One of the great things about this project is I get to meet new people and form unexpected collaborations.
Last year, when I was preparing for this project, I went to see Dr Ian Patterson in Cambridge. A Fellow of Queen’s College, Dr Patterson teaches modern literature and is also a translator.
We talked about Les Chats (The Cats), a poem by Marcel Benabou. In this very Oulipian text, Benabou used a constraint called alexandrin greffé: the « grafted », or « transplanted » alexandrine (see previous post). A very common feature of classical French poetry, the alexandrine is made up of two six-syllable units, each called a hemistich. This constraint involves replacing the second hemistich of each line of a well-known poem with hemistichs from other poems, all different. In this case, Benabou used Baudelaire’s poem of the same name as the base (the first half of each line) and then « borrowed » verses from Mallarmé, Victor Hugo and Ronsard, among others.
Ian Patterson had offered to translate this « grafted », or « transplanted » poem, and a few weeks ago I wrote to him asking if he was still interested. To my delight, 24 hours later I received a fantastic translation in my mailbox! Ian Patterson has allowed me to publish it in this blog, together with a key identifying the « grafted » hemistichs. Have a look at everything he sent me just below!
Many thanks to Theano Petrou for her help with the English version of this text
As this Oulipo version, technically an ‘Interference’ with the Baudelaire original, uses fragments of Baudelaire, Hugo, Ronsard, Racine, Lamartine and others to form the second hemistich of each alexandrin, I’ve used a similar range of English poets (see marked copy), many taken from the Golden Treasury, as that was for a long time the most widely-read anthology of English poems. In line five, I’ve put my inserted hemistich in the first place, rather than the second: otherwise I’ve followed the source text pattern. For a key to my sources, see below.
Passionate lovers of full many a glorious morn
Are equally attached even to the zenith’s height
To silky cats and cats whose coat or ear were torn
Because they’re sensitive shrouded in deadly night
Close bosom friends of thought and of Pasiphaé
They seek out silence and la Belle Dame Sans Merci
Erebus might have claimed them when they’re old and grey
If they had deigned to look to darkness and to me
Stretched out asleep they dream with more than flinty rage
Of the great sphinxes seen by the dying of the light
Which seem to fall asleep upon a poet’s page
Their fertile loins are full when all the woods are green
And particles of gold drawn from the black bat night
Sparkle in their eyes and leave the world unseen.
trans Ian Patterson, 19-20 March 2015
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Alfred, Lord Tennyson