chor Karrakeit, I was dazed and impressed. But then I set about translating it, that is, made a first draft, and the longer I laboured through it, opening dictionaries for every other word, trying to make words meet and generate some kind of sense, the more I wanted to laugh. In despair. And in despair gave up after less than a page. Here it is:

The faces of the controllers/Faces of domination [?]

Theeraphon See-in

First-time control/takeover [?]

Revision of the kangaroo’s pouch

I’ll tell you a few stories. Lend me your ear. Fun-dancing with chaos. Tell you stories about myself by myself. Friends who fear festivals, sweetly captivating performances of enticing music, have all long flocked here. We who pile up in the thread [field of study?] step in to observe world happenings by the edge of the wall [within wall confines?]. There is quiet lonely emptiness as a building to take shelter in. I swear before Hun Sen: if at that time we haunted windmills, we’d have dashed upon, blown, torn, yanked the Don Quixote figure to have it smashed to bits in front of Sancho. We the cloddish and half-hearted disregard the nature there is in it, repeatedly, endlessly, confusedly, hastily, suspiciously, hot-heatedly. No time to think carefully. We should assemble at the Pigs Monument and set up a stage to ridicule our own dullness, issue declarations, raise the flag to wear down language to the utmost, by way of our seeing that this is the only way to convey the meaning of meaninglessness, try to listen to the wind blowing fickle, to lullaby the fields, flocks of exhausted birds streaking the clouds. I get up to pee very frequently, several times a night. Water flows in dribs and drabs. A single stream thus spurts enraged, multiple streams flows unhurriedly. Mine is of the latter [kind?]. Revising the life of a madman about to board a train with coconuts piled on his back. I like the face of a writer adorned with a gloomy beard. Forget about it. At least, don’t mention it again. The teller of tales lies dead in the subconscious. The ugly, frightening, hair-raising nature of idealism’s shattered dream, like a dead dog, a dead cat, a dead snake, a dead bird by the roadside. Wind the mosquito net into a sole long-handed umbrella in the middle of the Suphan Buri fields. Bangkok is no place to be. There’s only persons who repeat unreasonable stories. I slept with a prostitute at Wongwian Yai. She had small red birthmarks all over. I cried after intercourse…

And I, before intromission. Why go on? Too bad for the lovely ‘flocks of exhausted birds streaking the clouds’, though.

Why Saneh? Why not Chart?

In English, Reading matters on 27/04/2011 at 8:47 pm

I’m often asked that double-barrelled question, especially by Thais who hold Chart Korbjitti to be literary as good as or even better than Saneh Sangsuk and don’t understand that the latter has made a splash in France and Europe, to the point of becoming a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, whereas the two best novels of the former, a Thai National Artist, have been commercial flops.
I usually explain this away by Saneh’s iconoclastic views and seductive flamboyant style in contrast to Chart’s steadier, deceptively lackluster prose.
A more fundamental answer perhaps is to be found in a Times Literary Supplement’s article published in the April 20, 2011 issue, which has yet to reach my mailbox, and kindly brought to my attention by a reader of this blog. You’ll find it (this week) at
It’s written by novelist Tim Parks and entitled ‘The Nobel individual and the paradoxes of “international literature”’.
Here are a few excerpts:

