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So, as a project to keep my mind occupied during a particularly miserable work week, I decided to come up with a "definitive" English translation of Edith Piaf's classic chanson, "Non, je ne regrette rien". I thought it might be a fun challenge, not only to test my translation skills, but because I couldn't find a widely accepted English version.

It turned out to be incredibly hard, for a number of reasons:

1. My French is pretty bad.

2. Even if my French wasn't rotten, artistic translation is much harder that straight-up conversational language skill.

3. The song uses a lot of colloquial language and abbreviations, which makes it difficult to translate in a literal way. (This did work at least to a certain degree in my favor, since it meant I could play equally loose with the English grammar.)

4. I was determined to keep more or less the same meter, scansion, etc., which was hard because the phrasing in the song is very idiosyncratic.

5. I was also determined to maintain a rhyme scheme, which was even har4der, because the original French version doesn't even rhyme at several key moments.

So, like most of the things of this nature I set out to do, it was pretty much a fool's errand from the get-go, but I did it anyway. Here's the result; I'm especially unhappy with lines 15 and 16, but it's really a miracle I finished doing this at all. People who speak French or write songs, please feel free to laugh at me.

FRENCH LYRICS * MY CRAPPY TRANSLATION

Non, rien de rien * No, nothing at all
Non, je ne regrette rien * No, I regret nothing at all
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait * Not the good I can see
Ni le mal, tout ça m'est bien égal * Or the bad, it’s all equal to me

Non, rien de rien * No, nothing at all
Non, je ne regrette rien * No, I regret nothing at all
C'est payé, balayé, oublié * It’s all paid, swept away
Je me fous du passé * I don’t care for yesterday

Avec mes souvenirs * Now with my memories
J'ai allumé le feu * I am lighting a fire
Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs * I no longer have need
Je n'ai plus besoin d'eux * Of my pains and desires
Balayées les amours * Sweep away all my love
Avec leurs trémolos * All my troubles are gone
Balayées pour toujours * Swept away for all time
Je repars à zero * I am starting with none

Non, rien de rien * No, nothing at all
Non, je ne regrette rien * No, I regret nothing at all
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait * Not the good I can see
Ni le mal, tout ça m'est bien égal * Or the bad, it’s all equal to me

Non, rien de rien * No, nothing at all
Non, je ne regrette rien * No, I regret nothing at all
Car ma vie car mes joies * Life and joy start anew
Aujourd'hui, ça commence avec toi * From today, it’s all starting with you

Comments

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vito_excalibur
Feb. 26th, 2010 04:33 pm (UTC)
I'd use "it's all the same to me".
ludickid
Feb. 26th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's the first thing I thought of. I went with "equal" not only because of the literal translation, but because it doesn't sound weird to emphasize the first syllable in "EQual" the way it does with "THE same", but there's still something clumsily formal about it.
andrewlevine
Feb. 26th, 2010 04:58 pm (UTC)
This professional French translator* thinks your version is fine; it certainly doesn't misunderstand the original one bit. But it would scan better with fewer subject pronouns in it. To that end, I'd propose cutting "it's" from the last line and replacing "it's all equal to me" with "makes no difference to me". Also "All my troubles are done" rhymes with your final line in the verse better than "All my troubles are gone".

One thing that got left out was a few of the rhyming lines -- 9 and 11 no longer rhyme, nor do 13 and 15. So for the first two you could say "All that I once knew / I set it afire / Bid a final adieu / to my pains and desires" or something like that.

(*although my regular work tends to be translating stuff like "Utilisation d’acide phosphorique dans un procédé de concentration d’une dispersion ou d’une suspension aqueuse de carbonate de calcium en présence d’au moins un dispersant acrylique" rather than La Môme lyrics.)
ludickid
Feb. 26th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC)
Ooh, that's a much better 9 and 11. You're hired, kid!
perich
Feb. 26th, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC)
From having heard this song while learning high school French, I believe rien de rien has a different meaning. It's one of those colloquialisms that doesn't translate literally very well (like "not for nothing" in English). Sadly, I either can't remember what it is, or am just wrong.
unsee1ie
Feb. 26th, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC)
AWESOME.
i love this song..
could only be improved by the actual addition of "Fuck you, everybody" but it's definitely there in the tone and execution.
(Deleted comment)
ndgmtlcd
Feb. 26th, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
Close, very close since the "fous" in "Je me fous du passé" comes from the verb "foutre". One of the original meanings of that verb is the equivalent of "to fornicate".
yfortuno
Feb. 27th, 2010 08:42 am (UTC)
I love Edith Piaf
I love Edith Piaf. She, from an inexperienced and uneducated homeless-at-times girl matured into a superb vocalist, performer, entertainer. She was able, unlike nowadays, to captivate the audience with her remarkable voice. She is to France is like what Judy Garland is to the United States. The way she sang "Hymn to Love" - there's no words that exist that could describe the flawlessness with which she delivered the lyrics. You cannot learn this - you, as a singer, either have this sense of phrasing, or you do not. She definitely did. She knew it because she felt it. She was almost in tears on stage with audiences mesmerized, and then the next second she was singing this funny song about a prank - is it the same person? Yes, it is - it is one of the greatest singers of all time Edit Giovanna Gassion, or, as the world knew her - Edith Piaf.
( 9 SHOTS LICKED — LICK A SHOT )

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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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