Today is National Poetry Day in the U.K. (admittedly I don’t live in the U.K. but I’m sure they don’t mind a little borrowing!). My high school French teacher was a real poetry buff, and when I was in 11th grade we each had to pick a French poem to translate and read to the class. I picked Guillaume Apollinaire’s Le pont Mirabeau, which is set on the Mirabeau Bridge over the Seine in Paris. I can’t even imagine what I wrote; whatever it was I’m sure it made Apollinaire roll in his grave, but I do still remember how long I worked on the translation and how much I loved doing it. I think that my career destiny was definitely sealed when, a year later, some high school friends and I went to Paris with that same teacher and read “Le pont Mirabeau” in French and English while standing on the Mirabeau Bridge!
Of course I now realize that translating poetry has to be one of the hardest tasks a translator can undertake. In the absence of whatever horrors I inflicted on Apollinaire’s work, here are some better translations: one by the folk/rock group The Pogues and one by U.S. Poet Laureate emeritus Richard Wilbur.