Tag Archives: translation

Claude Beausoleil’s WINTER

Claude Beausoleil’s Winter

Translation by Ted Witham

First published in Azuria #5 (Autumn 2016) by Geelong Writers Inc.


on the white river a whistling complaint in words

is torn from the fallout of a winter’s night

the city is shaking

the city is creaking

and the city is shivering

on this white river pale cries of smoke rise

blotting out the buildings

from a sky in the grip of the north

to this sky you ask who speaks in this silence

for how many centuries

from what mythical place

with what energy

you who watch the wind

do you know her quests her headings and her deviations

her fantasies and her festivals do you recognise yourself there

beyond the snow driven like explosions in tornadoes

the soul of your cold


without melancholy when rubbed does it tremble

into the white lines of a new beginning

clamouring for a story

in which is pronounced naked the word winter

and the season carries it away in its mad spinning where lures

give birth to a book that pulverises the memories of the freeze

*****                            *****                                      *****

Claude Beausoleil (born in Quebec in 1948) is a French-Canadian poet and novelist writing mainly in French. He holds Masters and Doctoral degrees in literature and teaches literature. His poetry is influenced by the Beat poets, gothic themes and a strong sense of Quebec, its landscape and culture.  The author of Black Billie has won many prizes and honours; in 2013 he was a finalist in the Académie Française’s poetry prize.

*****                            *****                                      *****

L’HIVER de Claude Beausoleil

sur le fleuve blanc de mots siffle une complainte

arrachée aux séquelles d’une nuit hivernale

c’est la ville qui chancelle

qui claque

et qui frémit

sur ce fleuve blanc se hissent

des fumées en cris pâles détachant les immeubles

d’un ciel en proie au nord

à ce ciel tu demandes qui parle en ce silence

depuis combien de siècles

depuis quel lieu mythique

avec quelle énergie

toi qui regardes le vent

connais-tu ses quêtes ses lignes et ses errances

ses délires et ses fêtes t’y reconnais-tu

par-delà la poudrerie de tensions en tornades

l’âme de ta ville


sans mélancolie tremble-t-elle frottée

aux courbes blanches d’un recommencement

réclamant un récit

dans lequel se prononce nu le mot hiver

que la saison emporte dans ces vertiges où des leurres

naît un livre pulvérisant les mémoires du gel


Louis Dantin’s OPTIMISM

Louis Dantin’s Optimism

Translation – Ted Witham.
First Published in Azuria #5 (Autumn 2016), by the Geelong Writers Inc.

Everything suffering and vile the Ideal can lift
And shine refracted through Beauty’s prism:
The windflower’s aroma becomes the tomb’s petalled chrism
And all mud is gold in the sun’s dawning shift.

Things that are shredded shine in their splintering;
Corruption is a catalyst for nectar’s distillation.
In the murdered brain is the masterpiece’s creation
And in the night the heart’s flame is a torch glittering.

Bloody battles turn to smiles on the lips of History
And the blood as it’s spilt floods into rivers of glory;

Mudflats are transformed by Art’s chaste fingers;
Tears are rubies in the poems of their singers;

Death is beautiful in Mozart’s heavenly harmonies,
And even hell is divine in Dante’s crowning ecstasies.

*****                                    *****                             *****

Louis Dantin (alias Eugène Seers, 1865-1945) was a Québecois priest, poet, novelist and literary critic. He straddled Romantic and Symbolist styles.

Optimisme de Louis Dantin

Rien n’est souffrant ou vil qu’un idéal n’élève
Et qui n’ait son reflet dans le prisme du Beau :
L’anémone parfume et fleurit le tombeau
Et toute fange est d’or quand le soleil se lève.

Tout être déchiré rayonne en son lambeau ;
Toute corruption élabore une sève ;
Dans le cerveau meurtri le chef-d’œuvre s’achève
Et dans les nuits du cœur l’incendie est flambeau.

La bataille est riante aux lèvres de l’Histoire
Et le sang répandu coule en fleuve de gloire ;
Laïs se transfigure aux doigts chastes de l’Art ;

Les pleurs sont des rubis dans le vers qui les chante ;
La mort est belle aux sons des harpes de Mozart,
Et l’enfer est divin dans l’extase du Dante.




The Reed and the Spring – H. Bosco

The Reed and the Spring


On the cape the worlds of this kingdom disappear,
Invisible vessels that towards Him you steer,
When will we see your light-house flood the space with light
And banish before it the sombre squadron of night?


What celestial map showing how to take the promontory
Are you carrying with you as you race around eternity?
And when will you reach the stopover of prayer
to pick up the Eternal One if the harbours won’t let you there?


When on the sheltered docks of love and unreason
Did you load onto the admiral’s nave
Some fugitive demon a dream on the run from prison,
The chief of stars, pilot in the starry wave?


