Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Working to finalize a translation this morning, and have finally polished up a short passage that has been giving me trouble. It’s a simple moment in the story, really—a short scene following the death of an old man, a minor character. But what happens in these two paragraphs reflects much of the struggle at the heart of the book. I wanted to get it right. I may still fiddle with this (in fact, I’ve fiddled with it just looking at it here again), but here it is for now:

The woodworker had finished putting in the nails. The woodworker began to paint the coffin black. And the next morning, they left for Lower Saint Martin where the dead are buried in the small cemetery that encircles the church. The frost was still hard; the snow beneath the bearers’ footsteps complained like an ailing child. The road had been opened up with a shovel once again; it was bordered in places by walls over a meter high and it wasn’t very wide; so they raised the coffin as high as they could and the black box rocked backward and forward, looking like a little boat on a little sea amidst the softness of the snow.

Was it to show you the countryside one last time, Métrailler, so vast and beautiful when seen from up here? Was it so that you could see it from above, as if you were soaring, as if you were in the air, like when the bird with his unfurled wings has all that great blue emptiness below him? —but we couldn’t see anything, we kept on not being able to see anything. And the ground at the cemetery was still so frozen that, waiting for it to thaw, they had to put the coffin in a great mound of snow and into that they stuck the cross.


5 Responses to “like a little boat on a little sea…”

  1. Karen Brown

    This is incredibly beautiful! Love the boat image, the “we kept on not being able to see anything,” the frozen ground.

  2. smithereens

    I like it a lot, especially the boat image of course! If I may, I was surprised by the “we kept on not being able to see anything”. Why not “we still couldn’t..” with a repetition? I don’t know the original so I’m just wondering about your choice.

    • Michelle

      Hi Smithereens – it’s an odd line. I know the English is a little odd there.
      The French is: “–mais on ne voyait rien, on continuait à ne rien voir. Et la terre dans le cimetière…”
      That “continuait” seems longer to me, like an extended state. If I did “–but we couldn’t see anything, we still couldn’t see anything.” I’m worried it doesn’t have the longish feel of the men’s walk down the mountain with the coffin. Especially with the next line a jump to the cemetary.
      I suppose it could also be more literal.. “–but we couldn’t see anything, we continued not to see anything.” What do you think?

      • smithereens

        I understand your choice better! Actually, because the French does sound odd, your odd solution may be the best one!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: