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

Nothing Stops Other Birds

She stops when the water reaches her waist
Looks, inches forward, and the infinite sea
Drags behind her, a train she barely feels; imagines her dress

Eclipsing her little girl’s shoulderblades
Each time she lifts her elbows, flinching
Up, as it’s cold
But the water is calm, not choppy

Those chilly others hang back
So this is all hers, a princess-moment

She lowers her eyes, though not her head
Since her crown might slip off
To see how her feet slide
Across the sand
Which looks so far off her legs grow longer
And distort, rippled with shimmers
Where the sun pierces deep
And deeper still, to her tiptoes
All the way down into sunless seabed

Water almost to her chest, she lifts out her arms
Floating her hands

Then falls full stretch, otherwise how could she see the sky
Lurch upside-down; the nobody-shaped clouds?

» 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

The Mahabharata

By Vidyan Ravinthiran

R.K. Narayan, The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic, University of Chicago Press, 2013

What I remember most clearly are the arrows. How the camera followed each of them through the air with a whizzing sound effect as in a cartoon – till it hit home, or missed.

I could verify this impression today, since B.R. Chopra’s ninety- four episode televisio...

» Read more

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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