Monday, June 06, 2011

When the Poet Died (Becaud in English)


Come, and let’s cry for the poet,
Come, and let’s cry for the poet.
Time when he fell,
Time when he fell,
Time when he fell – time to cry.

Come, and let’s cry for the poet,
Come, and let’s cry for the poet.
Lament his loss,
Lament his loss,
Lament his loss – to the world

Only his star will be shining,
Only his star will be shining
In a great field,
In a great field,
In a great field – of wheat.


And that is why we can see,
And that is why we can see
In this great field,
In this great field,
In this great field – drops of red.
©A.Anichkin
Please read the Russian version here.

This is my translation into English of the song ‘Quand ils est mort, le poète’ by Gilbert Becaud (lyrics by Louis Amade, see text and video below) which I dedicate to today’s anniversary of D-Day, the Allied landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944. The day is now celebrated in France as Fête de la Normandie.

I first of all wanted to capture the phonetics of the original, deciding that this is what should dictate the choice of words.

That’s why these semantically different, but phonetically close pairs are employed:

Come - quand
Lament - le monde
Only his star - on enterra

The fourth stanza is of particular challenge because it’s where the clue to the war message finally appears – in the last word. Les bleuets are cornflowers in French and have long been the symbol of Remembrance for the war dead. The tradition isn’t widely known outside of France, that is why just translating the word didn’t seem to me like it could work. Replacing cornflowers with red poppies (les coquelicots) would mean a departure from the original. 

I tried ‘drops of blue’ as an allusion to ‘blue blood’ – noble blood, but that didn’t seem to be right too. Blue is sad, but it is also, to me, cold.

I showed the draft translation to my French friends and they immediately told me that red poppies are also recognised as a symbol of remembrance for the war dead, for the blood spilled for your country.

Which gave me the solution: drops of red. To an English ear that should evoke the red poppies ‘in Flanders fields’ of golden wheat – but to a French ear too. And without replacing one flower for another.

In this video Becaud performs Quand il est mort for a German audience. In Germany the cornflower, die Kornblume, is one of the national symbols. Difficult to say if anyone in the audience catches the ‘anti-war’ message, but they all definitely enjoy the performance and join in learning the lines and the tune. 

Whatever difficulties united Europe is going through, Franco-German rapprochement has been one of its greatest achievements.



Gilbert Becaud - Quand il est il mort le poete par Leroidukitch

French text:

Quand il est mort, le poète,
Quand il est mort, le poète,
Tous ses amis,
Tous ses amis,
Tous ses amis pleuraient.

Quand il est mort le poète,
Quand il est mort le poète,
Le monde entier,
Le monde entier,
Le monde entier pleurait.

On enterra son étoile,
On enterra son étoile,
Dans un grand champ,
Dans un grand champ,
Dans un grand champ de blé.

Et c'est pour ça que l'on trouve,
Et c'est pour ça que l'on trouve,
Dans ce grand champ,
Dans ce grand champ,
Dans ce grand champ, des bleuets.



Read this article in French: Le coquelicot et le bleuet de la mémoire

Picture: Death of the Commissar by Petrov-Vodkin, o/c, 1928

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