A novelist is not famous today unless internationally famous, not recognized unless recognized everywhere. Even the recognition extended to him in his home country is significantly increased if he is recognized abroad. The smaller the country he lives in, the less important his language on the international scene, the more this is the case. So if for the moment the phenomenon is only vaguely felt in Anglophile cultures, it is a formidable reality in countries like Holland or Italy. The inevitable result is that many writers, consciously or otherwise, have begun to think of their audience as international rather than national.
…translators are becoming less rather than more visible. Few readers will be aware who translates their favourite foreign novelist, even though that person will have a huge influence on the tone and feel of every page.
At one level it is generally agreed that literary prizes are largely a lottery, and international prizes even more so … the larger and more improbable the prize, the more the talk and the more the credit extended to them.
Readers, wherever they are from, want to feel that they are in direct, unmediated contact with greatness. They are not eager to hear about translators. The writer wants to believe his genius is arriving, pristine, unmediated, to his readers all over the world. So the prize is important, while the translator must disappear. The translator must be reduced to an industrial process, or a design choice; he is on the same level as the typeface or the quality of the paper. If a translator himself or herself wins a prize it is because he or she has translated a major author. A brilliant translation of a little-known author impresses no one.
The space given to America is quite disproportionate. American authors, far more than their British, French or German counterparts, need not make any special claims to international attention. No novelty is required. The opposite is true for the writer from Serbia, the Czech Republic or Holland. A writer from these countries must come up with something impressive and unusual in terms of content and style if a global audience is to be reached. Five hundred pages of Franzen-like details about popular mores in Belgrade or Warsaw would not attract a large advance.
The question arises then: what kind of literature is it that reaches an international public, surviving what is now an industrialized translation process squeezed into the briefest possible time and paying little attention to questions of affinity between translator and text (to the point that many larger novels are split between a number of translators)?
Rather than embodying the spirit of a people, this is a literature that tends to the existentialist, speaks of Everyman, not an Irishman, an Englishman or a Frenchman; and existentialism is necessarily a form of internationalism.
We arrive at this paradox. However much you prize your individuality, your autonomy from your national culture, nevertheless you’d better have an interesting national product (ball and chain?) to sell on the international market. Rather than liberating us, the process of internationalizing literature reinforces stereotypes as, faced with the need to be aware of so many countries, we use a rapid system of labelling. And the faster the translator has to work, the more, you can be sure, the final product will be flattened and standardized.

This is an ostensibly Eurocentric analysis, but in many ways one even more relevant to the fate of literary works from ‘distant’ countries such as Thailand pigeonholed for their sea, sand, sun and sex.
At this stage, let’s make a bet: let’s bet that Chart Korbjitti’s Chiens fous (Phan Ma Ba), which deals with sea, sand, sun, sex, shit and sangria, will have much better sales than La Chute de Fak (human hypocrisy, human misery) or Sonne l’heure (changing family and other social values).
This being said, my dear Tim Parks, I have no intention of ever producing translations that ‘will be flattened and standardized’, even though I’m aware of such pressures.

By the way, always the optimist, today I renewed for the next three years my subscription to the TLS – 420 pounds sterling, no less, my lawyer of a daughter’s current monthly salary – and was disgusted to see that they insist on an extra 20 pounds to give me subscriber’s access to their website. Something which should be par for the course, as the London Review of Books, to which I also subscribe, well understands: I recently also renewed my subscription to LRB to the maximum duration they offer (two years) but even a one-year subscription would have given me access to all their website pages.
I haven’t checked yet what the website policy for subscribers is at the New York Review of Books.

Festival Ferré – 7

In English, French, Reading matters on 23/03/2011 at 1:35 am


An amazing one-old-man performance awaits you at dazzling jubilation perhaps are the words for that ancient mug that blinks and frowns as it belts out words as bronco wild as ever, repeatedly sighs ‘requiem – requiem’ in between strophes, a frail, almost gawky, sidelined presence at times at the forefront of a distant, bloated ensemble as still and dull as a row of quills before a strike.

I’ve just discovered this song on YouTube and it’s the moving interpretation Master Ferré gives it that led me to lyrics I had overlooked at first.

Requiem – Léo Ferré – 1975


Pour ce rythme inférieur dont t’informe la Mort
Pour ce chagrin du temps en six cent vingt-cinq lignes
Pour le bateau tranquille et qui se meurt de port
Pour ce mouchoir à qui tes larmes font des signes

For this lowly rhythm of which death informs you
For this sorrow of the times in six hundred and twenty-five lines
For the boat becalmed and pining for a harbour
For this handkerchief to which your tears beckon

Pour le cheval enfant qui n’ira pas bien loin
Pour le mouton gracieux le couteau dans le rouge
Pour l’oiseau descendu qui te tient par la main
Pour l’homme désarmé devant l’arme qui bouge

For the child horse that won’t go very far
For the gracious sheep with a knife in the red
For the shot-down bird that holds you by the hand
For the unarmed man before a moving weapon

Pour tes jeunes années à mourir chaque jour
Pour tes vieilles années à compter chaque année
Pour les feux de la nuit qui enflamment l’amour
Pour l’orgue de ta voix dans ta voix en allée

For your young years spent dying each day
For your old years spent counting each year
For the fires of night that set love ablaze
For the organ of your voice in your voice now lost

Pour la perforation qui fait l’ordinateur
Et pour l’ordinateur qui ordonne ton âme
Pour le percussionniste attentif à ton cœur
Pour son inattention au bout du cardiogramme

