Saturday, 31 March 2012

Translation of the Glorious lyrics

Below are extracts from a very lengthy and detailed correspondence that I had recently with a wonderful man called Neil Elliott Beisson - who has translated the Glorious lyrics into French for our upcoming Belgian version of the project. I found the correspondence really interesting. It was conducted entirely via email, and without Neil having seen the show.

I love the process of translation, and often use it within a creative process in some way or another - but I've never written lyrics before, and certainly never had someone attempt to translate them into another language! The challenges are not just of sense, but of rhythm and sound and allusion. Neil is a poet, and he dug deep into the process, asking me lots of questions about intention - and I'm really grateful for that.

The dialogue (even in its edited form here) is rather long and might seem opaque to those of you who've not yet seen the show - but I like it being up here as I think it offers an unusual insight into the creative process. I've included some extracts from the Glorious lyrics in English to help make sense of it - however, not all the lyrics we discuss are included (to avoid overload!). If it's helpful, you can download copies of the full lyrics in both languages here. And if you fancy it, you can also read a bit about the Glorious project here.

Dear Lucille, here we are then
Strange how people look at you and
Strange how you can be so present
Even as you draw the line
As you step outside
As you step outside

Dear Sushila, hold them tightly
Feel the past return around as
You are holding onto hope that
even this, all this might change
As you draw the line
As you draw -

Dear murmur
Hold them gently
Hold the weight of knowing people
Hold the weight of staying true
Place your body in this landscape
Know your body in this place
you're a mine of hidden stories
on the lashes of your mind...

In "Song of Letters", in the Lucille stanza, what do you exactly mean by "draw a line" and "step outside"? Is it about a situation in particular?

In the Suchila stanza: "Hold them tightly". What is the "them" referring to?

More globally, "the act of unbecoming" is a concept that can be understood and translated in a variety of manners. What is the meaning closest to what you have in mind with that line?

Song of Letters came from a series of letters I wrote to real people. So, no, the characters are not linked, they are like separate letters that are held next to each other. The only thing linking them is me 'writing' to them in a way.

"draw the line" is like the expression 'to draw the line' - meaning, to contain something, to put an end to something. It's about containment really - though of course in English with a nice double meaning of drawing with a pencil too.

"step outside" again, I guess this is kind of metaphorical and literal at the same time. It's ambiguous in English too. I like the literal idea that you step outside of the door of your house into the wider world - but also step outside of a situation.

"Hold them tightly" - again (sorry) this is ambiguous. In my mind though, this definitely refers to the audience (them) as well as perhaps Sushila's family.

"the act of unbecoming" for me is about letting go, letting things unravel, breaking down of the known self in order to enter the space of the unknown. Does this help? It's a phrase I've coined for this show really!

they said: when the land is shaking,
when the earth itself is breaking
there’s a void of hesitation
and you can’t know who to trust

In the "Landbreak" song, i'd like to know what you meant by the word landbreak itself: is it just a reference to an earthquake (wether real or abstrat)? Or is there a pun intended with "daybreak" since you talk about the night falling etc? Also, is the past tense in the recurring "They said" an absolute requisite? It sounds right in English, of course, but translates weirdly into French unless i also put the other tenses in past tense too, but i'm afraid it changes everything...

"Landbreak" - yes, related to daybreak, and the song does relate to an earthquake, though it also metaphorically relates to what is happening to our society at the moment, this breaking up of everything we thought we knew, this shaking up of societies.
It is fine to change tense if it makes sense.

Most lyrics relate to a particular situation and at the same time refer to the audience and everyone in the auditorium - this is quite important. So they can be read as relating to a narrative, but also relating to the narrative that is unfolding before us - i.e. we are all in a space together, waiting, wondering, sharing something, and preparing to say goodbye.

i have a hard time with "on the lashes of your mind". Lashes can have to very different meanings... And none of them will translate litterally, but maybe if you can explain in English i can find some analog metaphor...

Think 'eyelashes'. A part of the body, but one which falls and regrows, and is on the edge, and often associated with beauty and softness. Also, one can make a wish and blow into the world an eyelash that has fallen out.

It also sits in contrast to the idea of 'a mine of hidden stories'. The mine is deep and maybe dark and rich, and the lashes are high and light and on the surface of the body.

- "Feel the past return around": the words "return" and "around" are kind of redundant and i can't help but think there's a reason for that. Does the around mean that the past comes back to surround, to envelop the person you're writing to? Should i emphasize on the around? Like i've translated into French as "feel how the past has come back to wander about"... Is that close enough to what you had in mind?

Glorious has a lot of circles in its structure - so the idea of something coming back around emphasises that - yes - a kind of surrounding/enveloping as well as a circular rather than linear progression of time in a way.

- By "staying true" you mean staying true to oneself? To everyone in general? This will drastically change how i'll translate, and i'm afraid that a generic word phrase like "being sincere" might be too general and far off.

Staying true to what you believe in - to yourself, your heart, yes, I think that's the closest.

- "on the brink" means on the verge, on the limits, on the border of... But what about "brinking", a few lines down?

"brinking" meaning existing in a state of being on the verge really - it's a word I made up! The idea of living on the edge, in a fragile way rather than a dangerous way

- "As this place returns around": is it a physical place or more like a mental space? Same as the first question with the accumulation of "return" right next to "around". Oh, and why "return" and not "come back"? Maybe that's the part that escapes my understanding!

