Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Hugo's Chastisements: prospectus

I've created this blog to post sections of a work-in-progress translation of Victor Hugo's Chastisements (1853; you might prefer to translate the poem's title as 'Punishments').

Hugo is well known in English-speaking territories as a novelist; not so well known as a poet; and his three big epic productions (1853's Châtiments, 1856's Les Contemplations, and above all the enormous La Légende des siècles, published in instalments between 1855 and 1876) have never been translated. That fact boggles me--for they are staggering, extraordinary poems, enormously important examples of nineteenth-century poetry from arguably France's greatest poet of the period--so I figured I should do something about it. I have read, in point of fact, the two English-language volumes currently in print that translate selections of Hugo (a whole bunch of shorter poems, and a few chunks from the longer pieces); the really rather good Selected Poems of Victor Hugo: A Bilingual Edition (University of Chicago Press, 2004) translated by E H Blackmore and A M Blackmore; and the not so good Victor Hugo: Selected Poems (Carcanet/Poetry Pleiade; 2001) translated by Stephen Monte. (I haven't yet seen this Penguin Selected Poems, translated by Brooks Haxton, and published in 2002). But these books, good or middling as they may be, are no substitute for a proper complete translation of the big poems themselves.

I shall post translations of the 100 poems that constitute this poem in order. My French is serviceable but not excellent, and it's very possible I'm perpetrating ridiculous errors of basic meaning, as well as many infelicities and idiocies of expression, in these translations. Accordingly I would very much welcome feedback, comments and any and all manner of opinion on material posted here.

A brief rationale: my aim is to translate fairly closely, one English line for every French line, limiting the meaning to the line as far as possible and certainly in the overwhelming number of cases. This is complicated by my desire to preserve Hugo's rhyme scheme. To this end I am happy to work with half-rhymes where I must.

1 comment:

christopher said...

Have you translated any more Victor hugo ????