Wednesday 9 December 2015

Plagiarism in poetry translation - a case in point

Plagiarism in poetry translation is not always easy to prove. See what you think about this poem, taken from Le Grand Écart, a novel by Jean Cocteau published in 1923, and compare it with a famous poem De tuinman en de dood, by the Dutch poet P.N. van Eyck, first published in 1926:

Le Jardinier et la Mort

Un jeune jardinier persan dit à son prince :

“J’ai rencontré la Mort ce matin.
Elle m’a fait un geste de menace.
Sauve-moi! Je voudrais être par miracle,
à Ispahan ce soir.”

Le bon prince prête ses chevaux.
L’après-midi, ce prince rencontre la Mort.
“Pourquoi lui demande-t-il avez-vous fait ce matin,
à notre jardinier, un geste de menace?”

– “Je n’ai pas fait un geste de menace,” répond-elle,
“mais un geste de surprise.
Car je le voyais loin d’Ispahan ce matin
et je dois le prendre à Ispahan ce soir.”

Jean Cocteau

The Gardener and Death

A young Persian gardener says to his prince:

‘I met Death this morning.
It made a threatening gesture at me.
Save me! I would miraculously like to be
in Ispahan this evening.’

The good prince lends him his horses.
That afternoon, this prince meets Death.
‘Why,’ he asks him’ ‘did you make this morning
a threatening gesture at our gardener?’

– ‘I did not make a threatening gesture,’ he replies,
‘but a gesture of surprise.
For I saw him far from Ispahan this morning
and am to take him this evening in Ispahan.’

De tuinman en de dood

Een Perzisch Edelman:

Van morgen ijlt mijn tuinman, wit van schrik,
Mijn woning in: “Heer, Heer, één ogenblik!

Ginds, in de rooshof, snoeide ik loot na loot,
Toen keek ik achter mij. Daar stond de Dood.

Ik schrok, en haastte mij langs de andere kant,
Maar zag nog juist de dreiging van zijn hand.

Meester, uw paard, en laat mij spoorslags gaan,
Voor de avond nog bereik ik Ispahaan!” -

Van middag (lang reeds was hij heengespoed)
Heb ik in ‘t cederpark de Dood ontmoet.

“Waarom,” zo vraag ik, want hij wacht en zwijgt,
“Hebt gij van morgen vroeg mijn knecht gedreigd?”

Glimlachend antwoordt hij: “Geen dreiging was ‘t,
Waarvoor uw tuinman vlood. Ik was verrast,

Toen ‘k ‘s morgens hier nog stil aan ‘t werk zag staan,
Die ‘k ‘s avonds halen moest in Ispahaan.”

P.N. van Eyck

The gardener and death

A Persian nobleman:

This morning, white with fear, my gardener flees
Into my house: ‘Master, a moment please!’

Out in the rose-beds, pruning shoots with care,
I looked behind me. Death was standing there.

I gave a start, and sought my getaway,
But glimpsed his hand that made as if to slay.

Master, your horse, and at full tilt I’ll ride,
Ere evening comes, in Isfahan I’ll hide!’ –

This afternoon (long since he off had set)
Amongst the cedars Death I also met.

‘Why,’ I inquire, since he waits silently,
‘Did you my servant treat so threateningly?’

Smiling he said: ‘A threat caused in no wise
Your gardener to flee. I showed surprise

To find still here and busy just the man
This evening I must fetch in Isfahan.’


John Irons said...

both translations are mine - really and truly they are!

John Irons said...

And the French poem is based on a much, much older source:

...and so it goes.