In heaven’s calm expanses disappear
The ephemeral wakes of vessels of prayer.
Has the ship’s astrologer hoisted the beacon of humanity
Far from earth on the Holy Spirit’s firmity?

Translation into English by Ted Witham 2014

Le cap sur ce royaume ou les mondes s’effacent,
Invisibles vaisseaux qui gouvernez vers Lui,
Quand verrons-nous vos feux illuminer l’espace
Et chasser devant eux l’escadre de la nuit ?


Pour affronter le cap quelle carte céleste
Avez-vous emportée en vous courses du Ciel ?
Et quand toucherez-vous, si nul port ne vous reste,
L’escale de prière où l’on prend l’Éternel ?


Avez-vous embarqué sur la nef amirale
Aux darses de l’amour et de la déraison
Quelque démon du songe évadé de prison,
Chef d’étoiles, pilote en la mer sidérale ?


Dans les grands calmes du ciel où s’évanouit
Le sillage évasif des vaisseaux de prière
L’astrologue du bord a-t-il loin de la terre
Hissé le feu de l’homme au mât du Saint-Esprit ?

H. Bosco, ‘Le Roseau et la source’, Poèmes,
Paris : Gallimard, 1949, pp. 266-267

Jesus Aviator

Translation from the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Forthcoming in Ezra: An Online journal of translation. Apollinaire, of Belarussian background, was a contemporary of Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Eric Satie. 

Christ (not the Wright Brothers) was “First in Flight”,
Ascended like a rocket to a record height.

Apple Christ of the eye
Twentieth favourite of the centuries he flies comprehending,
This century like Jesus has changed into a bird ascending.
The devils in the abyss lift their heads to see him dash.
They said he was imitating Simon Magus wanting cash
They shout that if he is so light he can steal into the sky, they must have caught him stealing.
The angels dance around the dancer’s dizzy wheeling
Icarus, Enoch, Elijah, Apollonius from Thyana’s philosophy scene
Float weightless around this first flying machine
They spread out from time to time to let those go past
Who get carried away by the Holy Eucharist
These priests who go up eternally elevating the bread
The plane alights at last its wings wide spread
Then the sky is full of millions of swallows
Swiftly the crows the falcons the owls all follow
From Africa arrive the ibis the flamingos the marabou storks, all sky-dwellers,
The Roc bird celebrated in talks by poets and story-tellers
Held flat in the greenhouses Adam’s skull the first head
The eagle from far-flung horizon shrieks to wake the dead
And from America are with wings blurred
macaws roadrunners little hummingbirds
From China the Pihi birds long and supple
Who have only one wing each and fly as a couple
Now watch the immaculate spirit-dove advise
As it is escorted by the lyre-bird and the peacock full of eyes,
The phoenix this flaming pyre which is of itself begotten
In an instant all his burning cinders fall forgotten
Sirens leaving the dangerous straits and dire
All three arriving singing beautifully in choir
And eagle phoenix Chinese Pihi all remain
To fraternise with this fascinating aeroplane.

Guillaume Apollinaire – Alcools – extrait de “Zone”

C’est le Christ qui monte au ciel mieux que les aviateurs
Il détient le record du monde pour la hauteur

Pupille Christ de l’oeil
Vingtième pupille des siècles il sait y faire
Et changé en oiseau ce siècle comme Jésus monte dans l’air
Les diables dans les abîmes lèvent la tête pour le regarder
Ils disent qu’il imite Simon Mage en Judée
Ils crient s’il sait voler qu’on l’appelle voleur
Les anges voltigent autour du joli voltigeur
Icare Enoch Elie Apollonius de Thyane
Flottent autour du premier aéroplane
Ils s’écartent parfois pour laisser passer ceux que transporte la Sainte-Eucharistie
Ces prêtres qui montent éternellement élevant l’hostie
L’avion se pose enfin sans refermer les ailes
Le ciel s’emplit alors de millions d’hirondelles
À tire-d’aile viennent les corbeaux les faucons les hiboux
D’Afrique arrivent les ibis les flamants les marabouts
L’oiseau Roc célébré par les conteurs et les poètes
Plane tenant dans les serres le crâne d’Adam la première tête
L’aigle fond de l’horizon en poussant un grand cri
Et d’Amérique vient le petit colibri
De Chine sont venus les pihis longs et souples
Qui n’ont qu’une seule aile et qui volent par couples
Puis voici la colombe esprit immaculé
Qu’escortent l’oiseau-lyre et le paon ocellé
Le phénix ce bûcher qui soi-même s’engendre
Un instant voile tout de son ardente cendre
Les sirènes laissant les périlleux détroits
Arrivent en chantant bellement toutes trois
Et tous aigle phénix et pihis de la Chine
Fraternisent avec la volante machine

–          Guillaume Apollinaire, France 1880-1918, Alcools : poèmes, Gallimard 1944, pages 8-9

Jésus, sauveur du monde

Our translation of Henry Allon’s beautiful canticle Jesus, Saviour of the World, made for the French-speaking network of the Anglican communion.


