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  #1  
Unread 11-28-2020, 02:09 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Default Laforgue, The Cigarette

Jules Laforgue (Uruguay, then France, 1860-1887)

DRAFT TWO

The Cigarette

This world is flat. The other one? The stuff of frauds.
Myself? I go resigned and hopeless to my fate.
To kill the time, as long as death still makes me wait,
I smoke my slender cigarettes in the face of the gods.

Go on, you living, strive, poor skeletons-to-be.
Myself? Those blue meanders twisting toward the sky
immerse me in endless bliss, as if I’m drowsied by
a thousand dying censers’ final scents set free.

Festooned with vivid dreams, I enter heaven, and sight
myself, swirling in some fantastic waltz that gyres
with elephants in rut, sung by mosquito choirs.

When I revive, envisioning the verse I’ll write,
my heart still filled with sweet elation—then I spy
my precious thumb’s been roasted like a goose’s thigh.


L4 was:
I smoke thin cigarettes beneath the nose of the gods.
LL7-8 were:
plunge me in endless bliss, as if I’m drowsied by
a thousand dying censers’ last perfumery.
a thousand dying censers’ last perfumes, set free.
L9 was:
Festooned with dreams, I enter paradise, and sight
L12 was:
And when I waken—musing on the verse I’ll write,

NOTE: Hashish (cannabis resin) from Egypt, Morocco, and Algieria was widely available in Paris during Laforgue’s lifetime, and could be consumed in cigarette form, either alone or in combination with tobacco. Laforgue was born too late to have belonged to the Club des Hashischins (Club of the Hashish-Eaters), which was active between 1844 and 1849, but he had probably heard of it; that group of Parisian psychotropic-enthusiasts included such literary luminaries as Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Alexandre Dumas, Théophile Gautier, Victor Hugo, and Gérard de Nerval.


DRAFT ONE

The Cigarette

This world is flat. The other one? The stuff of frauds.
Myself, I go resigned and hopeless to my fate.
While killing time, as long as death still makes me wait,
I smoke thin cigarettes beneath the nose of the gods.

Go on, you living, strive (poor skeletons-to-be).
Myself, I’m plunged in endless bliss, as toward the sky
a blue meander twists, as though I’m sleep-borne by
a thousand dying incense burners’ pungency.

On reaching paradise, festooned with dreams, I sight
myself involved in some fantastic waltz that gyres
with elephants in rut, sung by mosquito choirs.

When I awaken, musing on the verse I’ll write,
I notice—with my heart still filled with sweet, sweet joy—
my precious thumb’s been roasted like a goose’s thigh.


FRENCH ORIGINAL

La cigarette

Oui, ce monde est bien plat ; quant à l’autre, sornelles.
Moi, je vais résigné, sans espoir, à mon sort,
Et pour tuer le temps, en attendant la mort,
Je fume au nez des dieux de fines cigarettes.

Allez, vivants, luttez, pauvres futurs squelettes.
Moi, le méandre bleu qui vers le ciel se tord
Me plonge en une extase infinie et m’endort
Comme aux parfums mourants de mille cassolettes.

Et j’entre au paradis, fleuri de rêves clairs
Ou l’on voit se mêler en valses fantastiques
Des éléphants en rut à des chœurs de moustiques.

Et puis, quand je m’éveille en songeant à mes vers,
Je contemple, le cœur plein d’une douce joie,
Mon cher pouce rôti comme une cuisse d’oie.


LITERAL ENGLISH PROSE CRIB

The Cigarette

Yes, this world is flat, indeed; as for the other, baloney/poppycock.
Myself, I go resigned, without hope, to my lot,
and to kill time, while waiting for death,
I smoke under the nose of the gods slender cigarettes.

Go on, you living, struggle, poor future skeletons.
Myself, the blue meander that toward the sky twists
Plunges me into an infinite ecstasy and I fall asleep
as if in the dying perfumes of a thousand incense burners.

And I enter into paradise, garlanded with clear dreams
in which one sees oneself get mixed up in fantastic waltzes
of elephants in rut, to choirs of mosquitoes.

