Timothy Adès : Translator–Poet

Comments on Timothy’s Translations

Storysongs / Chantefables

“It’s lovely — and for a child in particular there’s the fun of turning it around and getting to realise which language comes first for which poems. It’s a sort of adventure which I’m sure will catch Noah’s imagination. And as he gets older I hope he’ll also come to appreciate the quality of the language as well.” — Trisha Tomlinson.

“It’s gorgeous! I love the front/back upside down thing so much … brilliant. The graphics are beautiful and the layout is beautiful and the translations are beyond beeeeeauauautiful!” — Veronika Krausas.

“A delight for readers of all ages! We enjoyed the illustrations very much. I thought the translations very subtle, clever, pertinent and apprpriately humorous!” — Georgie Colvile.

“I’ve ordered and received a copy of this beautiful book. I shall read it with joy, then take it to my daughter and family in France — her three small bilingual boys will love it.” — Ruth Hanchett.

“A charming children’s book “Storysongs” (Chantefables) — with playful poems by the French surrealist poet Robert Desnos (1900–1945) superbly translated into English — is published by Agenda Editions…” — ParisVoice webzine.

How to be a Grandfather

Reviewed in London Grip, winter 2012/3 by Merryn Williams

(Reproduced by permission)

Timothy Adès has produced new translations of Victor Hugo’s poems about being a grandfather. Merryn Williams finds that many of them have stood the test of time …

Victor Hugo (1802–85) is best known in this country as the author of Les Misérables, but he was also a prolific poet and a great humanitarian. He was a democrat, passionately opposed to the monarchy and the power of the Church, and, as the translator explains, we in Britain don’t understand why people feel strongly about these things. He was forced to go into exile in Guernsey, and that is where some of these poems were written. Four of his children died before him but his beloved grandchildren, Georges and Jeanne, spent a great deal of time with him in his old age.

Timothy Adès has produced a complete translation of his last book of poetry, L’Art d’être Grand–Père, most of which has not been translated before. Like the originals, they rhyme, and they are reasonably accurate. This one is typical:

Jean talks: she burbles, sweet and low;
Tells nature things she doesn’t know,
Tells groaning waves and moaning woods,
Flowers and nests, all heaven, the clouds,
Offering insights, by a smile,
From shimmering dream and roving soul:
A formless murmur, blurred and hazed.
Old grandpa God gives ear, amazed.

Doting grandparents should perhaps be careful before they go into print, and many of these poems are too sweet for my taste. But I was interested in the political poems, which deal with subjects like Napoleon, the Second Empire and the Commune. The test of a translation must be whether it works as a poem in the new language, and ‘June 1871 (The End of the Paris Commune)’ certainly does work:

A woman told me this: ‘I took to flight.
My baby at my breast, poor little mite,
Cried, and I was afraid she might be heard.
Imagine, Sir, the child was two months old,
No stronger than a fly. I tried and tried
To stop her mouth with kisses: but she cried,
Rattling. She would have fed, but I was dry:
I only wept. That’s how a night went by.
I hid behind a door. I saw the glint
Of arms, the guns of killers, on the hunt
For my husband. Morning broke. Behind that door,
A curse on it! my darling cried no more.
Sir, she was dead: I touched her, she was cold.
I ran, not caring if I too was killed,
Anywhere, with my daughter. People called
Out to me, but I fled, I don’t know where,
Into the fields, and dug a hole with bare
Hands, in some paddock, in a place of shade.
It’s hard to bury one your breast has fed!
I laid to rest in earth my angel, sleeping’.

The father stood beside her: he was weeping.

Nothing old–fashioned about this one; it could be happening anywhere in a war zone. The book has left me determined to find out more about Victor Hugo.

On Victor Hugo How to be a Grandfather

“[Often] one forgets that one is reading a translation at all … This is great poetry of childhood, and …, not co–incidentally, it is among the finest poetry of old age … I strongly recommend [it] for the accomplishment of the translator and for the thought–provoking quality of much of what is translated.” — Glyn Pursglove

“The fact that the poems speak to me in such a timeless, warm and engaging way, that they illuminate Hugo the man so favourably, is entirely due to your luminous translations.” — Dr Maggie Butt

“I’ve been reading your Hugo translations with great pleasure. I wouldn’t have known about those poems if it hadn’t been for you. Hugo does what more of our contemporary poets should do — really offers himself, with frankness and modesty (which of course takes a lot of confidence). Your translations are fluent, scrupulous and they capture the substantialness and tone and charm of the originals.” — Meredith Oakes

“We see a tender, more private side of Hugo who dotes on his grandchildren… The zoo, in particular, is of great interest to Hugo… I appreciate the brevity of [the translator’s] preface, its light touch a modesty that allows us to immerse ourselves in the Hugolian light verses right away.” — Fiona Sze–Lorrain in Poetry Salzburg Review

See Lucy Hamilton’s review in Long Poem Magazine: http://www.longpoemmagazine.org.uk/page13.htm.

