Category Archives: LCJ Author Corner

The Legend of Pygmalion

There is a legend of Pygmalion, a Cypriot sculptor who abhorred all women for their lasciviousness, but fell in love with an ivory female statue that he carved. Eventually he pleaded to Aphrodite to animate his Galatea, – and gods did not refuse him his bit of happiness.

The Wikipedia article draws quite a full picture of various interpretations of this legend in the centuries that followed since Ovid had narrated the story in his Metamorphoses. An extract from Ovid is also published online. The legend was an inspiration for many painters and sculptors, as we can see from the images displayed.
For my part, I particularly like Paul Delvaux’s interpretation. Delvaux revisits the legend and broadens the context in which one can think of Pygmalion’s story. Sculpture has long stopped being a “masculine” type of art, hence it can be a woman who creates the statue of a man and falls for it.
The context can be broadened further: Galatea is Pygmalion’s ideal woman, but I often like to disregard any restrictions or conventions implied by gender. Therefore, I accept any gender combination, when rereading this legend, and, as a consequence, I allow for a possibility that love which Pygmalion expects his statue to share can never emanate from his creation.
In the poem below I wanted to entwine the theme of unrequited feeling with the legend of Pygmalion. Furthermore, since Galatea embodied a certain ideal, I suggest that a statue needs not to be seen as a piece of sculpture. “Statue” can be understood as something “static”, that which is immovable, either physically or emotionally; hence “stone” is not exactly the marble, but anything cold or distant which is unlikely to liven up. Like Pygmalion is not necessarily male, so Galatea can be drawn on canvas, or described in words, or exist merely as a dream. Whichever interpretation we may prefer, Galatea is the symbol of Beauty which Pygmalion doesn’t want to give up, but whose cold demeanor drives him to despair.

Когда владеешь тем, что бы отдал,
Впредь никогда об этом не жалея;
Или скорбишь о том, что потерял,
Едва ль по-настоящему имея, –
Все блекнет, если ты, Пигмалион,
Дни проводя перед твореньем милым,
Любви ответ найти желаешь в нем, –
Но жизнь вдохнуть и богу не по силам.
© Юлия Шувалова 2007
When you possess that which you would refuse
And never have the outcome bemoaned;
Or when you mourn the loss of what you used
To think was yours but hardly ever owned, –
All this is vain, if, like Pygmalion,
Your spending days with the adored creation,
You wait to see how love ignites the stone, –
But no god can liven your possession.
© Julia Shuvalova 2007)

Links and references:
Wikipedia entry on Pygmalion
An extract from Ovid’s Metamorphoses from The Internet Classics Archive

Images used (from top, from left to right):

Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson, Pygmalion et Galatée (1819) – courtesy of La Tribune de l’Art
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pygmalion and Galatea (1890) – courtesy of Wikipedia
Etienne Maurice Falconet, Pygmalion et Galatée (1763) – as above
Paul Delvaux, Pygmalion (1939) – courtesy of CGFA
Jean-Michel Moreau, Pygmalion (1806) – courtesy of Pygmalion Design
Edward Byrne-Jones, Soul Attains from Pygmalion and the Image series (1878) – courtesy of Mark Harden’s Artchive

Visiting London-4

During my first ever visit to England I didn’t even go to London, to the great subsequent surprise of my Russian friends. It must indeed be surprising, but in truth it simply manifests this unconscious arrogance of capital citizens for whom no life exists outside the central city of a country. I also noted that some Mancunians were not particularly eager to go “down south”. I suppose with some of them it was the arrogance of somebody who lives well outside the country’s central city and thus wants to downplay the capital’s importance. So I joked: ‘when you’ve got Pall Mall and Albert Sq in your own city, what’s the point of visiting them elsewhere?’

In spring 2004 I went to London to research in the British Library and the National Archives. Since September 2003 I’d been living in Manchester, and by April 2004 the differences in lifestyles and perceptions (that would inevitably come to surface eventually) began to take the best out of me. Most frustratingly, I felt like I couldn’t write. It wasn’t quite true. I’ve always been writing wherever I had an idea or a line to build upon. During the day, this could happen at the lecture, on the bus, on the tube, in the cafe, in the park. At night I usually worked in the kitchen.

