Home > Translation > Two homophonic translations from Old French and Provençal

Two homophonic translations from Old French and Provençal

April 27, 2011

by Monica Raymond

Ballad of Dames in Jaded Time

after Villon

Tell me where, in what country
does Flora ring her bell of romaine,
encyclopaedic Thais
play footsy with cousin Germaine,
Echo, burbling like the Maine
rivers rushing over stone—
Beauty crows its human moan
Whose song? Negligees Downtown…

Where’s sage Eloise (once called Lui)
for whose love, chastened, stripped to skin,
Peter Abelard of St. Denis,
poor son, made monk where man had been?
Some blah blah, mine—oh, where’s the queen
who commanded Buridan
into a sack thrown in the Seine?
Whose song? Negligees Downtown…

Queen Blanche, white as a sheet or lily
chanting “why,” that voice a siren;
Bigfoot Bertha, Beatrice, Ally,
harem babes with tongues of men;
Joan, the good witch of Lorraine
who the English broiled at Rouen:
Where are they, weird sober wren?
Whose song? Negligees Downtown…

Prince, don’t ask this week, this year
why they ventured, where they’ve gone—.
Tunes rise up and disappear:
Whose song? Negligees Downtown…

* * *


from the Provençal

Wake up, friend, you dormouse of a fried banana,
totally birds of the world speak of our love—
Leda, me and you.

Wake up, friend, who sleeps till freezing tomorrow
totally birds of the word, dizzy with our love—
Leda, me and you.

Totally birds do muddle the love, dizzy it,
do my love and do boss ‘em, my lying birds
Leda, me and you.

Totally birds do muddle the love caravan,
do my love and do vacillate and lie
Leda, me and you.

Do my love and do si do love, end and life,
you who tortures bones, rams ‘em to Siam
Leda, me and you.

Do my love and do vaseline emendations
which you told, tested, ram most of ‘em who push
Leda, me and you.

You tortured this bone, rammed it to Siam
and this forecasts these bevies of fountains—
Leda, me and you.

You tortured this bone, me who pushes—
as this seacoast, a fountain, is to the Bahamas—
Leda, me and you.

* * *

These are homophonic renditions. While they are ruled by the form and rhythms of the original, and to a certain extent by the content of the original as well, my choice of words is governed as much by sound as by sense.

The first is of a widely translated poem by Francois Villon, “Ballade des dames du temps jadis,” the refrain of which is usually rendered as: “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” I have long wanted to do my own, slightly cockeyed, version, which qarrtsiluni’s call for submissions gave me impetus to attempt.

The second poem I wrote about fifteen years ago while taking a course in the Provençal (Occitan) lyric in graduate school. I haven’t yet re-located the original of Aubade, though believe me, it has one — I could never have come up with those dizzying rhythms and surreal juxtapositions without a source!


Monica Raymond is a poet, playwright, sometime essayist and photographer, general artist/teacher type, currently based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She’s published all of the above genres (except plays) in previous issues of qarrtsiluni.

  1. Alex Cigale
    April 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Thank you for going out on a limb, Monica. I do think these manage to be both HILARIOUS and TOUCHING. I had a very soothing and satisfying to the point of ecstasy dream once in which all verbal communication was in the form of various mewings and grunts. It is believed that such was Neanerthal-speak but also that 90% of human communication is tone and body language. I believe that the spirit of the original is best captured by, and that translation consists primarily in, mimicking the affective tones, and reproducing rhetorical, syntactic and rhythmic structures.

  2. Jim Schulman
    September 30, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    “Negligees Downtown” is to “Neiges d’antan” as perhaps “Leda and the Swan” is to “Zeus gets his goose.” Thank you for avoiding homophobic renditions!

  1. May 7, 2011 at 11:42 am
  2. May 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm
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