“I do not recall how I learned of this title, but I am happy that I did. Victor Hugo was devoted to his two grandchildren Jeanne and Georges, the children of his son, Charles Hugo, who had died prematurely. At the time of his son Charles’ death, Victor was a widower. This collection of poetry has never been in print before in English, and was to be the last he wrote. All I can say is this; that after reading one of the poems contained herein, I want to know all I can about Victor Hugo and his work. Hugo is best known as the author of Les Misérables. He made sketches as a pastime, which Van Gogh and Delacroix were both so impressed with, they felt that if Hugo had pursued painting he would have surpassed all the contemporaries of his time. One can’t do everything, we are glad he wrote…!! I urge you to find a copy of this rare title and treasure it.” — Giovanna Brunini, blog post, 20 May 2014

On Jean Cassou 33 Sonnets of the Resistance

“The expression of freedom under constraint, the embodiment of thought in fetters.” — Louis Aragon

“Mostly [the translation] works, and sometimes brilliantly.” — Steve Cox

“Triumphant… it is difficult to see how a free–verse translation could have achieved a comparable result.” — Peter France

“Exemplary” — Anthony Rudolf

“Excellent” — Lucy Hamilton

“An arduous task performed admirably well” — John Pilling

“We are fortunate … creatively vigorous … the personal dedication required…” — Will Stone

On Jean Cassou The Madness of Amadis

“A dedicated and expert English mediator” — Peter France

“Jean Cassou has a life–story that grips even before one embarks on the poetry …. Poems striking above all for their sheer diversity … that makes Adès a particularly suitable translator.” — Belinda Cooke

“Adès has the enviable gift of lyrical lucidity. He captures the true heart of each poem he deals with and has the astonishing ability to follow the form of the original …. Without strain, he creates a perfect mirror for Cassou’s language … losing virtually nothing of the original quality … That is why so scrupulous, so inventive, so professional, so poetic a translation as this one is so welcome.” — Harry Guest

“A really top–notch translation of an incredible poet” — Bethany W. Pope

Six Poems of Robert Desnos in PN Review no. 200

“The translations are startlingly good” — Michael Schmidt

Alfonso Reyes: Romances of Rio de Janeiro

“I’ve been reading your versions of Alfonso Reyes in The Long Poem Magazine. They are wonderful. I do hope the book you plan of his poetry comes to fruition soon. Meanwhile these are to treasure… I have no Spanish language skills at all, and so I read these poems as poems in their own right. They come as an education to me, as well as a delight, and I love them.” — Séan Street

On Florentino And The Devil by Alberto Arvelo Torrealba

“…a Venezuelan duel of wit and words between Florentino, a handsome cattleman of the plains, much admired for his improvised verses and songs, and The Devil. The whole is very adroitly Englished and is both amusing and thought–provoking, presented in a bilingual Spanish–English edition with a genuinely illuminating commentary. Warmly recommended.” — Glyn Pursglove in Acumen

Review by John Forth in London Grip:

“Ustedes han hecho un trabajo admirable y no esperaba menos.” — Alberto Arvelo [nephew].
“Together you have done admirable work and I expected no less.”

“Debo decir que el paseo por los Llanos de la mano de Florentino (el diablo me propuso llevarme a las profundidades abismales del infierno, pero me negué a acompañarle), ¡me ha dejado estupefacto! ¡Qué maravilla esa manera de vivir, amar y sufrir llanera, y qué bellos los poemas de Arvelo Torrealba! Pero mi admiracion es aún mayor por el trabajo de traducción y de interpretación de Adès y tuyo. Admito que no es fácil leer y entender la terminología llanera, y está claro que habéis hecho los dos traductores un trabajo increíble.“ — Vicenç Ferrer.
[I must say the Plains ride with Florentino (the devil offered to take me to the abysmal depths of hell, but I declined) has left me astounded! How marvellous is the plainsman’s way of life, loving and suffering, and how fine the poery of Arvelo Torrealba! But I admire even more the work of translation and interpretation by Adès and yourself, Gloria Carnevali. It’s not easy to read and understand the Plains terminology, and it’s clear that you two translators have done something incredible.]

On ‘Classic Gallic Lipograms’

“Little short of miraculous” — Michael Schmidt

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