For the punching of holes that makes the computer
And for the great architect that puts your soul in order
For the percussionist attentive to your heart
For his lack of attention when the cardiogram ends

Pour l’enfant que tu portes au fond de l’autobus
Pour la nuit adultère où tu mets à la voile
Pour cet amant passeur qui ne passera plus
Pour la passion des araignées au fond des toiles

For the child you carry to the back of the bus
For the adulterous night when you make way under sail
For that fleeting lover who won’t fleet round again
For the passion of spiders in the depths of their webs

Pour l’aigle que tu couds sur le dos de ton jeans
Pour le loup qui se croit sur les yeux de quelqu’un
Pour le présent passé à l’imparfait du spleen
Pour le lièvre qui passe à la formule Un

For the eagle you stitch on the back of your jeans
For the wolf that thinks he is on someone’s eyes
For the present spent in the imperfect of spleen
For the hare that goes on to Formula One

Pour le chic d’une courbe où tu crois t’évader
Pour le chiffre évadé de la calculatrice
Pour le regard du chien qui veut te pardonner
Pour la Légion d’Honneur qui sort de ta matrice

For the chic of a curve by which you think you’re escaping
For the figure set free from a calculator
For the eyes of the dog that wants to forgive you
For the Legion of Honour that comes out of your matrix

Pour le salaire obscène qu’on ne peut pas montrer
Pour la haine montant du fond de l’habitude
Pour ce siècle imprudent aux trois quarts éventé
Pour ces milliards de cons qui font la solitude

For the obscene salary that can’t be shown around
For the hatred coming out of the dregs of habit
For this rash century three-quarters past its best
For those billions of jerks that make for loneliness

Pour tout ça le silence

For all of that, silence

Festival Ferré – 6

In English, French, Reading matters on 21/03/2011 at 6:56 pm

Jolie môme
– Léo Ferré – 1960

Pretty gal

T’es tout’ nue
Sous ton pull
Y a la rue
Qu’est maboule
Jolie môme
T’as ton cœur
À ton cou
Et l’bonheur
Par en d’ssous
Jolie môme

You’re stark naked
’neath your jumper
The whole street’s
going bonkers
pretty gal
You wear your heart
around your neck
with happiness
right underneath
pretty gal

T’as l’rimmel
Qui fout l’camp
C’est l’dégel
Des amants
Jolie môme
Ta prairie
Ça sent bon
Fais-en don
Aux amis
Jolie môme

Your mascara
is running
It’s thaw time
for lovers
pretty gal
Your grassland
smells so good
Donate it
to your friends
pretty gal

T’es qu’un’ fleur
Du printemps
Qui s’fout d’l’heure
Et du temps
T’es qu’un’ rose
Que l’on pose
A côté
Jolie môme

You’re a flower
in the spring
that just doesn’t
give a fig
Just a rose
in full bloom
to be laid down
beside one
pretty gal

T’es qu’un brin
De soleil
Dans l’chagrin
Du réveil
T’es qu’un’ vamp
Qu’on éteint
Comm’ un’ lampe
Au matin
Jolie môme

You’re a dash
of sun in
the chagrin
of waking
Just a vamp
one turns off
like a lamp
in the morn’
pretty gal

Tes baisers
Sont pointus
Comme un accent aigu
Jolie môme
Tes p’tits seins
Sont du jour
A la coque
A l’amour
Jolie môme

Your kisses
are as acute
as the accent
pretty gal
Your titties
newly laid
boiled just so
egg us on
pretty gal

Ta barrière
De froufrous
Faut s’la faire
Mais c’est doux
Jolie môme
Ta violette
Est l’violon
Qu’on violente
Et c’est bon
Jolie môme

Your barrier
of frail frills
takes some doing
but it’s soft
pretty gal
Your violet
is the viol
one violates
and it’s great
pretty gal

T’es qu’un’ fleur
De pass’ temps
Qui s’fout d’l’heure
Et du temps
T’es qu’une étoile
Qu’on entoile
Aux beaux jours
Jolie môme

You’re just a
toy flower
that just doesn’t
give a fig
Just a star
of cool love
to be netted
on fine days
pretty gal

T’es qu’un point
Sur les “i”
Du chagrin
De la vie
Et qu’une chose
De la vie
Qu’on arrose
Qu’on oublie
Jolie môme

