Translation: a fragment from Hugo

Don't believe them—
What they call, beloved,
Heaven in their bitter tongue,
Is just some smoke above,
Sans God: flash and thunder.
This cloud is all: cliff
And abyss, Jehovah too;
The first man to exist
And the last, passing through.
It's a wave, mere spume;
The land of gilded harps,
Where the pythoness of Cume
With Endor's sybils talks;
A chosen place: the blessed
Go in, and not the accursed;
An empyrean summit,
A garden like the first.
—All that? A heap of dreams,
Helping as it harms;
Truth in deception seeming
Brightness in the dark.
Original text:
Ne les crois pas,
Ce qu’ils nomment, ma bien-aimée,
Le ciel, dans leur langage amer,
C’est on ne sait quelle fumée,
Où Dieu manque, où tremble un éclair.
Cette fumée est tout; la rive
Et le gouffre; c’est Jehova;
C’est le premier homme, il arrive,
Et c’est le dernier, il s’en va.
C’est une onde; et c’est une écume;
C’est le pays des harpes d’or
Où les pythonisses de Cume
Parlent aux sybilles d’Endor;
C’est un lieu choisi; c’est l’entrée
Des bénis et non des maudits;
C’est une cime, l’empyrée,
C’est un jardin, le paradis.
Tout cela, c’est un tas de songes;
Cela sert comme cela nuit;
La vérité dans les mensonges,
De la clarté dans de la nuit.
The French is in octosyllabics, with the usual scheme of alternating masculine and feminine rhymes. In French, the preferred rhyme is a “rich” rhyme that includes not only the vowel and final consonant, but the consonant before (at least). In the last strophe ‘nuit’ is used in etymologically distinct senses, and so the repetition is permitted as a rhyme.
The translation is in trimeter; the rhymes are full or “near”-rhymes. Full rhyming throughout would require too much deviation (in my experience) from the sense of the original.

LinkJanuary 13, 2010 in Literature