Translate a Poem

This workshop looks at a poem by the French poet Ariane Dreyfus.

We invite you to submit your own translation of the poem. As always we welcome a variety of approaches: close translations, 'freer' versions, after-images and metamorphoses of all kinds.

Original poem

RIEN N’EMPÊCHE D’AUTRES OISEAUX


Elle s’arrête quand l’eau lui arrive à la taille
Regarde, avance à nouveau, et la mer infinie
La suit, traîne qu’elle sent à peine, la robe elle l’imagine

S’effacent ses omoplates de petite fille
À chaque fois qu’elle lève les coudes et se hausse
Car il fait froid
Mais l’eau est calme, pas embêtante

Frileux les autres sont restés derrière
C’est donc un instant de princesse

Elle baisse les yeux, mais pas la tête
À cause de sa couronne qui pourrait tomber
Regarde comment ses pieds glissent
Sur le sable
Parce qu’il est très loin les jambes ont grandi
Elles se tordent à plein de reflets
Le soleil y va, en profondeur
Et plus en profondeur la pointe des pieds
Pour aller jusqu’au sol intouché

L’eau presqu’à la poitrine, elle étire ses bras
Ainsi flottent les mains

Puis s’allonger, sinon comment voir que le ciel
Donne un si grand vertige, et les nuages en forme de personne?


Versions

You do not need to have translated poetry before to have a go at translating this poem, nor do you need to speak French fluently.

➔ Read a line-by-line literal translation by Olivia McCannon.

➔ Click play beneath to hear the original poem read by the poet:

» Submit your version

Poem in translation

HOW ELSE TO SEE THE SKY


She stops when the water touches her waist
Looks out, sets off again, and the limitless sea
Trails her, a train she wears lightly, sensing the dress

Gone, her little-girl shoulder-blades
Whenever she lifts her elbows to draw herself up
Because it’s freezing
But the water is calm, it lets her be

Too hot to get cold, the others have stayed behind
This, then, is her moment – princess

She lowers her eyes, but not her head
On account of the crown that might fall off
Look at the way her feet go gliding
Across the sand
Because it’s so far down, legs must grow long
They twist away, kicking up glitter
The sun reaches there, where it’s deep
Deeper still, the tips of toes
Searching for the untouched ground

Water almost to her chest, she holds out arms
To make floating hands

Then she’s stretching out – how else to see the sky
Spinning round, the clouds the shape of somebody, nobody?


» Read notes on translating this poem

Help on translating this poem

You do not have to be a published poet or translator to send in your version, or to have ever translated a poem before. We welcome submissions from all. You can submit your version using the form below. Please note that submissions via this form for this project will not be considered for publication in MPT Magazine, and you should consult our submissions guidelines if you wish to submit something for publication.

Click here to read the translation notes by Susan Wicks.

Click here to read the translation notes by Olivia McCannon.

Press play beneath to listen to a podcast about the poem, featuring Olivia McCannon and Susan Wicks, recorded at the MPT Translation Duel at Ledbury Poetry Festival.

ONLINE WORKSHOP

Poetry Translation Workshop 2

By Amarjit Chandan

The poem below is by Najm Hosain Syed, a distinguished name in modern Punjabi literature.

First listen to the poem read out by the poet. View video >>

The point of our exercise, whether you know Punjabi or not, is to understand how the poem works and by close reading and translation to try to see/understand what constitutes the poetry of it. And through a foreign languag...

» Read more

TRANSLATION FEATURE

How does a text change in translation?

By Kavita Bhanot

I have been teaching seminars at Manchester University, for an undergraduate course called Textual Communities. The course is constructed around an essay by Edward Said called ‘The World, the Text and the Critic’, in which Said argues that all texts are worldly – they don’t belong to a pure separate sphere of art, but are deeply implicated in the world, formed by the communities...

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MPT WORKSHOPS

Poetry Translation Workshops

The MPT Editors have had the opportunity to run poetry translation workshops in schools, and as part of poetry courses such as Arvon, and poetry festivals including Aldeburgh over the last few years. They have also participated in a workshop organised by the British Council in Russia. MPT Board members such as Amarjit Chandan have also been involved in running poetry translation...

» Read more

Submit your version

Please attach your translation of the current poem here. We accept the following file formats: Word (.doc and .docx), Rich Text Format (.rtf). Please ensure that you have JavaScript enabled.

MPT cannot be held responsible for any adverse changes inadvertently made to poem formatting.

If you wish, add notes about your translation in the space provided below.

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