What happened when I arrived to England is hard to boil down in one or two sentences, however long. After all these years I realise that the main difference wasn’t so much between England and Russia, but between the “contexts” in which I lived here and there. The context in which I lived for the first seven months since my arrival to England was stiffening for me as a writer.

The context into which I migrated for two weeks in April 2004 was liberating. In every sense of the word (except strictly geographical), it was my homecoming. I no longer felt unfitting or dreamy. I understood that I was losing time and strength trying to adopt values and habits I didn’t want to have, or trying to persuade others to make changes.

Understanding this didn’t make my life easier, but the burden of feeling oneself strangely different was left behind for good. Spending a fortnight in London made me crave for space, motion and freedom in Manchester, which I was able to find.

I lived in LSE’s Carr-Saunders Hall, in a small room on the 4th floor. I took a bus to the British Library, or a tube to Kew. In the weekends I did a lot of walking. On my first Sunday in London I took a wrong turn from Fitzroy St and ended up in Soho instead of the British Museum. During Easter, I walked in the early morning from my hotel through Holborn to the Tower.

And at night I wrote. In those two weeks I perhaps wrote more than in the previous seven months. One of the poems has already appeared in Notebooks; because there is no actual rhyme, it was easy to translate. The very first one I wrote in London is called ‘Looking for You’. Despite the title and content, it is not actually dedicated to anybody, even obliquely. I interpret it as a poem about the search for somebody who shares your views, ideas; somebody inspiring; yet somebody who is very difficult to recognise.

Я ищу тебя в городе этом,
Не надеясь когда-то найти.
Ты, как Муза, бросаешь Поэта,
И расходятся наши пути.

Я ищу тебя в книгах старинных,
Где виньетка – разгадка судьбы.
В переулках, на улицах длинных
Чутко слушаю чьи-то шаги.

Я ищу… я ищу тебя всюду,
Даже там, где не стоит искать,
Но я верю, я верю и буду,
Не надеясь, но все-таки ждать,

Чтобы в день, когда ты будешь рядом,
Не заметив, пройти. И тогда
Снова ждать и искать тебя взглядом…
Я искать тебя буду всегда.

04-05 апреля 2004 г.

© Julia Shuvalova, 2004

(I am looking for you in this town
With no hope to ever find you.
Like a Muse, you abandon the Poet,
And our roads part.

I am looking for you in the old books,
Where a vignette unveils the fate.
In the lanes and in the long streets
I am heeding somebody’s pace.

I am looking… I look everywhere,
In the places you’re never to be.
A believer, I’m waiting forever,
Without hope, to find you here,

So that once when you’re only near,
I would then pass you by. And again
I’ll start looking for you everywhere…
I will always be looking for you
© Julia Shuvalova, 4-5 April 2004).

[The English text is an almost verbatim translation; however, the second and third stanzas give a very good idea of the poem’s original foot and rhythm].

Loving Manchester

This text I wrote recently on the train, in Russian. It is a chapter in my reflections on Manchester, which I provisionally call ‘The City of Optimists’. Some of them I published in Russian on my Russian blog, and, judging by the comments there, the impressions of my experiences in Manchester (and in England in general) are much appreciated.

A note on the text: I used three Italian words, partially because they belonged to my text; partially because I had an Italian colleague sitting next to me, which may have made me remember that trait of many Italian cities. They used to consist of città (city proper), contado (countryside) and distretto (suburbia).

It seems I manage to write about Manchester with love. This is fine: to live in one city for several years in a row, one needs to love it. And for that the city has to have something in common with your native or best-loved city, or, on the contrary, to be totally different. It is like in relationships with people: you fall in love when another person fits comfortably in your environment; or when your environment weighs you down, and this other person transforms it with their presence. It is a mistake to think that relationship should have no habitual quality about it. It should avoid usualness and conventions, which are similar to indifference. But a habit by itself is an organising element. Habit relates to habitat, which is nothing else but one’s space, one’s environment. Don’t say that you have got no habits or that you would not want to share them with someone.

