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 holds the other birds back


She stops when the water reaches her waist,
Gazes, takes another step,
And the boundless sea follows her,
A train which she hardly feels,
The dress she imagines

Washing over her little girl’s shoulder blades,
Each time she lifts her elbows and pulls herself up
Because it’s cold
But the water is calm,
Not bothersome

Timorous, the others have stayed behind,
This moment is hers, the princess

She lowers her eyes, but not her head,
For her crown could tumble
Watch how her feet slide on the sand

It’s a long way down so her legs have grown
They twist, throwing out reflections
There, where the sun’s rays reach, the depths
And deeper still, to the tips of her toes
To caress the untouched seabed

The water almost at her chest,
She extends her arms
Thus floating her hands

She stretches out, how else to see only the sky
Giving such a sense of vertigo,
And the clouds in the form of somebody - or nobody?

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

Pussy Riot Testimonies

By Sasha Dugdale, Pussy Riot

The trial of three women who climbed onto the ambo of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow to sing a protest 'punk prayer' has been international news. There has been widespread condemnation of the harsh treatment meted out to these young women, who caused no damage or injury, and yet have spent five months in remand prison and now face a three-year prison sentence.

Their...

» 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.

Did you know that MPT is a charity?

During this anniversary year we would like to ask subscribers and supporters to help us secure the future of MPT for decades to come by making a donation to our 50th anniversary appeal.

Go Digital

Subscribe to the digital edition of MPT for access to all back issues and to the Exactly app.» View free trial issue

Always informative, tactfully surprising, the new impressive MPT continues, undaunted, to advance through formidable language barriers.Dannie Abse

Contributor and student discounts

If you are a student, or if you contribute to MPT you are eligible for a great discount deal when you subscribe…» Subscribe now

Browse poems

By original language »

By issue of MPT »

Back to top
Supported by Arts Council England

Copyright © Modern Poetry in Translation and contributors
Website design ashbydesign
Developed by Code Frontiers
Powered by Storemill