Crap Translations: Episode 1

A few days ago I was thinking about a piece I sang with the SIUE concert choir called ‘The Enemy’.  It was part of a suite of songs based on the text of Charles Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil.  It’s pretty obscure, so I was having a hard time finding a the original French text.  After a bit, I tracked it down, only to discover that the English translations I’d found online were mostly garbage.  They mistook the meaning of words, left things out or added non-existent phrases and ideas to the original.  This is not acceptable.

In that spirit, I present the first attempt to correct a litany of terrible translations with one that is faithful to the spirit and letter of the original text.  Here’s the original text:


Ma jeunesse ne fut qu’un ténébreux orage,
Traversé çà et là par de brillants soleils;
Le tonnerre et la pluie ont fait un tel ravage,
Qu’il reste en mon jardin bien peu de fruits vermeils.

Voilà que j’ai touché l’automne des idées,
Et qu’il faut employer la pelle et les râteaux
Pour rassembler à neuf les terres inondées,
Où l’eau creuse des trous grands comme des tombeaux.

Et qui sait si les fleurs nouvelles que je rêve
Trouveront dans ce sol lavé comme une grève
Le mystique aliment qui ferait leur vigueur?

— Ô douleur! ô douleur! Le Temps mange la vie,
Et l’obscur Ennemi qui nous ronge le coeur
Du sang que nous perdons croît et se fortifie!


My youth was one raging storm

crossed by brilliant shafts of sunlight;

so devastated by thunder and rain,

that few ripe fruits remain in my garden.

Now, in the autumn of my mind,

I must employ the shovel and rake

to repair the flooded terrain,

where water cuts trenches as deep as tombs.

And who knows if the tender flowers of my dreams

will find in soil washed away like the shore

the mystical nourishment that gives them strength?

-Oh pain! Oh pain!  Time devours life,

and the misty enemy who gnaws at our hearts

grows strong on the blood we lose!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s