Commentary: Jubilation Over Translation

I’d like to share with you a poem titled Invitation to the Voyage, by Charles Baudelaire. I have never been one for poetry, and I mean never.  This poem is unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and has absolutely lit a fire underneath me in several different ways. What I’m most fascinated by is the fact that the poem was originally written in French and later translated into English. Despite this, the entire piece is filled with absolutely beautiful and pleasant imagery, word choice, and rhyme in English.

As a member of Diversions: A Journal of American Experience, it is very interesting to me to note the subtle differences in various translations of the same poem, based on translators’ sense of popular cultural values and their own personal experience.  After returning home from first reading the poem in a class of mine, I had to do as much research as I could on this piece in particular. Upon doing so, I found 4 other versions of the very same poem, translated by different people. The version I’ve chosen was written by an unknown translator, and is, without any question, utterly superior to every other translation I’ve read.  This added to my fascination, because each version in English is clearly the same poem being translated, however is done so very, very differently as translators must maintain rhyme, meter, and the original version’s essential plot. How this is done so masterfully has had me baffled ever since.

‘Baffled’ is just one of the dozens of emotions I’ve been filled with since being exposed to L’Invitation au Voyage, in addition to sleepless, captivated, spellbound, fuzzy, and absolutely enthralled by the concept of literary translation. For the first time in my life, I feel as though I may have found a legitimate career option that would bring me a level of happiness and fulfillment no other choice has seemed able to offer.  I have literally lost sleep just thinking about this poem, the imagery, the decisions made by its unknown translator in terms of word choice and word order, rhyme, and even punctuation.  As far as the poem’s underlying message and what exactly it describes, Baudelaire has masterfully produced a piece of work filled with pleasantness and a soothing, calming effect on the reader despite telling a rather depressing story of rejection. This theme of love lost is very popular in American media, seen in countless television and movie dramas, however is typically not portrayed nearly as eloquently.

Pictured: Charles Baudelaire

Pictured: Charles Baudelaire

Invitation to the Voyage by Charles Baudelaire

My child, my sister, dream
How sweet all things would seem
Were we in that kind land to live together,
And there love slow and long,
There love and die among
Those scenes that image you, that sumptuous weather.
Drowned suns that glimmer there
Through cloud-dishevelled air
Move me with such a mystery as appears
Within those other skies
Of your treacherous eyes
When I behold them shining through their tears.

There, there is nothing else but grace and measure,
Richness, quietness, and pleasure.

Furniture that wears
The lustre of the years
Softly would glow within our glowing chamber,
Flowers of rarest bloom
Proffering their perfume
Mixed with the vague fragrances of amber;
Gold ceilings would there be,
Mirrors deep as the sea,
The walls all in an Eastern splendor hung-
Nothing but should address
The soul’s loneliness,
Speaking her sweet and secret native tongue.

There, there is nothing else but grace and measure,
Richness, quietness, and pleasure.

See, sheltered from the swells
There in the still canals
Those drowsy ships that dream of sailing forth;
It is to satisfy
Your least desire, they ply
Hither through all the waters of the earth.
The sun at close of day
Clothes the fields of hay,
Then the canals, at last the town entire
In hyacinth and gold:
Slowly the land is rolled
Sleepward under a sea of gentle fire.

There, there is nothing else but grace and measure,
Richness, quietness, and pleasure.

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