Jésus, Sauveur du monde, viens à nous dans ta miséricorde :
sois notre salut et notre secours.

Par ta croix et ta vie offerte pour nous, tu as libéré ton peuple :
sois notre salut et notre secours.

Quand ils étaient sur le point de mourir, tu as sauvé tes disciples :
nous nous tournons vers toi pour nous secourir.

Dans la grandeur de ta miséricorde, brise nos chaînes:
pardonne les péchés de tout ton peuple

Présente-toi comme notre sauveur et notre libérateur puissant:
sauve-nous et aide-nous pour que nous puissions te louer.

Viens et demeure avec nous, Seigneur Christ Jésus !
Écoute notre prière et sois avec nous à jamais.

Et quand tu reviendras dans ta gloire,
Unis-nous à toi et partage avec nous la vie de ton royaume.

—Henry Allon
Traduction :  Rév. Père Ted Witham, Cécile Schantz-Rauld et  Rév. Père Ron Silarshah

Beyond Babel

Steiner, George. After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1975. (507 pages, Hardback)
(Online price for used paperback from $AU10).

Reviewed by Ted Witham

George Steiner reminds us what a wonderful and impossible task translation is.  Steiner takes us to the source of the problem, which is our ignorance of what language is: neither the philosophy of language, nor the science of linguistics has come close to unravelling this mystery.

Words are certainly not a one-for-one description of an object.  There is nothing simple about the relation between the word “dog ” and the animal lying at my feet.  In addition, every word comes with its history, some of its inscribed on its surface, and some of it in deeper resonances.

Language is certainly not the simple giving of information, like the alarm signal one chook gives to the group that a hawk is overhead. Animals, Steiner claims, never lie.  In contrast, most human speech utterances are designed to conceal as much as they reveal.  As social animals, human beings present their best face by shaping their words for many and mainly hidden purposes.

Even the  instant interpretation bilinguals provide for their monolingual friends which has the addition of facial and bodily gestures is a very loose communication.  It reminds us, however, that language is far more than words on the page.  Written language is analogous to a musical score.

Steiner illustrates history’s ambivalence about translation from the history of Bible translation. There have always been those who claim that Hebrew (or is it Greek?) is God’s language, and any attempt to translate it into the vulgate will despoil its sacredness.  Against those have always been others urging the translation of sacred texts as part of spreading the good news contained in them.

So translation is a daunting task.  If every word has its own history in its own language, then how can it be translated into the words of another language?  Playwrights in English, for example, have echoes of Shakespeare.  If you are translating a modern playwright into French, the Shakespearean allusions will inevitably be lost.  One solution is to make the French translation thick with invented resonances like those of an invented French Shakespeare lending his echoes to the current translation.

How can translators know all the context of a text they are translating into their own language?  Many years ago I took it on myself to translate Ionesco’s Le Roi se meurt into English.  At the time I was immersed in Ionesco’s existential contemporaries Camus and Sartre, and I think I was aware of some of the psychological dimensions of the piece: the King as self. But I knew very little of Ionesco’s Romanian history and only a tiny bit about the Dadaist and absurdist sources for his work.  How could I, or any one translator, be deeply immersed in all of that?

Translators need some grasp of how we understand, hermeneutics, and consciously use that knowledge in their translation.  Specifically, Steiner commends a fourfold movement:

  •  We begin in an approach to the text drenched in love and trust.  This text, we say to ourselves, has something worthwhile to say at least to us. 
  •  We then move to attack mode, analysing the text.  How does it communicate through meaning, syntax, and sound and thought?
  •  Then we transform, rendering the text into a new form lying somewhere along the continuum from literal to literary. 
  •  The fourth movement, Steiner names “compensation” or ” all that “.  In some way, our translation has to revalue the original for a new audience.

This is not to suggest that Steiner’s is primarily a technical manual.  He raises questions rather than describes methods.  He takes the philosophy of language and the then infant science of evolutionary biology to its limits and finds only mystery.  His critiques of Chomsky’s generative grammar and Steven Pinker’s proposition that there is only one human language underlying the hundreds of languages still stand in 2012.

He gives outstanding examples of good translations.  He presents in inter-linear form Pierre Leyris’ breathtaking translation of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Pied Beauty which so moved me that I copied it out.

But above all, After Babel swirls with rich ideas about language and how we share it with others.  What is Babel? Is the multitude of tongues, which our planet experiences as the norm, actually preferable to the hegemony of just one language? Is Babel the attempt to impose politically correct language to the private version of language each individual speaks? The Bible presents Pentecost as Babel’s antidote, and the miracle of Pentecost is precisely the mutual understanding of many languages.

It may be that the translator, whether interpreting a text from a far off culture and language, or explaining a passage from Jane Austen, is doing her part to bring in Pentecost.