When the Poet Died: on translating remembrance

Alexander Anichkin’s blog post, When the Poet Died, was written a few months ago (June 2011) but makes timely reading today, Remembrance Sunday.

Alexander’s post starts from his translation of Gilbert Bécaud’s song “Quand il est mort, le poète” (lyrics by Louis Amade). So it gives us an insight to the challenges faced by translators in translating songs (or poetry), and the creative ways in which they resolve them.

But it’s interesting on other levels too. The song itself has an anti-war message and touches on the symbolism of remembrance: red poppies here in Britain, blue cornflowers in France. The video Alexander has chosen for his post shows Gilbert Bécaud performing the song for (and teaching it to) a German audience.

Alexander’s comment:

Whatever difficulties united Europe is going through, Franco-German rapprochement has been one of its greatest achievements.

could hardly be more topical.

The Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano, has become a front-page name outside Italy in view of his role in guiding the country’s change of leadership. Like his predecessor, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Napolitano belongs to the generation that lived through the Second World War and saw a united Europe as much more than just an economic community. In a speech last month at the Collège d’Europe in Bruges, President Napolitano said:

We need to cast some light on the progress made in the audacious project announced on 9 May 1950. This is especially true nowadays, since my generation is the last one to have lived through the tragedy that the Second World War unleashed on our countries, already battered by the First, Great War. Mine is the last generation to preserve a keen memory of the fatal divisions and destruction from which we had to raise ourselves up once again.

For President Napolitano, and President Ciampi before him, the European Union was and is a way to ensure that European countries never again go to war (with each other). It’s maybe hard for those of us who didn’t live through World War II to fully grasp that sentiment, but it’s worth remembering that “Europe” is based on more than just markets and economic interests. Isn’t it?

By the way: Gilbert Bécaud, Giorgio Napolitano and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi all took part in their countries’ resistance movements.

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. Marian, thanks for the mention. That’s exactly what I had in mind when I mentioned the Franco-German reconciliation.

    By the way, Romano Prodi, the former president of the European commission and Italian president, who is of the post-war generation also said that preventing war between European nations was the main motive behind the creation of the EU – and its greatest achievement. I think it was a Radio 4 interview.

    1. Thanks, Alexander. I loved your post on “When the Poet Died” – it was interesting on so many levels.
      Like you, I think that we need to keep sight of the ideals behind the creation of the EU. I live in Scotland but spent over 20 years in Italy and at any given moment feel British, European, Glaswegian and Scottish, in more or less that order.

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