And then, when I wake up, dreaming of my verses,
I contemplate, my heart full of a sweet joy,
my dear thumb, roasted like a goose thigh.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 12-03-2020 at 01:11 PM.
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Unread 11-28-2020, 12:47 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Hi, Julie,
In S1L3 I think "To kill the time" would make it clearer that that is the purpose of the cigarettes. In S2L1, I think the line would be better if you remove the parentheses. In S2L3, can you make it clearer that the "blue meander" is smoke? At first, I was puzzling about whether a river was being referred to. Also, I think the French is implying in S2L4 that the incense burners are dying into perfume, which sounds more poetic than the way you have worded it. I am not fond of the repetition in "sweet, sweet joy" in S4L2. Your last rhyme "joy/thigh" seems a bit slant compared to your usual practice. Perhaps you can move "I" to the end of S4L2?

Susan
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Unread 11-28-2020, 05:56 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Thanks, Susan! Draft Two posted above in response.
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Unread 11-28-2020, 06:23 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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It's interesting how now there's an irony to smoking while waiting for death that I enjoy but there probably wasn't one when this written.

I do wonder how many gods are sharing that nose, though.

Matt
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Unread 12-03-2020, 11:16 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Julie,

Feeling a little guilty about the flippancy of my last comment, I've come back.

"beneath the nose of the gods" does definitely sound odd to me, and I think we'd normally say "beneath the noses of ..." to match the plural (e.g. "he stole it from right under their noses".)

If "under the nose of the gods " is idiomatic in the French, it seems like idiomatic English would seem the best option for translation. On the other hand, maybe Laforgue is intentionally playing with mixing the singular and plural and wants to indicate that the gods have one collective nose. I don't know.

"sight/myself", also struck me as a little odd, though I'm not sure I can say why -- I think perhaps the enjambment wrongfoots me a little as to what sense of what verb 'sight' is being used -- though with repeated readings it did so less. Compared to the original, though, the translation seems to change the sense a little. The original seem to say something like, "the kind of dreams in which ...", though I don't know how much that matters.

When I first read this, before you posted the revision with a full rhyme, I did wonder if there'd be any mileage in using "high" to end the penultimate line. In the sense of elation, applied to the heart would seem to indicate "joy" and it offers a drug and heaven reference -- and rhymes with 'thigh', of course. Something like.

I notice—with my heart still on the sweetest high—
my precious thumb’s been roasted like a goose’s thigh.


best,
Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 12-03-2020 at 11:19 AM.
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Unread 12-03-2020, 01:08 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Hi, Julie, I agree with Matt that the singular nose sounds weird. For S1L3-4 how about something like

To kill the time, I smoke, while death still makes me wait,
thin cigarettes beneath the noses of the gods.

In S2L3 I don't think "drowsied" works as a verb (you could use "made drowsy by"), and in S2L4 I think it is the perfumes that are dying, not the censers. In S3L1, isn't it the paradise that is festooned with dreams, not the speaker? It occurred to me that if you changed "sight" to "see" at the end of S3L1, you could use "my verse-to-be" at the end of S1L4. I think in that line "awake" would work a lot better than "revive." He has not been ill or near death, I assume, just asleep. In S3L2, I think "fantastic" in English has the wrong overtones for the context. It has been corrupted by its slang usage meaning "wonderful," and that clearly would not fit this content.

Susan
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Unread 12-03-2020, 01:24 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Hi, Matt! Thanks for coming back, and apologies for not responding the first time.

Tweaks posted above. Does "in the face of the gods" sound more colloquial in L4? I still want to keep "gods" plural, as Laforgue did, and pluralizing either "nose" or "face" is metrically inconvenient.

Does including "vivid" in front of L9's "dreams" help "sight" to seem less jarring there? I'm not sure I like changing "paradise" to "heaven" there, which has different connotations, but it might be worth it.

Thanks for the suggestion for L13. I had tried "high" as a rhyme word in an earlier draft (as "heart and spirits high," I think--it had seemed a bit anachronistic to use "high" in the "pleasantly intoxicated" sense). Your suggestion would have worked better than what I'd tried. But then I liked "spy" better there, with its emphasis on the fact that Laforgue's narrator was only aware of the damage when he saw it--having been, um, feeling no pain, to use another anachronism.

Thanks again for taking the time and trouble to help me improve my translation.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 12-03-2020 at 01:26 PM.
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