Quién canta hoy: une Grive dans l’orage, on a naked tree

Una traducción/versión en español suivie par une traduction/version en français, and then the English original, by the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid (1892–1978).

The more I worked on these translations, the more MacDiarmid’s poem seemed to have something to say to us today, in these violent times. (And our hearts go out to the Ukrainians.)

The bird of the poem, who MacDiarmid (né Christopher Murray Grieve) calls a “Storm-Cock,” is commonly called a Mistle Thrush, Turdus viscivorus, Zorzal Charlo, Grive draine. It is the largest songbird in the United Kingdom, and, as The folklore of the mistle thrush puts it: the bird “famously eschews the onset of inclement weather, raising a welcome voice even during squalls of snow.”

The poem refers to a “distant red in the East.” This may now suggest Russia to some of us in Western Europe, the United States and elsewhere, although I am sure this was not MacDiarmid’s idea when he wrote the poem. There is, rather, the English expression “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” Spanish and French versions include: « Cielo rojo mañanero, aviso para el marinero »; « Rouge le matin chagrin (ou la pluie est en chemin) ».

Readers may click on this link to hear the Mistle Thrush’s song. MacDiarmid suggests that the bird seems at times to be saying “Will I do it? Do it I will!” « ¿Lo haré? ¡Hazlo, lo haré! » Ou: « Vais-je le faire ? Je le ferai ! » But since the poet is referring not only to the possible meaning but also to the sound, this seemed untranslatable, and I left these words in English in both the Spanish and French versions.

Español

Quién canta hoy: un Zorzal en la tormenta

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus, Storm-Cock) in snow covered hedgerowQuién canta hoy: un Zorzal Charlo en la tormenta,
cuando sopla el viento frío y la nieve se arremolina.
Si no se ve nada, hasta los picos se pierden,
en las pausas su canción vuela y la mía también.

En la rama más alta de un fresno sin hojas,
casi orgulloso, se encuentra, recto contra el cielo.
Con su ojo agudo siempre observa: los bosques desnudos,
el blanco de los campos, el rojo lejano que muerde en el este.

El pájaro seguramente tiene pocos motivos para cantar,
incluso los frutos de las bayas – su pulpa perdida por las heladas,
o comida por animales más agresivos. Sin embargo,
para otro día de hambre, pleinamente saluda.

Bienaventurados los que tienen canciones que cantar
cuando los demás callan; aunque sea una pobre canción,
sólo un mensaje al silencio de que alguien sigue
vivo y feliz, incluso en invierno, en un árbol desnudo.

¿Y si sólo son unas notas inquietas,
lanzadas sin arte, nada más que ruido?
Su “Will I do it? Do it I will!” vale mucho
cuando el resto no tiene nada que decir.

Français

Sont bénis ceux qui trouvent un air à chanter

Qui chante aujourd’hui: une Grive draine dans l’orage,
Quand froid souffle le vent et tourbillonne la neige.
Si rien n’est visible, même les cimes sont perdus,
Dans les accalmies son chant s’envole, et le mien aussi.

Sur la plus haute brindille d’un frêne sans feuilles,
Presque fier, il se tient, tout droit contre le ciel.
Avec son œil vif toujours il surveille – les bois nus,
Le blanc des champs, le rouge lointain, mordant à l’Est.

L’oiseau a sûrement peu de raisons de chanter,
Même les fruits de baie – leur pulpe perdue au gel,
Ou mangés par d’autres plus agressifs. Pourtant,
Pour un jour famélique, son salut est lancé.

Sont bénis ceux qui trouvent un air à chanter
Quand d’autres se taisent ; même si la chanson soit faible,
Elle assure au silence qu’il reste encore quelqu’un
Vivant et heureux, même en hiver, sur l’arbre nu.

Et s’il ne s’agit que de quelques notes agitées,
Lancées sans art, sans rien que de bruit ?
Son “Will I do it? Do it I will!” vaut quand même beaucoup
Quand tous les autres autour ont si peu à dire.

English original

“The Storm-Cock’s Song,” by Hugh MacDiarmid

My song today is the storm-cock’s song.
When the cold winds blow and the driving snow
Hides the tree-tops, only his song rings out
In the lulls in the storm. So let mine go!

On the topmost twig of a leafless ash
He sits bolt upright against the sky
Surveying the white fields and the leafless woods
And distant red in the East with his buoyant eye.

Surely he has little enough cause to sing
When even the hedgerow berries are already pulped by the frost
Or eaten by other birds–yet along and aloft
To another hungry day his greeting is tossed.

Blessed are those who have songs to sing
When others are silent; poor song though it be,
Just a message to the silence that someone is still
Alive and glad, though on a naked tree.

What if it is only a few churning notes
Flung out in a loud and artless way?
His ‘Will I do it? Do it I will!’ is worth a lot
When the rest have nothing at all to say.


— Translations/versions by William Eaton. Photo of the bird singing found on the Web, without attribution.

Closing note. Since I’ve already touched on the “red sky at morning” sayings, I would note this French saying regarding grives: “faute de grives on mange des merles” (ou: “à défaut de grives on mange des merles”). C’est-à-dire: Faute d’avoir ce que l’on souhaite, il faut se contenter de ce que l’on a. (If you don’t have what you want, you have to make do with what you have.)

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