Bad Translations of French Poetry

menuisier_skIn light of the French Oak Roubo Project happening this week in Atlanta, I thought it would be appropriate to post some French poetry to help celebrate the occasion. The piece I have chosen comes from the booklet titled Bluettes – Poésies par V. D. published in France, 1866. The poem depicts an old joiner speaking to his favorite plane, the subtext being death. If you speak French, then you are welcome to read the original rhyming couplets here.

Below is my ham-fisted English translation. I have no intention of re-writing the poem to make it rhyme in English. Hopefully I have captured the essence of the poem without making any egregious errors.  Please feel free to make corrections in the comments.

–Jeff Burks

An Old Joiner to his Try Plane

For half a century, oh my dear try plane,
Thy wood hard and shiny, thy sharp iron gallops,
Pushed by my hands on my old workbench.
By thy constant assistance, ah! how I polished
Planks of pine, poplar, oak!
Quickly when thee take my arms for a stroll,
The coarsest and most resistant wood
Are now transformed into elegant furniture,
Into objects of every kind and any appearance.
From morning to evening we are present;
Together we walk an area bounded,
Four paces at most. At work confined,
For principal tool, you know, I chose you:
You were my livelihood, and I thank you.
But I am old, and I feel my strength failing.
My hand, which once led you without faltering,
Now I soon weary from thy weight.
Thyself, here you are very old and well worn.
Our long lease ends, and we will, shortly be
Discarded, one in the earth, and the other in the fire.

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4 Responses to Bad Translations of French Poetry

  1. mpp12013 says:

    Good job with the translation! but it sounds much better in the rhyming French original…

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  2. tsstahl says:

    Everyone knows the best poetry comes from Nantucket. 😉

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  3. neatherywise says:

    I don’t know French at all, but that was beautiful in English.

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  4. Bob Jones says:

    Til death did they part. Now that’s tool monogamy!

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