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 out and sets off again.
The dress of the infinite sea
she hardly feels, follows her
like a train.

Her little shoulders disappear
when she draws herself up
raising her elbows.
It's cold but the water
is calm, not annoying her.

Others fearing cold, stay
behind. So it is her
princess-moment.

She lowers her gaze, not her head
lest her crown might fall off.
Look how her feet glide
across the sand so deep,
her legs must grow long.
They turn reflecting sun
that goes deep down.
And deeper still go
the tips of her toes
to touch the untouched ground.

The water to her chest now,
she stretches her arms,
her hands float.
Without stretching out,
how can the sky give
you a grand vertigo
and the clouds look
like us?

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...

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The co-founder, with Ted Hughes, of Modern Poetry in Translation in 1965, Daniel Weissbort, believes that the role of translation, as ‘an integral part of [Hughes’s] own oeuvre, just as the promotion of translation was perceived by him as part of his professional duty as a writer, seems largely to have been ignored’ (2006: viii). Weissbort is currently writing a book on Hughes an...

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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...

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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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