Translating Emily Dickinson: “Hope” is the thing with feathers-

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Etretat, France 2017

In “Hope” is the thing with feathers—, Emily Dickinson uses a metaphorical description of hope as a bird singing in the soul in a homiletic style, derived from the Psalms and religious hymns.  Written in iambic trimeter, Dickinson breaks up the rhythmic flow with em dashes to stress the characteristics of the bird: perching in the soul, singing unending tunes, sweetly in the stormy gales, keeping us warm in the chilliest land. As she keeps with her usual ABCB scheme, there are several carryover rhymes such as: word, heard, bird and extremity, sea, and me.  However, while the bird brings comfort and hope to her, Dickinson ends the poem feeling a separation or alienation as the bird “never, in Extremity, It asked a crumb — of Me”.

In the second part of the post, I have translated this beautiful poem to French. For my French language readers, note the following changes from the original English:

  1. I chose juchoir instead of percher for imagery of the bird perching on the soul instead of a physical branch, 2. As there is not a French expression for a “sour storm”, I chose rageuse, 3. For “abash” I chose confondre and 4. I am not satisfied with extrémité but could not find a suitable synonym for “utmost”.

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“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

BY EMILY DICKINSON

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —

And sweetest—  in the Gale —is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it in the chilliest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet — never — in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of Me.

My Translation to French:

« L’espérance » est la chose avec des plumes —
Se juche dans l’âme —
Et chante l’air sans les mots —
Et ne s’arrête jamais — du tout —

Et le plus doux— dans le coup de vent— on l’entend —
Et la tempête rageuse —
Cela pourrait confondre le petit oiseau
Cela a gardé tant de chaleur —

Je l’ai entendu dans la terre la plus froide —
Et sur la mer la plus étrange —
Pourtant —jamais — dans Extrémité,
Il m’a demandé une miette — de Moi.

Further Readings :

https://frenchquest.com/2016/04/30/my-american-poetry-review-emily-dickinson/

https://frenchquest.com/2016/11/26/translating-emily-dickinson-to-french-a-precious-mouldering-pleasure-t-is/

 

Copyright 2017 by Robyn Lowrie.  May be quoted in part or full with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)

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