alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I am now not-quite-finished with Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language, by Douglas Hofstadter. The core of this book is the notion of translating a short French poem written by Clement Marot in 1537. It's a get-well note to a little girl he knows who is sick in bed.

A une Damoyselle malade

Ma mignonne,
Je vous donne
Le bon jour;
Le séjour
C’est prison.
Puis ouvrez
Votre porte
Et qu’on sorte
Car Clément
Le vous mande.
Va, friande
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
En danger
Pour manger
Si tu dures
Trop malade,
Couleur fade
Tu prendras,
Et perdras
Dieu te doint
Santé bonne,
Ma mignonne.

To quote someone I stumbled across while googling, Hofstadter uses this notion to "discuss the (im-)possibilities of translation from one language (mental frame, context, moment in time) to another". Early in the book, Hofstadter challenges the reader to make their own translation. He makes the following formal observations about the original, though notes that you don't necessarily need to replicate all of them:

1. It is made up of 28 lines.
2. Each line has 3 syllables.
3. The stress falls on the last of these syllables.
4. It is a series of rhyming couplets (AA BB CC DD…)
5. The semantic couplets are out of phase with the rhyming couplets: A, AB, BC,
6. After line 14 the formal "vous" is replaced by the more colloquial "tu".
7. The last line echoes the first.
8. The poet slips his own name into the poem.

I gave it a little thought, but found the prospect too daunting to make a serious attempt. As I continued through the book, however, and saw just how many ways that the poem could be translated, and how many lenses it could be seen through, my subconscious must have loosened up. Half-awake in bed this morning, I was ambushed by poetry. A first line leapt into my head, followed by several others in quick succession, and a set of images that seemed promising to fill in the rest. An hour of polishing produced this:Read more... )


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Alexx Kay

June 2017

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