You’re just a dot
on the i’s
of the sorrows
of existence
and just one
of those things
to be watered
and forgotten
pretty gal

T’as qu’un’ paire
De mirettes
Au poker
Des conquêtes
Jolie môme
T’as qu’un’ rime
Au bonheur
Faut qu’ça rime
Ou qu’ça pleure
Jolie môme

You’ve just got
those peepers
in the poker
of conquests
pretty gal
You’ve got this one rhyme
to happiness
Either it chimes
or you distress
pretty gal

T’as qu’un’ source
Au milieu
Du bon dieu
Jolie môme
T’as qu’un’ porte
En voil’ blanc
Que l’on pousse
En chantant
Jolie môme

You’ve just got
this one spring
in the middle
splashing forth
You’re just a door
in white tulle
to be pushed open
as one sings
pretty gal

T’es qu’un’ pauv’
Petit’ fleur
Qu’on guimauv’
Et qui meurt
T’es qu’un’ femme
A r’passer
Quand son âme
Est froissée
Jolie môme

You’re just a poor
little flower
to be pampered
before it dies
Just a woman
to be ironed
when her soul
is creased
pretty gal

T’es qu’un’ feuille
De l’automne
Qu’on effeuille
T’es qu’un’ joie
En allée
Viens chez moi
La r’trouver
Jolie môme

You’re just a leaf
of autumn
to be viewed
in an album
Just a joy
that is gone
Come to my digs
that’s where it is
pretty gal

T’es tout’ nue
Sous ton pull
Y a la rue
Qu’est maboule
Jolie môme !

You’re stark naked
’neath your jumper
The whole street’s
going bonkers
pretty gal

Festival Ferré – 5

In English, French, Reading matters on 20/03/2011 at 4:23 pm


This is one of Ferré’s ‘forbidden’ songs – forbidden for reasons I fail to fathom: half a century later, these imprecations are pretty mild, not to say weak. Pas de quoi fouetter une chatte impubère, ma mère. It’s at Quite a nice bluesy melody.

Thank you Satan – Léo Ferré – 1961

Merci Satan

Pour la flamme que tu allumes
Au creux d’un lit pauvre ou rupin
Pour le plaisir qui s’y consume
Dans la toile ou dans le satin
Pour les enfants que tu ranimes
Au fond des dortoirs chérubins
Pour leurs pétales anonymes
Comme la rose du matin

Thank you Satan

For the passion you trigger
In beds whether poor or posh
For the fun enjoyed there
In linen or in satin
For the children you revive
In cherub dormitories
For their petals as nameless
As the morning rose

Merci Satan

Pour le voleur que tu recouvres
De ton chandail tendre et rouquin
Pour les portes que tu lui ouvres
Sur la tanière des rupins
Pour le condamné que tu veilles
À l’abbaye du monte en l’air
Pour le rhum que tu lui conseilles
Et le mégot que tu lui sers

Thank you Satan

For the thief whom you cover
With your soft auburn jumper
For the doors you open for him
Into the lairs of the rich
For the condemned man you watch over
At the abbey of cat-burglars
For the rum you recommend
And the fag you serve him

Merci Satan

Pour les étoiles que tu sèmes
Dans le remords des assassins
Et pour ce cœur qui bat quand même
Dans la poitrine des putains
Pour les idées que tu maquilles
Dans la tête des citoyens
Pour la prise de la Bastille
Même si ça ne sert à rien

Thank you Satan

For the stars that you sow
In murderers’ remorse
And for this heart that insists on beating
In whores’ chests
For the ideas you scramble
Into citizens’ heads
For the taking of the Bastille
Even though it was pointless

Merci Satan

Pour le prêtre qui s’exaspère
A retrouver le doux agneau
Pour le pinard élémentaire
Qu’il prend pour du Château Margaux
Pour l’anarchiste à qui tu donnes
Les deux couleurs de ton pays
Le rouge pour naître à Barcelone
Le noir pour mourir à Paris

Thank you Satan

For the priest who despairs
Of finding the gentle ewe again
For the run-of-the-mill plonk
He takes for Château Margaux
For the anarchist you provide with
The two colours of your country:
The red for Barcelona birth
The black for death in Paris

