Wednesday, 2 October 2013

1er Janvier : My Translation

by Taylor Richardson


Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

Recently, I have decided to investigate foreign literature and look in detail at some different texts. Through searching the internet, I found a poem entitled “1er Janvier” by Victor Hugo, written in 1871 that stood out. Let’s look at the poem in its original form first.

1er janvier

Enfant, on vous dira plus tard que le grand-père
Vous adorait ; qu'il fit de son mieux sur la terre,
Qu'il eut fort peu de joie et beaucoup d'envieux,
Qu'au temps où vous étiez petits il était vieux,
Qu'il n'avait pas de mots bourrus ni d'airs moroses,
Et qu'il vous a quittés dans la saison des roses ;
Qu'il est mort, que c'était un bonhomme clément ;
Que, dans l'hiver fameux du grand bombardement,
Il traversait Paris tragique et plein d'épées,
Pour vous porter des tas de jouets, des poupées,
Et des pantins faisant mille gestes bouffons ;
Et vous serez pensifs sous les arbres profonds.

There are some words that jumped out at me when reading this poem the first time. I have not studied French since the good old days of GCSEs, but I can remember some words - ‘enfant’ means ‘child’ and ‘adorait’ means ‘loved’ for example. I primarily thought that the best line of action was to attempt to translate the poem myself:

“Enfant, on vous dira plus tard que le grand-père

Child, you will be told more of your grandfather later,

“Vous adorait ; qu'il fit de son mieux sur la terre,”

You loved him; he was well on Earth, (or in life)

“Qu'il eut fort peu de joie et beaucoup d'envieux,

He had much joy and was envied by many,

“Qu'au temps où vous étiez petits il était vieux,

When you were little he was old,

"Qu'il n'avait pas de mots bourrus ni d'airs moroses,

He did not speak or appear sullenly,

"Et qu'il vous a quittés dans la saison des roses;

And he passed away during the season of roses,

"Qu'il est mort, que c'était un bonhomme clément;

He died a merciful man,

"Que, dans l'hiver fameux du grand bombardement,

During the famous winter’s bombardment,

"Il traversait Paris tragique et plein d'épées,

He crossed tragic Paris, full of swords,

"Pour vous porter des tas de jouets, des poupées,

To bring you lots of toys and dolls

"Et des pantins faisant mille gestes bouffons;

And puppets making a thousand funny gestures

"Et vous serez pensifs sous les arbres profonds.

And you will be thoughtful in the deep trees.
 

1er Janvier: My Translation


 Child, you will be told more of your grandfather later,

You loved him; he was well on Earth (or in life),

He had much joy and was envied by many,

When you were little he was old,

He did not speak or appear sullenly,

And he passed away during the season of roses,

He died a merciful man,

During the famous winter’s bombardment,

He crossed tragic Paris, full of swords,

To bring you lots of toys and dolls

And puppets making a thousand funny gestures

And you will be thoughtful in the deep trees.

My translation is not incredibly clear but it allows me to make some analysis of the poem. The bombardment described in the poem refers to the Bombardment of Algiers in 1816, in which the British attempted to end the accounts of slavery in the Dey of Algiers. Admiral Lord Exmouth commanded an Anglo-Dutch fleet to bombard ships and the harbour of Algiers. I believe the narrator is describing the grandfather’s participation in this conflict to his grandson who is too young to currently understand, which is why the narrator describes the series of events in a simplistic manner.
I think the ‘toys and dolls’ and ‘puppets making a thousand funny gestures’ represent freedom and the contribution to the end of slavery resultant of the Battle of Algiers. It is clear that the child’s grandfather was an honest man; he “had much joy and was envied by many” and “died a merciful man” explicitly stating he was honourable. He passed away in winter, which has connotations of death, whilst the ‘seasons of roses’ described has connotations of passion and love, implying his death was heroic. The last line, “And you will be thoughtful in the deep trees” is demanding – the narrator is telling the child his grandfather did not die in vain and must be remembered. From the image of ‘deep trees’ the reader can infer isolation, such as in the woods, suggesting this memory to be intense and full of emotion.
I will end this article with a stronger translation I found online. It is different to mine but there are similarities between them – it is always worth a try!

1er Janvier

Child, lets speak of your grandfather later
The one you loved, the one who loved life.
And had a joyous disposition that knew no boundaries.
When you were young he was already old.
He neither spoke nor acted morosely,
And passed during the season of roses.
He traversed Paris for you through,
A city full of swords and tragedy,
Braving the famous bombardment
To bring you an abundance toys, dolls,
And puppets with a thousand silly faces.
Left you deep in reflection under the trees
.

Read, also, Laura Burden's article on The original 'Les Miserables'

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