Friday, November 26, 2010

Ne me quitte pas

Don't quit me! Don't quit me.

Je creuserai la terre jusqu'après ma mort
pour couvrir ton corps d'or et de lumière.

I'd scour the earth unto my death
to cover your body in gold and light.

The words are so intense, and Jacques Brel sings them with such complete devotion, the result is really a masterpiece.

It took me a long time to translate that first line ("I'd scour the earth unto my death") because the translations I found online didn't work for me. I think the words "scour" and "unto" are key.

I also think "don't quit me" or "don't give up on me" works best for "ne me quitte pas," although most translations seem to prefer either "don't leave me," or "don't go away," or something like that. I think that the obvious fact that "quit" is linguistically tied to the word "quitte", and works just fine in colloquial English, should be observed. (Not sure that it's even all that colloquial.)

This page explains the complexity of translating the phrase "jusqu'après" into English. There is a problem with translating between concepts of time here.

Overall This is the best complete translation I've found, and it does use multiple translations for "ne me quitte pas".

It's true that I was introduced to this song 16 years ago by Nina Simone on Verve Jazz Masters 17, but this version has become my favorite.


KateMadd/skmckinn said...

hmmm. But "quitter" in French really does just mean "to leave," sometimes, without the connotations it has in English. If I was telling you about my day and I said "J'ai quitté l'ecole a deux heures," I'd be saying "I left school," not "I quit school."

Of course, you're right that our "quit" comes from French. I'm sure it's one of those Norman invasion words--more highfalutin' (and therefore weighty) than the Saxon near-synonyms.

And Jaques Brel, of course, is going for the most gravité possible, so yeah--I would translate it the way you have.

S'funny though--French has, I think, fewer ways of subtly intensifying expression through lexicon alone--maybe just because French has fewer words? French says things really plainly... But then we have this culturally constructed perception of the passionate language of love...

Digitizdat said...

I'm glad you see it that way too, Kate! And I have also been kind of sensing what you're saying about the French lexicon as well, but I was wondering if it was just because I am a 3-week old baby to the language. Perhaps not.

I'm looking forward to having enough words in my noggin to read some of the basics, like say Rimbaud. I mean, c'mon, the guy was only 19 when he wrote Une Saison en Enfer, so how complex could his vocabulary have possibly been?