A Little Side Project of Mine

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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7 Responses

  1. BlaiseP says:

    Here’s one for your collection:  my translation

    The Little Cat

    He’s a little black cat, insolent as a pageboy,
    I usually let him play on my table.
    Sometimes he sits down without making a fuss,
    He’s like a living paperweight.

    Nothing of him, not a hair of his pelt moves;
    He stays there, black on white paper,
    These kitties hang their tongues out like a red flag,
    So they can lick feathers, seemingly.

    When he plays, he is hilarious,
    Clumsy and graceful, like a clowning teddy bear.
    I squat down to observe his manners
    When the saucer of milk is put in front of him.

    First his delicate nose sniffs it,
    He brushes up against it, then, with teeny licks,
    he swallows, and then gets to work
    And we hear, as he drinks, little splashes.

    He drinks, and ceaselessly twitches his tail,
    And doesn’t raise his little flat nose
    Until he’s pushed his rough pink tongue
    Everywhere, and neatly cleaned that dish.

    Then he cleans his whiskers a while,
    Acting surprised to have already finished.
    Then realizes he has made some droplets,
    He smooths himself down again, his hair luster tarnished.

    His eyes are as yellow and blue as two agates;
    He half closes them, sometimes, sniffing,
    Turns on his back, clutching his nose in his paws,
    As if he were a tiger lying on his side.

    Le Petit Chat

    C’est un petit chat noir effronté comme un page,
    Je le laisse jouer sur ma table souvent.
    Quelquefois il s’assied sans faire de tapage,
    On dirait un joli presse-papier vivant.

    Rien en lui, pas un poil de son velours ne bouge ;
    Longtemps, il reste là, noir sur un feuillet blanc,
    A ces minets tirant leur langue de drap rouge,
    Qu’on fait pour essuyer les plumes, ressemblant.

    Quand il s’amuse, il est extrêmement comique,
    Pataud et gracieux, tel un ourson drôlet.
    Souvent je m’accroupis pour suivre sa mimique
    Quand on met devant lui la soucoupe de lait.

    Tout d’abord de son nez délicat il le flaire,
    La frôle, puis, à coups de langue très petits,
    Il le happe ; et dès lors il est à son affaire
    Et l’on entend, pendant qu’il boit, un clapotis.

    Il boit, bougeant la queue et sans faire une pause,
    Et ne relève enfin son joli museau plat
    Que lorsqu’il a passé sa langue rêche et rose
    Partout, bien proprement débarbouillé le plat.

    Alors il se pourlèche un moment les moustaches,
    Avec l’air étonné d’avoir déjà fini.
    Et comme il s’aperçoit qu’il s’est fait quelques taches,
    Il se lisse à nouveau, lustre son poil terni.

    Ses yeux jaunes et bleus sont comme deux agates ;
    Il les ferme à demi, parfois, en reniflant,
    Se renverse, ayant pris son museau dans ses pattes,
    Avec des airs de tigre étendu sur le flanc.Report

  2. Jason Kuznicki says:

    Thank you.  It’s a very good translation.  I just hope you won’t mind if I redo it rather than using it. This is a labor of love, you know.

    Incidentally, were you working from this site, or this one, or something else?

    The first only has a small number of the poems.  The second is a project in itself, although maybe one I could knock out along the way.  Right now I’m working from a facsimile edition that can be difficult to read in places.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      It was just an offhand translation anyway.   I’m not really satisfied with it.  qu’il s’est fait quelques taches; is rather different than something about droplets, but stains didn’t quite work well in English.

      I’m working from this site.   It was the only poem I remembered of his: all that came to mind was pendant qu’il boit, un clapotis.. Speaking of kitties, a rather bad one is poking her head into my morning banana milkshake and requires some repressing just now.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I’d call the taches/droplets translation allowable.  We know what it means either way — he’s a cute but just slightly messy eater.

        I’ll probably keep trying to work in metered verse, possibly rhymed too.  That’ll mean a bit looser translation, as you’ve probably already found in the dedication.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          That’s a high bar you’ve set yourself.   Me, I always favor the better translation rather than go for the meter.   If I’m writing in one language I’ll write in meter but working from translation, the results (for me) start looking like those particularly twee bits of Chapman’s Homer

          Minerva in a vision stands
          Before Nausicaa; and commands
          She to the flood her weeds should bear,
          For now her nuptial day was near.
          Nausicaa her charge obeys,
          And then with other virgins plays.



          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

            True, that’s the risk.  But twee is perfect for Rostand’s version of LOLcats.


            • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              Yeah.   You can kinda sense Rostand reaching for rhymes anyway, drôlet / de laitfini / terni .  I couldn’t quite go for the museau as muzzle, thought that’s probably more accurate.

              All cat owners are silly people.   I’m a cat man.   I know they’re little emotional parasites but I love ’em anyway.   This isn’t quite LOLcats territory, well, maybe that ourson bit is, so I felt free to use words like teeny.   I had “pawful” in for a few minutes, pataud, pattes, paws.

              Nabokov has this problem summed up, he who spent far more time translating and annotating Pushkin than Pushkin ever deserved:

              “If I am told I am a poor poet, I smile; but if I am told I am a poor scholar, I reach for my heaviest dictionary…

              The ‘arty translation’ protects them by concealing and camouflaging ignorance or incomplete information or the fuzzy edge of limited knowledge. Stark literalism, on the other hand, would expose their fragile frame to unknown and incalculable perils…

              It is quite natural, then that the solidly unionized professional paraphrast experiences a surge of dull hatred and fear, and in some cases real panic, when confronted with the possibility that a shirt in fashion, or the influence of an adventurous publishing house, may suddenly remove from his head the cryptic rose-bush he carries or the maculated shield erected between him and the specter of inexorable knowledge. As a result, the canned music of rhymed versions is enthusiastically advertised, and accepted, and the sacrifice of textual precision applauded as something rather heroic, whereas only suspicion and bloodhounds await the gaunt, graceless literalist groping around in despair for the obscure word that would satisfy impassioned fidelity and accumulating in the process a wealth of information which only makes the advocates of pretty camouflage tremble or sneer.”