And so I find Manchester at once unusual, and not. A year after my moving here, when a more or less objective reflection had become possible, I realised, for example, that I was living in a district very much like the one where I used to live in Moscow. This was usual. What was not usual, was the absence of the capital city’s dazzle, lustre, charm, spirit. And I feel the lack of these. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to overestimate Moscow’s spirit, especially as I am being related about its changing. In Moscow, I used to like speed, space, parks, boulevards, strange houses that hid cosily in some unknown streets. Moscow is a big city where you can have the luxury of not visiting the suburbs; in Manchester, the line between città, contado and distretto is painfully fine, and possibly this is what I have found the most striking.

But, all in all, I want to love this city exactly because it is so similar and dissimilar to my native one. My love is rather rational; there is no passion with which I relate to even those cities where I have never been. But it is love; not respect, nor compassion. I want to love this city because it is easy and convenient to love flawlessly beautiful people, beautiful places, beautiful memories. Yet how sincere is such love, and is it love, after all? Or perhaps, it is a manifestation of a conventional, habitual, usual belief that only flawless beauty is worthy of affection?

O Felici Occhi Miei: Arcadelt and Caravaggio

Our fascination with Renaissance Italy never ceases. This time we have unambiguous evidence of what music the contemporaries of Caravaggio preferred. One piece that was quite popular was a madrigal by Jacques Arcadelt O Felici Occhi Miei.

(As a matter of fact, last year the Victoria and Albert Museum hosted two exhibitions that were linked together thematically, as geographically, and were of immense importance to all “Italianised Englishmen”, if we are to use the 16th c. slang. One was on Leonardo da Vinci; another on Italian Renaissance household; and I wrote about both on my blog in early November).

Now, I got somewhat interested in the piece of music that I recommended in the mentioned post purely because it was composed in the 16th c., which I studied in great depth. The piece is called Divisions of Arcadelt’s O felici occhi miei, and was composed by Diego Ortiz.

The piece in question is a madrigal by Jacob Arcadelt, a Flemish composer born between 1504 and 1505, who spent a lot of his time in Rome and then in Paris, where he died in 1568. Immensely popular for his madrigals and chansons, he also composed masses and motets. The very first printed madrigals appeared in 1537, and the year 1539 saw the publication of four out of six volumes of Arcadelt’s madrigals.

The madrigal in question is called O felici occhi miei (Oh, my happy eyes), and this is the text:

O felic’ occhi miei, felici voi,
che sete car’ al mio sol
perche sembianz’ havete
de gliocchi che gli fu si dolc’e rei.

voi ben voi sete voi,
voi, voi felici et io,
io no, che per quetar vostro desio,
corr’ amirar l’onde mi struggo poi.

(My word-for-word translation:

Oh my happy eyes, happy you are
That you can dearly behold my sun,
For [this is what] the face
To the eyes, to which it was so sweet and regal.
You are beautiful, glowing,
You are happy, and I,
And I am not, for to quieten my longing desire for you,
I look up at you whereby I then suffer).

The comparisons we find in this madrigal are typical of the Renaissance poetry. The most prominent poet who comes to my mind is certainly Petrarch (Canzoniere); but similar motives we can find in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 24. Face is the Sun (the term can be extended to include God); a lover cannot stop looking at the face of his beloved, like a man cannot stop looking at the sun; but the beauty of both bedazzles the viewer, bringing him to tears (strictly, as figuratively, speaking). Such motive, I am sure, goes well back in the dawn of history of literary figures.

Caravaggio - The Musicians (1595)
In this painting by Caravaggio we see one of the boys holding a sheet music with Diego Ortiz’s work
You can follow the links below to see the score sheets for this madrigal. What is interesting, however, is that a few years ago art historians have identified the Arcadelt’s manuscripts as being included in Caravaggio’s paintings. O felici occhi miei apparently features in painting above, The Musicians (1595, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Which only proves how popular was the madrigal O Felici Occhi Miei by Arcadelt even quarter of a century after his death.
(The image is taken from Florence Symposium Program page).

Below is a video with the madrigal recorded by Ernst Stolz and Trond Bengston, featuring the piece of art by Andrea Previtali. It is followed by Pro Musica Antiqua ensemble from Milan singing O Felic’ Occhi Miei a-capella.


Biography of Jacob (Jacques) Arcadelt at Wiki.
Biography of Arcadelt at HOASM.
Music of Renaissance Italy – Florence Symposium Program.

