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Saturday, 8 February 2020

Saturday Rave: Le Genie by Jules Verne.

Jules Verne is the second-most translated writer in the world (he's between Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare).

In Britain we tend to regard Verne as a writer of light and perhaps juvenile adventure stories, but in his native France he is honoured as a writer of intellect and distinction.

The difference in perception seems to have been created by those many and often much-abbreviated translations.

Here's one of Jules Vernes' poems, Le Génie

Comme un pur stalactite, oeuvre de la nature
Le génie incompris apparaît à nos yeux.
Il est là, dans l'endroit où l'ont placé les Cieux,
Et d'eux seuls, il reçoit sa vie et sa structure.

Jamais la main de l'homme assez audacieuse
Ne le pourra créer, car son essence est pure,
Et le Dieu tout-puissant le fit à sa figure;
Le mortel pauvre et laid, pourrait-il faire mieux?

Il ne se taille pas, ce diamant byzarre,
Et de quelques couleurs dont l'azur le chamarré,
Qu'il reste tel qu'il est, que le fit l'éternel!

Si l'on veut corriger le brillant stalactite,
Ce n'est plus aussitôt qu'un caillou sans mérite,
Qui ne réfléchit plus les étoiles de ciel.

Translation has obviously not served Jules Verne well, but are there any excuses for this? 

Well, here's what Google Translate makes of his poem.


Like a pure stalactite, work of nature,
The misunderstood genius appears to us.
He is there, in the place where Heaven placed him
And from them alone he receives his life and his structure.

Never the hand of man bold enough
Cannot create it, because its essence is pure,
And the Almighty God did it in his face;
Could the poor and ugly mortal do better?

It is not cut, this Byzarre diamond,
And some colors including bedecked azure,
May it remain as it is, as the eternal did!

If we want to correct the brilliant stalactite.
It is immediately no more than a pebble with merit,
Who no longer reflects the stars in the sky.


Google's not done a bad job, I'd say. It's a pity that les Cieux is translated as Heaven instead of the heavens, and even more of a pity that le fit à sa figure comes out as did it in his face; but you can tell that this is serious stuff, and you can basically tell what he means. 

So I think we can say that there not really any excuse that poor Jules Verne's work is so diminished in translation.

Mind you, perhaps after all he'd not have minded too much being ahead of Shakespeare.

Word To Use Today: genius. This word comes from the Latin word gignere to engender.

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