See the answer for the first question! And I think it's more like a mental space - but also the idea that through time places and ideas and people change but there's a circularity to that change. AND as I said before, 'this place' definitely refers to the theatre space as well as the mental space. So the way that we keep coming back to being in the theatre (we're in a fictional space but we're also right here, with each other) is important.

In Landbreak, i'm still thinking about the title, i haven't come up with a solution yet that would paralel the daybreak and an earthquake. At some point you use the word "rupture" which also exists in French. It can be used to refer to the break-up in a love relationship or merely the breaking of something. What did you have in mind writing this? i assume i have to keep it vague, but still... i guess it would help to know...

I think that the idea of rupture could work well - I guess what I like about landbreak is the idea of a landscape changing too (actually the physical land on which we stand) but we may have to take a different route to get to the same feeling in french.

- What about the voices in the distance?

I was thinking about people who won't be there to see the show. For all of us, there are people, whether alive or dead, who are not close physically but speak very close to our hearts - and I'd like for them to be present with us in the room/theatre when we perform.

every now and then
you feel them fly past
everything you knew
all the furniture
all the books you loved
people who cared and
feelings of regret
murmurs of desire

i have one question: the language is very poetic, with a very strong imagery and is sometimes broken (voluntarily, i suppose, or maybe am i the only person to feel this) by the use of daily-life words like "food" (which sounds ugly in French) or "crockery" or "furniture". Why is that? Was it to ground into tangible reality the abstract concepts in the other lines? The three words i've quoted definitely sound weird. By "furniture", did you mean the actual cupboard, shelves etc, or do you extend the meaning of the word over to anything material that could get in the way of "travelling light" (do you know that "Bag Lady" song by Erykah Badu?)... Other than those abstract questions, i'm pretty happy with how it came out in French...

Yes, I love the fact that these very mundane words appear in an otherwise very poetic text. For me, it's actually poetic to have them there. And yes, in my head, it's actual plates and chairs and tables that fly through the air in this song. There is something gently comical about it - but it's important to me that it is grounded in this way, not just ethereal but also about imagining all those actual objects in our lives, and what it would mean to throw them into the air.

to break wide open
to shy away
to blinker and canter
to squander the day
to wander and wonder
to place and displace
to keep it within you
and not leave a trace

- i have a hard time with "To blinker and canter". In French, they can be translated by horse-related words, but not as verbs, is that ok? Are they indeed related to horses or am i missing something? Maybe it's an idiomatic expression i don't know?

Yes, they are horse- related. In English, though, we can relate them to a person (though we wouldn't normally, it works in the poetic context of the song) - does that feel weird in french? too weird? If so, I'm happy to explore taking another route.

- "To whittle away" is the work of a craftsman, right? Cutting and polishing something... Is it a problem if i use two verbs in infinitive form in French? To emphasize the meticulousness of it?

I think it is fine. It's the idea of slowly cutting away at something in small bits. The main thing with this song is the rhythm/rhyme. It should feel really like a list - very same-y - and that builds and builds in a very simple way.

- Also, by "Unravel" means to unveil who you are to the world, right?

Mmm, not necessarily. I would think of it as letting go - sometimes that might mean going crazy, losing a grip on the world, letting go of one's image. So in a sense yes, and of course it's not clearly stated, but the idea of stopping holding it all together is important.

As we draw this act to night
as the hills are folded in
As the coloured lights are fading
and our thoughts are packed away
It is glorious

- What is the "it" in "It is glorious"? That's the main thing because it'll enable me to understand the whole song... Is it the fact that the show meets an audience that is glorious?

Ha ha, this is a tricky question. I think it's the whole situation that is glorious - yes, in a way, it's the fact that the show meets an audience, and here we all are, for a moment in time, sharing this space and these stories with each other.

Hey, just a quick question before i get into more detail and send you the lyrics back: what do you mean with "Now that the hills are folded in"? i understood it as "now that the performance is over and we've packed all the stage-decorations and all"... Is that correct? The same goes with "thoughts packed away". i think i get it, but i'd want to make sure!

I guess I should have said: there are no hills in the show! It's just a phrase I liked, that doesn't particularly makes sense, but yes is generally referring to the idea of things going to sleep / packing away.

"i had doubts about "earthbound" as in being just a being that cannot fly, or bound as in clearly rooted in the soils?"

rooted in the soils - either really, but also 'heading towards earth'.

"It is glorious": i've kept the word itself, for i believe both the English and French languages give it some sort of grandiose, almost religious, importance. But instead of an "it", i've gone for a "everything"... i hope you don't mind!

I'm not totally sure yet - but I'm going to try it as you have written it! I think my worry is that I would like it to convey that this, right here, is glorious - and in a way this implies that this glorious exists in spite of everything that is not glorious in the world. Does that make sense??

How about "Nous sommes gloooorieuuuuux"
It would really refer to "all of us, sharing this moment in this space"... Yes?

One last question: about "the hills that have folded in", how about i use the image of flowers that close at nighttime? So far it's the best idea i've had...

1 comment:

  1. It is fantastic that you got so involved in the translation, it will make the Belgian show that much better. I am so pleased that you are going international.

    I love this post. My whole dissertation for my masters degree was around the subject of the relationship between the translator and the writer (and the fact that in most cases it's non-existent).

    Don't forget I am a professional translator and I've seen the show, for when you're ready for the Spanish version!

    We still need to sort out a date to get together, you need to meet our lovely daughter and we'd love to see you. Get in touch with my lovely husband, he has news! ;)