“L’Etrangère” – Oscar Milosz

Hello friends!

And now for something completely different. As an undergraduate and during my years in seminary (where fluency in two ‘theological’ languages was compulsory) I pursued the language of my familial history, French. Living as I do in a largely Latino/a community, I get to use my French in conversation with about the same frequency as I go on dates. Nevertheless, when I have downtime at work I like to translate French poetry to keep my vocabulary and grammar honed and, well, because I draw quite a bit of inspiration from francophone poets.

Anyway, I spent some time the other day creating my own translation of Oscar Milosz‘s L’étrangère. Oscar was a bit of a religious nut, but his tortured reflections on love and alienation are compelling still them same. I’ve only read John Peck’s interpretation of the work before and, while it’s good, I thought I could offer a slightly different take on it.

I’ve tried to strike a balance between linguistic accuracy and faithfulness to the spirit of the words as I read them. If you speak/read French, I welcome comments on my translational choices below. If you don’t, I hope you enjoy the English translation as it is.

The Stranger (excerpt)

In your eyes I discover the realities of dreams,
Of dreams I dreamed in an ancient time
And visions birthed in the sunlight of life.
All of eternity ends, it may be said,
In this twilight poisoned by the rain.

I recognize ethereal beings in you,
Travelers to a hidden place,
Whom once I met in hazy stations
Where every breeze had inflections of goodbye.
Sometimes, too, you’re the bustle of a market

With all its lights in tears and reeking
Of mildew and vice,
And the sterile joy of its songs.
Memories of houses of game, old cards
Shuffled with the chaos of my exasperation.

If I left, if I closed the door, what would you do?
Maybe it would be like
you’d never laid eyes on me
My steps would die, without echoes, on the street
And I would see only night in your windows.

And that is how you must leave me today
Immediately and forever
Without a word to me of where from you come, where you go.
Rain falls on the great bare gardens and your soul is cold,
November burying the countryside and my life.

Original text:

Je retrouve en tes yeux des réalités de rêves,
De rêves rêvés dans le vieux temps
Et des visions écloses au soleil de la vie.
Dans le demi-jour empoisonné de la pluie
On dirait que toute une éternité s’achève.

Je reconnais en toi des êtres mystérieux,
Des voyageurs au but secret
Rencontrés autrefois dans la brume des gares
Où tous les bruits ont des inflexions d’adieux.
Parfois aussi tu m’es une atmosphère de foire

Avec ses lumières en pleurs et ses relents
De moisissure et de vice,
Avec sa misère et la joie malade de ses musiques.
Des souvenirs de maisons de jeu nostalgiques
Se mêlent au chaos de mon énervement.

Si je sortais, si je fermais la porte, que ferais-tu ?
Ce serait peut-être
Comme si tes yeux ne m’avaient jamais connu.
Le bruit de mes pas mourrait sans écho dans la rue
Et je ne verrais que la nuit à tes fenêtres.

C’est comme si tu devais me quitter aujourd’hui
Tout de suite et pour toujours
Sans songer à me dire d’où tu viens, où tu vas.
Il pleut sur les grands jardins nus, ton âme a froid,
Novembre ensevelit le paysage et ma vie.

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