Previously on this post there was a link to O felici occhi miei music score in a .pdf file. I discovered recently that the link was no longer working, but the file is still available on the original site. Flauto Dolce has been created by Andrea Bornstein and has already amassed a marvellous collection of music score sheets and ‘is dedicated to the publication of original music and arrangements for recorder made available in various formats‘. Students of both Renaissance and Baroque music will be pleased to find a wide selection of compositions from these periods, some available in MP3. Mr Bornstein also indicated on his website that he was interested in collaborating with musicians who would consider to ‘realise the continuo of pieces from the XVII and XVIII centuries‘. No money offered, but the work will be licensed under the Creative Commons Licence. If you are such musician reading this post, don’t hesitate to contact Flauto Dolce.

You can go to Jacob Arcadelt’s page on Flauto Dolce, where you will find not one, but five of his compositions. Please note that you will need to register on the site to access any content.

The Routes of Inspiration

The poem that you’ll find below bears no dedication, although it would never have been written, had I not been driven to learn more about Portugal last summer. My interest was sparkled by the work of Victor Gama that I came across during Futuresonic Festival in Manchester in July 2006. Rather naturally, I suppose, I got interested not only in his work, but also in Portugal and Angola. However, my knowledge and understanding of Europe is overall better than that of Africa, whereby I focused on Portugal, especially since I’ve never been there.

So, I was searching Google Images when I saw the picture that captivated my attention straight away. It was taken by a Portuguese photographer, Joao Leitao, and commemorates a fountain, which – to judge by many other images of it that I would find later – is a powerful tourist attraction in itself. To say that Leitao’s photograph is atmospheric is to say nothing, really. For a colour image, it is unique and is all the more impressive because it carries an air of an old oil painting.

In early October I suddenly managed to put my impressions about this picture into words, and so this poem came to life. The English text is a word-for-word translation, thus unfortunately it doesn’t give an idea of how this poem actually sounds in Russian. Anapaest is the main foot (i.e. two unstressed syllables+one stressed); odd lines contain six stressed syllables, followed by two unstressed; even lines contain five stressed syllables, followed by one unstressed.

If any poetry translator is reading this, and would like to try their hand at adapting the word-for-word translation, you’re very welcome to publish it right in the comment field or to email me. I’m sure all parties who were involved, directly or indirectly, in the making of this poem, will appreciate the effort.

Синтра. Пейзаж в тонах Веласкеса

Ранним утром уставшее за ночь от слез, постаревшее небище
Выдыхает, осипнув вконец, клочья белых туманов
На дома и долины когда-то любимого папского детища,
Что тревожило яростно древний покой океанов.

В этот час в воскресенье газетчик стоит на углу мокрой улицы,
Совершая, ссутулившись, таинство медиамессы, –
Но его горожане по-прежнему спят и не интересуются,
Что предскажет им новый пророк от печатного пресса.

Беззаботно фонарь зацепился крюком за кирпичное здание
И качается мерно над камнем булыжным. А ветры
Зимний призрачный холод несут в городок на краю мироздания,
На холмы старой Синтры. И в проблесках тусклых рассвета

Одинокий фонтан, переполненный неба рябым отражением,
Что ручьями сбегает по тверди его кринолина,
Тихо плачет, смущенный впервые замеченным жизни течением,
И восторженно смотрит поверх черепичной равнины…

October 3-7, 2006

Julie Delvaux/Жюли Дельво © 2006

The poem was first published here.

(Sintra. A Dimly Tinted Landscape)

At dawn an old huge sky, exhausted after a night of tears,
Has gone coarse and expires the pieces of white fog
On the houses and valleys of the once beloved papal daughter,
Who used to rampage the ancient calm of the oceans.

At this hour on Sunday a newsagent stands on the cone of a wet street,
Stooping, performing the sacrament of the media-mass, –
But his citizens are still sleep and don’t take interest
In the visions of a new prophet of the printing-press.

A streetlight carelessly holds on to brick wall by the hook
And swings in rhythm above the cobbles. The winds
Carry the winterly, ghostly cold to the town on the edge of mankind,
To the hills of Sintra. And in the dim gleams of sunrise

A lone fountain, overrun with the sky’s stippled reflection
That pours down its farthingale in streams,
Cries in silence, having noticed the motion of life for the first time,
And looks in esctasy over the plain of the roof-tiles).