Merci Satan

Pour la sépulture anonyme
Que tu fis à Monsieur Mozart
Sans croix ni rien sauf pour la frime
Un chien, croque-mort du hasard
Pour les poètes que tu glisses
Au chevet des adolescents
Quand poussent dans l’ombre complice
Des fleurs du mal de dix-sept ans

Thank you Satan

For the anonymous grave
You dug for Mister Mozart
Without a cross, but with, for show
A dog, chance’s undertaker
For the poets you slip by
Teenagers’ bedsides
When in collusive shadow
At seventeen the flowers of evil grow

Merci Satan

Pour le péché que tu fais naître
Au sein des plus raides vertus
Et pour l’ennui qui va paraître
Au coin des lits où tu n’es plus
Pour les ballots que tu fais paître
Dans le pré comme des moutons
Pour ton honneur à ne paraître
Jamais à la télévision

Thank you Satan

For the sin you foster
Within the most turgid virtues
And for the boredom soon to appear
By the beds you have deserted
For the fools you take to pasture
In the meadows like sheep
For your pride in never making
An appearance on television

Merci Satan

Pour tout cela et plus encore
Pour la solitude des rois
Le rire des têtes de morts
Le moyen de tourner la loi
Et qu’on ne me fasse point taire
Et que je chante pour ton bien
Dans ce monde où les muselières
Ne sont plus faites pour les chiens…

Thank you Satan!

For all this and much more
For the loneliness of kings
The laughter of skulls
The means to get around the law
And may I not be made to shut up
And left to sing for your own good
In this world where muzzles
Are no longer made for dogs

Merci Satan!

Festival Ferré – 4

In English, French, Reading matters on 19/03/2011 at 10:02 pm

C’est extra
– Léo Ferré – 1969

How superb!

Une robe de cuir comme un fuseau
Qu’aurait du chien sans l’faire exprès
Et dedans comme un matelot
Une fille qui tangue un air anglais
C’est extra
Un Moody Blues qui chante la nuit
Comme un satin de blanc marié
Et dans le port de cette nuit
Une fille qui tangue et vient mouiller

A tapering leather sheath dress
With an unwitting sex-appeal of sorts
And in it like a seaman
A girl who pitches an English tune
How superb
A Moody Blues song of the night
Like a satin of white betrothed
And in the harbour of this night
A girl who pitches and comes to moor

C’est extra c’est extra
C’est extra c’est extra

How superb (x4)

Des cheveux qui tombent comme le soir
Et d’la musique en bas des reins
Ce jazz qui d’jazze dans le noir
Et ce mal qui nous fait du bien
C’est extra
Ces mains qui jouent de l’arc-en-ciel
Sur la guitare de la vie
Et puis ces cris qui montent au ciel
Comme une cigarette qui brille

Hair falling like night falls
And music to the small of the back
That jazz that gossips in the dark
And that ache that does us good
How superb
Those hands that play rainbows
On the guitar of life
And then those cries sent heavenward
Like a cigarette that gleams

C’est extra c’est extra
C’est extra c’est extra

How superb (x4)

Ces bas qui tiennent hauts perchés
Comme les cordes d’un violon
Et cette chair que vient troubler
L’archet qui coule ma chanson
C’est extra
Et sous le voile à peine clos
Cette touffe de noir jésus
Qui ruisselle dans son berceau
Comme un nageur qu’on n’attend plus

Those stockings holding high up
Like the strings of a violin
And those stirrings of the flesh
From the bow that pours out my song
How superb
And under a hardly enclosed veil
That tuft of black Jesus
That ripples in its cradle
Like a swimmer no longer expected

C’est extra c’est extra
C’est extra c’est extra

How superb (x4)

Une robe de cuir comme un oubli
Qu’aurait du chien sans l’faire exprès
Et dedans comme un matin gris
Une fille qui tangue et qui se tait
C’est extra
Les Moody Blues qui s’en balancent
Cet ampli qui n’veut plus rien dire
Et dans la musique du silence
Une fille qui tangue et vient mourir

A leather dress like an omission
With an unwitting sex-appeal of sorts
And in it like a grey morning
A girl who pitches and keeps silent
How superb
The Moody Blues that don’t give a swing
That amp now meaningless
And in the music of silence
A girl who pitches and comes to die

C’est extra
C’est extra
C’est extra
C’est extra

How superb (x4)

