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

Queen of the Birds


She stops when the water reaches her waist
Looks, goes further, and the boundless sea
Follows her, the ethereal train of a dress she imagines

Her waifish shoulder blades vanish
Each time she lifts her elbows and draws up taller
For it’s cold
But the water is calm, it soothes her

Others hang back gingerly
This, then, is her princess moment

She lowers her eyes, but not her head
For fear her crown might fall
Look at her feet
Skimming the sand
So far below – her legs must grow longer
They twist, flecked with dancing light
The sun dives deep
And the tips of her toes deeper still
Until they reach untouched sand

Water nearly at her chest, she stretches out her arms
Hands afloat

Then lie out flat – or else how can you see that the sky
Makes you dizzy and the clouds look like people?


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.

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

MPT has a rare and precious talent for illuminating the world's more perplexing places in a blaze of verse.Boyd Tonkin
The Independent

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