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.

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