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MORE LYRICAL TRANSLATION – NOW I HAVE A GO AT HAIKU

In my career as a professional translator I have enjoyed writing what I can confidently say are good (perfectly valid) translations of certain songs… subject to certain conditions. The conditions: that they rhyme and be able to be sung to the melody of the song in their original language; it is because of this that I was quick to label this work as my “most audacious marketing moves”. Seriously: check out my English translation of Le Chanteur (by Daniel Balavoine; in my blog dated 3rd October 2011), or my French translation of Right Between The Eyes (by Garbage; in my blog dated 25th June 2014), or my English translation of Libre (by Paulina Rubio; in my blog dated 26th June 2014), or my French translation (translations, it turned out) of Engel (by Rammstein; in my blog dated 19th September 2016).

That said, welcome to My Most Audacious Marketing Move V. Translation of a haiku in English into French and German, while retaining the 5-7-5 syllable format that characterises every haiku – even though haikus don’t rhyme even though they are called poems.

A word about haikus: in feudal Japan (1185-1603), it was common for samurai to write a death poem before they committed the ritualistic suicide known as seppuku, to atone for shame. I Googled “Japanese death poems” as I wrote this blog, and while I did find some written by actual Japanese samurai in the past (with their names affixed to them), which had been translated into English, the 5-7-5 syllable format had not been retained in the translation. That won’t be the case here.

This is a clip (or cutscene) from a computer game which is set in feudal Japan. www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWQeMN6ydCY You play as the head of a clan of your choice and the objective is to beat all the other clans and conquer all of Japan. And the person you play as is actually someone who was a real-life samurai at some point in the past – in the clip, Shimazu is none other than Shimazu Tadahisa (according to his Wikipedia article, he died on 1st August 1227). And when I heard the only words you hear in this clip, I understood that it was his death poem haiku; further to that, I noted that it indeed had the 5-7-5 format that a haiku should have, and, consequently, initially believed that, given that Shimazu was a real-life samurai, this was an actual English translation of his real-life haiku death poem in Japanese, with the haiku format retained in the new language! Maybe it actually is, but now I’m not so sure; maybe the accurate historical truth is that it is not known what his actual death poem was – if, indeed, he even wrote one at all – and that the creators of this game just made up that English haiku for the Shimazu death cutscene in it. Either way, look at this!

French version

Rouge comme feuilles d’automne
Je pars pour mes ancêtres [NB pronounce “ancêtres” as 3 syllables]
Il’s m’accueilleront ?

Did it!

German version

Bin Herbstblätter-rot
Gehe auf meine Ahnen
Werde willkommen?

There may be no “ich” for “I” here, but the very first word, “bin”, which is always used in the first person singular with the verb “sein” in the present tense in German, gives it away so – did it!
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