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A une Damoyselle Malade

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Adrian 17th June 2006 04:30 PM


A une Damoyselle Malade


This is from the 16th century, by the French poet Clément Marot, who wrote it as a get-well poem for a child. It's the subject of a book by a favourite author of mine Douglas Hofstadter, about poetry, language and translation. It has the following characteristics (cobbled from some website):


1. The poem is 28 lines long.

2. Each line consists of three syllables.

3. Each line's main stress falls on its final syllable.

4. The poem is a string of rhymed couplets: AA, BB, CC,...

5. Midway, the tone changes from formal ("vous") to informal ("tu").

6. The poem's opening line is echoed precisely at the very bottom.

7. The poet puts his own name directly into his poem.


Ma mignonne,

Je vous donne

Le bon jour;

Le séjour

C'est prison.



Puis ouvrez

Votre porte

Et qu'on sorte


Car Clément

Le vous mande.

Va, friande

De ta bouche,

Qui se couche

En danger

Pour manger


Si tu dures

Trop malade,

Couleur fade

tu prendras,

Et perdras


Dieu te doint

Santé bonne,

Ma mignonne.


With my 'O' level French and a year living on the continent, I think it reads pretty well in its native language, but the book is about getting many different types of people to translate it, following the above rules but most importantly keeping the "essence" of the poem.


He even lets a computer have a crack at it!


I love the idea. I'm a big Wagner fan, and I don't like non-German versions of The Ring. In The Goodall Ring everybody sings [the same words] in English, and although it gets the story across OK, it misses by a wide mark.


Non-English fiction translated into English usually works, but poetry? Are the rhythms universal, and would Un Garcon de Salop (I'm so sorry for my awful translation of that title) work as well?


Isn't a poem meant to be read in its original language, and is it even the same poem when translated?


megustaleer 17th June 2006 08:49 PM

Isn't a poem meant to be read in its original language, and is it even the same poem when translated?

How can it be the same poem, when each time a new translator tackles it they produce something different?


I remember being annoyed the first time I saw a new translation of my (then) favourite poem, 'Lies', by Yevtushenko...but how did 'my' version depart from the Russian original? (which I certainly would never have read).


Or: Does a poem consist of specific words in a certain order, or of a specific idea expressed one way in language (a), and another way in language (B)?

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