Jacques Le Goff on History

This is the translation of an extract from the interview with the French historian, Jacques Le Goff, published in Le Figaro on December 7, 2006. The interview was done to mark the reprint of the book by Regine Pernoud, La Libération d’Orléans, 8 May 1429 (first edition – Paris, Gallimard, 1969), to which Le Goff wrote the preface, called The End of the English France. In it, he argued that the siege of Orleans in 1429 had not only been a turning point in the course of the Hundred Years’ War, but has also occupied a special place in the French national memory. Much of the interview examines this view, but towards the end Le Goff spoke on historical comebacks and the place of history in the context of today. The French text is by Jacques de Saint-Victoire and is printed in full here.

Don’t we also have this obscure interest in the Evil, in the most somber passions?
The comeback of the passions is one big trait of history. One could, for example, research into the history of the Crusades to explain the events in the Middle East. Bush is like one of the Western Crusaders, and the Arabs regarded the Crusaders as the first signs of the Western anti-Islamism. This is how I approached it. I was criticized a lot for being the first medievalist who has had a negative view of the Crusades. But we refer to them these days to measure the negative impact.

This reminds us of the ‘longue durée’, of which Fernand Braudel was so fond. André Burguière has just published his Intellectual History of the Annales. In your opinion, whatever happened to this ‘new history’? Isn’t it in a rut?
I am not the best person to answer your question, since the meetings of the committee of the Annales often happen at my place. But I don’t see the decline of the Annales. Didn’t they exaggerate, or even invent, the crisis of history? Yet its vigour rests within its process. I don’t see it either going backwards or stagnating. Admittedly, it’s a bit banal to say so, but the new doesn’t last forever. For all that, history continues, as Georges Duby would say.

Does it still have the same place it has once occupied?
It’s true that it’s no longer in the newspapers’ editorials, as it once used to be. But do notice that its position in the media interest is different not because history has declined or that it has stopped being interesting for the readers. On the contrary, what for me manifests itself as a real regress in the position of history, is that it occupies a place more and more marginal in the making of male and female politicians and in their cultural level. How could one govern France without taking its past much into account? I take the opportunity to mention an excellent posthumously published book by Yves Renouard, on the character types of France. I also deplore the fact that this historical dimension is hardly present in the making of Europe. History is necessary to give a soul and a foundation to politics.
You can read more about Jacques Le Goff at Wikipedia.
Pernoud, Regine, La Libération d’Orléans (8 May 1429), preface by Jacques Le Goff, Paris, Gallimard, 2006 (Les journées qui ont fait la France).
Renouard, Yves, Leçons sur l’unité française et les caractères généraux de la civilisation française, édition François Renouard, Bordeaux, 2005.

Polnareff’s Holidays (Explanations – Part 2)

I also know that someone was looking for the English translation of this song by Michel Polnareff, called Holidays. The song is beautiful, yet melancholic, and carries a very deep meaning. I can imagine Polnareff writing it while on the plain, but I don’t know if it’s true or not. I didn’t attempt to adapt the English text to the music, though.

Holidays, oh holidays
C’est l’avion qui descend du ciel
Et sous l’ombre de son aile
Une ville passe
Que la terre est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
Des églises et des H.L.M.
Que fait-il le Dieu qu’ils aiment?
Qui vit dans l’espace
Que la terre est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
De l’avion, l’ombre prend la mer
La mer comme une préface
Avant le désert
Que la mer est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
Tant de ciel et tant de nuages
Tu ne sais pas à ton âge
Toi que la vie lasse
Que la mort est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
C’est l’avion qui habite au ciel
Mais n’oublie pas, toi si belle
Les avions se cassent
Et la terre est basse

Holidays, oh holidays
It’s a plane that comes down from the sky
And the shadow of its wing
Covers a city below
How close is the ground

Holidays, oh holidays
Churches and council flats,
What is their beloved God doing?
He who lives in the space
How close is the ground

Holidays, oh holidays
The plane’s shadow covers the sea
The sea is like a preface
To the desert
How close is the sea

Holidays, oh holidays
So much sky and so many clouds
At your age you don’t know
That life is boring
How close is death

Holidays, oh holidays
It’s a plane that lives in the sky
You’re so beautiful, but don’t forget
That planes crash
And that the ground is close