Festival Ferré – 3

In English, French, Reading matters on 16/03/2011 at 4:07 pm


À toi – Léo Ferré – 1969

To you

La forêt qui s’élance au ciel comme une verge
Les serments naufragés qui errent sur la berge
Les oiseaux dénoncés que le chasseur flamberge

The forest that soars skywards like a penis
The shipwrecked vows that wander along river banks
The flushed-out birds that hunters skewer

Les diamants constellés qui fuient les pâles couches
Tous les yeux de la rue qui crèvent sur ta bouche
Le pavé que tu foules et ma voix que tu touches

The sparkling diamonds that desert dull beds
All eyes in the street that croak on your mouth
The pavement you tread and my voice which you touch

Les amants accolés muets comme la cire
Les culottes des femmes où le monde se mire
Les fauves repentis qui rendent des martyrs

The bracketed lovers as wordless as wax
The knickers on which the world gazes at its reflection
The repented big cats that give martyrs back

Le ventre des pendus qui coule des potences
Les noces pathétiques où les larmes sont rances
Les émigrants qui n’ont jamais de pain d’avance

The bellies of the hanged that pour out of gallows
The pathetic weddings where tears are rancid
The immigrants who never have bread for the morrow

Les mains transfigurées qui règlent la tzigane
Baudelaire et Shakespeare au chevet des profanes
Les chevaux condamnés et leur dernière avoine

The transfigured hands that fine-tune gypsy women
Baudelaire and Shakespeare at laymen’s bedsides
The condemned horses and their last oats

La voix pour commander à mille couturières
Un lit avec le Parthénon comme litière
Le catéchisme de la joie la vie entière

The voice to order around a thousand dressmakers
A bed with the Parthenon as its mattress
An entire lifetime of joy catechism

Des violons barrissant les complaintes futures
Des tonnes de crachats sur la Critiquature
Le vent du large et des bûchers pour les clôtures

The violins that bellow laments yet to be
The tons of spit on Criticature
Wind from the open sea and pyres for fences

Des langues pour parler aux Chinois faméliques
Des poumons pour souffler au ventre des phtisiques
Des javas pour brouiller les chants patriotiques

The tongues to speak to emaciated Chinese
The lungs to blow on the bellies of the consumptive
The java tunes to jam patriotic songs

Le ruisseau qui jouit jusqu’au Havre sans trêve
Le malheureux le chien qui meurt l’homme qui crève
Le sang des femmes qui sont mortes sans un rêve

The brook that climaxes all the way to Le Havre
Poor fellow – the dog that dies, the man that croaks
The blood of women dead without a dream

Les cheveux élagués qui cherchent des caresses
Le remord amical du prêtre qui confesse
Les yeux des tout-petits riboulant de tendresse

The lopped hair that begs to be stroked
The friendly remorse of the priest at confession
The eyes of the little ones droll rolling in tenderness

L’orgue de la nature au souffle de violettes
Les rendez-vous mystérieux sous la voilette
Le numéro que tu voulais à la roulette

Nature’s organ with violet’s breath
The mysterious assignations under hat veils
The number you wanted at roulette

Les portes de secours battant sur les étoiles
Les Vendredis des Robinsons des capitales
La boussole des veuves aveugles sous leur voile

The emergency exits that open onto stars
The Man Fridays of city-dwelling Robinsons
The compasses of widows blind under their veils

Le vain espoir des mitraillés sous la mitraille
La poitrine qui bat sous les pâles médailles
Les Jésus désertant le fruit de tes entrailles

The vain hopes of the strafed under hails of bullets
The chests that heave under pale medals
The jesuses deserting the fruit of your womb

Les dentelles flottant au nez de la misère
Le loup blessé à mort qu’on regarde se taire
Le chant du coq et le silence de saint Pierre

The lace floating under the nose of misery
The mortally wounded wolf that is seen keeping mum
The cockcrows and Saint Peter’s silence

Les cœurs déchiquetés qui parlent aux fantômes
Les gens de bien qui ont désintégré l’atome
Le Capital qui joue aux dés Notre Royaume

The hearts torn to pieces that talk to ghosts
Those respectable folks that disintegrated the atom
Capital playing Our Kingdom in a game of dice

Et puis le majuscule ennui qui nous sclérose
Mon pauvre amour car nous pensons les mêmes choses
En attendant que l’Ange nous métamorphose

And then the capital boredom that turns us into fossils
My poor love, since we think alike
Waiting for the angel to transform us completely