Translator's notes

NO REASON WHY OTHER BIRDS

By ARIANE DREYFUS

This poem is taken from Ariane Dreyfus’s most recent collection, Le dernier livre des enfants (The Children’s Last Book), where it finds itself in the company of other poems seamlessly leaping between childhood and sexual intimacy, sea voyages and stationary objects, dancers and acrobats, dream and death. Like most of the poems in the book, it presents a narrative – though here the narrative isn’t attributed to a film, book or choreography, as it often is elsewhere. 

At first glance, the language looks simple. In general, Dreyfus’s language is a spoken, idiomatic one, sometimes apparently caught on the run and left unfinished, in mid-thought. Line- and stanza-breaks occasionally fragment or delay meaning. Here, in the fourth stanza, where the lines seem so transparent and yet have a kind of persistent strangeness, we come to realise we have entered the child’s own head. The sun doesn’t ‘pierce’ or ‘penetrate’ the deeper water, it actually does just ‘go there’ – this strange, twisting, sunlit place is her world. 

For me the main difficulty of translating – and indeed of reading – has to do with Dreyfus’ shifting, ‘filmic’ use of point of view, characteristic of her poetry since her ‘Western’ collection, ‘Une Histoire passera ici’. At first, we are prevented from sharing the child’s viewpoint by seeing her jutting shoulder-blades as she enters the water and, arguably, by the ‘princess moment’: at first we are among the ‘shiverers’ in this scene. But gradually the child’s perceptions take over, until we are with her, looking down through the ripples at our own twisting legs and feet. By the end, the poem’s question (‘How else…?’) is the child’s question. It is also the mother’s question, as she watches, understanding, inhabiting the child’s thoughts as if they were her own.

So is it desire we hear in the title? Is it the watcher’s protectiveness for her child? 

Or can it be both?

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