Monday, November 21, 2016

New Translation - Pascal: The heart has its reasons

Undoctored time-exposure photograph of the moon at night over Jarrett Bay, North Carolina. (Rick Doble)

 Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas. 
From Pascal's Pensées
 Blaise Pascal  (1623 - 1662)
Literal translation:
The heart has its reasons that reason does not know.
Other common translation:
The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. 

    The heart has its reasons    
    which the mind would never know.    
  Translation by me, Rick Doble  

Raison (reason) in French has multiple shades of meaning such as raison d'être (reason for being) and la raison (in the sense of being rational). The power of Pascal's phrase is a  play on these two meanings.

There is a different problem with translating the French verb connaître (know) which means being familiar with vs. the French verb savoir which means to have knowledge of or to know how -- as these two ways of knowing are expressed by these two separate verbs. However, the word know in English has both meanings, i.e. I know this person and I know how to speak French. So I needed to shade the English word know with some additional meaning.

Raison and connaître work wonderfully in French but do not translate well into English -- so I took the liberty of deviating from the standard translation. In English heart vs. mind is very clear and is similar to the two French meanings of raison

As for knowing, I wanted to emphasize the difference between heart and mind -- which I feel is part of Pascal's meaning -- that rational thought cannot know the reasons of the heart. I also find it very interesting that Pascal, a master mathematician who created one of the world's first adding and calculating machines, had such a profound understanding of the workings of the heart vs. his reasoning as a mathematician.

While my translation takes liberties with the French literal meaning, I believe my translation conveys the meaning and also the rhythm better than the standard ones.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day: November 11, 2016

Why is November 11 Veterans Day?
It is the anniversary of the signing of the WWI Armistice.
"The Armistice of 11 November 1918 was an armistice during the First World War between the Allies and Germany... It went into effect at 11 a.m. Paris time on 11 November 1918 ("the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month")..." 

My father was a veteran of the First World War. As one of the first American soldiers at the front, he served with a machine gun battalion and then was captured and held as a prisoner of war for a year.
November 11, 1918 has a special meaning for me, because at that time my father was near death at the prison camp. Everyone in Germany, especially prisoners of war, were starving due to the Allied Blockade. If signing the armistice had taken another month, my father would probably have died and I would not be here today to write this blog.

Anthem for Doomed Youth (1918)
By Wilfred Owen
As a poet myself I wanted to put my own interpretation on this powerful World War I poem. I have taken the liberty of breaking Owen's original poem into more lines because I think it creates the pauses and emphasis that is needed when reading this. -- My apologies to Wilfred Owen and his remarkable poem.
Original poem line breaks:

Original manuscript showing Owen's revisions and suggestions by a fellow poet.

 What passing-bells 
 for these who die as cattle? 

 — Only the monstrous anger 
 of the guns. 
 Only the stuttering rifles' 
 rapid rattle 
 Can patter out their hasty orisons. 

 No mockeries now for them; 
 no prayers nor bells; 
 Nor any voice of mourning 
 save the choirs, 
 — The shrill, demented choirs 
 of wailing shells; 
 And bugles calling for them 
 from sad shires. 

 What candles may be held 
 to speed them all? 
 Not in the hands of boys, 
 but in their eyes 
 Shall shine the holy glimmers 
 of goodbyes. 
 The pallor of girls' brows 
 shall be their pall; 

 Their flowers 
 the tenderness 
 of patient minds, 

 And each 
 slow dusk 
 a drawing-down 
 of blinds. 


This poem has been interpreted by a number of people.
What follows are several YouTube videos of this work:

Benjamin Britten: War Requiem: What passing bells for these who die as cattle?

Sean Bean reads Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth

A modern interpretation by Jos Slabbert 
Anthem for Doomed Youth