Chidiock Tichborne (1558-1586). Elegy

I was once browsing the blogs that I read, and on ReadySteadyBook I came across a sad poem, written by one Chidiock Tichborne ‘on the eve of his execution’. I found his name remotely familiar, and later realised, why: he took part in the Babington conspiracy against Elizabeth I in 1586. As some of you may know (or guess by the dates), this conspiracy was also the one that had brought Mary Queen of Scots to her tragic end. However, I dare say, the end of the conspirators, including Tichborne, was far more tragic, since their execution was carried out in the *best traditions* of punishment for treason. They were hung, drawn and quartered. The execution was usually a gruesome one; it would include a criminal being cut open, and their insides being taken out and burnt in front of their eyes. Normally, they would die at this stage, but sometimes they were still alive by the time they had begun being cut into four parts. The sources say that such was the case of one of the Babington conspirators (not Tichborne, though). The rider in the verdict stated that the severity of punishment could be increased upon the authorities’ discretion. Nevertheless, having been reported about the popular dismay, the authorities allowed the next group of conspirators to hang until dead before being drawn and quartered.

Although Tichborne’s Elegy is not the only work that has reached us, this poem, written in such dramatic circumstances, has attracted much attention from the scholars. Indeed, the use of antithesis and paradox – the two popular Renaissance literary figures – suggests that Tichborne was definitely not new to the art of poetry. Some further information can be found over here, in The Leeds Review, where you can see the first imprint of Elegy, Tichborne’s letter to his wife Agnes, and a response to Tichborne’s poem, specially composed to diminish the creative effort of this young man.

Along with the English text, I also include my translation of it into Russian. I was immediately captivated by the text, and the chance to render all literary figures into my native language was impossible to miss. And when you consider the age of Tichborne and the severity of his execution, you probably begin to read the whole poem differently.

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and found it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

Chidiock Tichborne, 1586

Мою весну мороз невзгод овеял;
На радости пиру вкусил я боль;
Растил зерно – собрал охапки плевел;
Тщета надежд – достаток скудный мой.
День пролетел, – не видел солнца я.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

Слух обо мне разносят пустословы;
Листвою зелен, наземь плод упал;
Промчалась юность, – я остался молод;
Я видел мир, а он меня не знал.
Прервали нить, кудели не спрядя.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

К себе вернулся я, пойдя за смертью;
Я жизнь нашел в забвения тиши;
Могилу чувствовал, когда бродил по тверди;
И умираю, путь свой не свершив.
Иссякло время до исхода дня.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

To * * * (E. A. Poe)

As many readers have unanimously declared, this is everyone’s favourite poem by E. A. Poe – after The Raven, of course! However, the Russian translations of which I was aware did not convey the poem’s original rhythm and meter, so this became my challenge. After several different attempts I hope I have succeeded. And it is a good addition to the Literature label.

I heed not that my eathly lot
Hath little of Earth in it;
That years of love have been forgot
In the hatred of a minute.
I mourn not that the desolate
Are happier, sweet than I,
But that you sorrow for my fate,
Who am a passer-by.

Пусть слишком тяжек для Земли
Вес моего удела;
Отвергнуты года любви
В одну минуту гнева;
Пускай отчаянные все
Счастливее меня;
Жалеешь странника во мне, –
Об этом плачу я.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

Procession (by Jacques Prévert)

As I said in the previous post, I couldn’t find the translation of Prévert’s poem Cortège on the web, so I decided I would have a go at translating it. I finished one of my projects, so I had the right amount of time to immerse in the process of rendering the French text into English. I’ll republish both French and Russian versions in this post, so that those who possibly know all three languages could compare the translations.

