Translate a Poem

This workshop is being archived.

Please visit our new workshop page.

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


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?


This workshop is being archived.

Please visit our new workshop page.

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

Variations on a music by Ariane Dreyfus


It is the loss that stops her, not grief
but sudden lightness. She has shed the sea;
and her freedom unbalances her

when for the first time since birth
her shoulder blades and arms are the fins
of a girl in open water, swimming out

to the island she’s always dreamed of,
where she is royalty on a lonely throne.

She folds the memory of water
away inside her, lowers her eyes.
So this, she thinks, must be it,
when your are allowed the tears,
and no one can see or mock
because you are a private coronation,
even if this court has no subjects;
but as she gives her new commands,
her voice grows very distant to her.

The water is almost to her mouth
and she is getting frighteningly cold.

Perhaps as a woman you shed fins,
as a child, you shed the sea, she thinks,
the saltwater panic making her urge
that she is a great whale, not
of their mockery, but of the ocean’s royalty,
swimming far, far down into the depths.

Let me tell you, she says to her adult self,
there the playground is a fairy story.


She is swimming and her body is the train of the sea
and she cannot make out her own body, her real self,
because her feet are far off and her torso is the sea
spreading behind her, and for the first time
she is weightless yet perfectly in balance,
perfectly afraid, in fear no one need know.

Her head is its own crown, her eyes giant diamonds
stolen from the ears of another Queen who could be
her mother with her thousand unanswered questions
that she has no way of answering, except
she is storing them inside her for her own child -

- she only stops when she can hear the laugher
from the shore, the usual salty music, you
fool, fool, fool, Charlotte, it’s like
her coronation anthem, the ancient music
all girls hold tight to their chest. Sisters,
sisters, she thinks, if only you could learn
to be afraid like this. This is how royalty does it

…except the sheer harsh pain, when your body is ocean,
of keeping it all together, when you shed whispers

from your submerged mouth into saltwater
and they wash up as crystals, at the feet of her sisters.

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.


Poetry Translation Workshop 2

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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...

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A note on reviewing translation

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What are we doing when we review a translation? Are we judging the original source text? Or its translated version? Or perhaps the methodology used by the translator? And how are we qualified to speak, let alone to judge? Unfortunately many reviewers in the mainstream literary pages seem quite happy to side-step such issues, treating a translation as if it were the original, ofte...

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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...

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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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