A golden oldster with a watch in grief
A labourer of England with an unskilled queen
And the workers of peace with the guardians of the sea
A hussar of cat with a paw of death
A coffee serpent with a bespectacled grinder
A tight-rope hunter with a head walker
A Meerschaum marshal with a retired pipe
A brat in tuxedo with a gentleman in undershirt
A composer of gallows with a bird of music
A spiritual collector with an advisor of cigarette butts
A sharpener of Coligny with an admiral of scissors
A nun of Bengal with a tiger of Saint Vincent de Paul
A professor of pottery with a repairer of philosophy
A controller of the Round Table with the knights of the Gas Company
A duck in Saint Helena with a Napoleon in orange sauce
An inspector of Samothrace with a Winged Victory of cemetery
A tug of many with a father of the tides
A member of prostate with an enlargement of the French Academy
A large horse in partibus with a great circus bishop
A comptroller of the Wooden Cross with a little singer of the bus
A dentist terrible with an enfant surgeon
And the general of oysters with an opener of Jesuits.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

Un vieillard en or avec une montre en deuil
Une reine de peine avec un homme d’Angleterre
Et des travailleurs de la paix avec des gardiens de la mer
Un hussard de la farce avec un dindon de la mort
Un serpent à café avec un moulin à lunettes
Un chasseur de corde avec un danseur de têtes
Un maréchal d’écume avec une pipe en retraite
Un chiard en habit noir avec un gentleman au maillot
Un compositeur de potence avec un gibier de musique
Un ramasseur de conscience avec un directeur de mégots
Un repasseur de Coligny avec un amiral de ciseaux
Une petite sœur du Bengale avec un tigre de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul
Un professeur de porcelaine avec un raccommodeur de philosophie
Un contrôleur de la Table Ronde avec des chevaliers de la Compagnie du Gaz de Paris
Un canard à Sainte-Hélène avec un Napoléon à l’orange
Un conservateur de Samothrace avec une Victoire de cimetière
Un remorqueur de famille nombreuse avec un père de haute mer
Un membre de la prostate avec une hypertrophie de l’Académie française
Un gros cheval in partibus avec un grand évêque de cirque
Un contrôleur à la croix de bois avec un petit chanteur d’autobus
Un chirurgien terrible avec un enfant dentiste
Et le général des huîtres avec un ouvreur de Jésuites.

(Courtesy of

Скорбящие часы с золотым стариком
Потная королева с английским ломовиком
И труженики мира со стражами моря
Надутый эскадрон с индюком смерти
Очковая мельница с ветряной змеей
Канатный охотник с плясуном за черепами
Пенковый маршал с трубкой в отставке
Дитя во фраке с джентльменом в пеленках
Сочинитель сволочи с последней музыкой
Собиратель лиц с духовными окурками
Уличный адмирал с точильщиком флота
Бенгальская монашка с католическим тигром
Профессор по фарфору с художником по философии
Инспектор Круглого Стола с рыцарями Газовой Компании
Утка под Ватерлоо с Наполеоном под соусом
Самофракийская крыса с церковной Никой
Крестный буксир с морским отцом
Член простаты с гипертрофией Французской академии
Приходская лошадка с цирковым священником
Контролер на похоронах с плакальщиком в автобусе
Вопящий хирург с ребенком-дантистом
И магистр улиток с поедателем Ордена кармелиток.

(Courtesy of

A few comments on the translation. Although Prévert”s poem is seemingly absurd, its play on words is sometimes exemplary in re-discovering of some familiar idioms or collocations. I tried, for the most part, to remain faithful to the text, except for when I decided to translate ‘dindon de la farce‘ as ‘cat’s paw‘, actually reversing it, to make it ‘a paw of cat’, so that to mix it with ‘hussard de la mort‘. I also reversed the parts of the second line, because in the French text one can find some occasional (and mostly acoustic) rhymes, so I tried to do just that in the English text.

Also, in the line

Un contrôleur à la croix de bois avec un petit chanteur d’autobus

Prévert refers to Les Petits Chanteurs a la Crois de Bois, a boy choir that was founded in 1906 and exists until this day. As a matter of fact, this reference is omitted in Russian translation.
Bespectacled serpent‘ is, of course, a cobra; ‘gibier de potence‘ is translated as ‘a gallow bird’. ‘Un grand eveque in partibus‘ is a bishop of the see that doesn’t actually exist or is situated in the ‘unchristian’ part. In partibus is an abridgement of in partibus infidelium (Latin), i.e. in the lands of the unfaithful. Vincent de Paul is a well-known Catholic saint, who devoutedly supported and founded various charities, some of which continue to exist. His name is widely known in the West, including America, which is why I left a reference to him in the text. ‘Admiral of Coligny‘ is Gaspard de Coligny, whose brutal assassination was one of the acts of the dance macabre of St. Bartholomew’s Night of 1572.