Monday, February 23, 2009

Worlds within Words

I have been struggling with the very first line of LA ROUTE DE CINQ PIEDS: vallée-peupliers. I first translated it as “valley poplars.” However, “valley poplars” is only four syllables; it needed to be five. So I began researching “valley poplar” to see if there was a way to render it into five syllables without simply resorting to adding “the” (cop-out!). Was it a particular species of poplar? Or was Métail referring to poplars that happened to be in a valley? This particular verse is drawn from a trip to Tibet, so I thought perhaps valley poplar might be a tree species unique to that region with a five-syllable name that I could use. Google: poplar Tibet. And this came up. Apparently the poplars were planted by Jamyang Losong Kyanco the 13th incarnation of Dama Rergin as the Living Buddha of the Rabu Monastery, inspired by the poplars of Beijing. The poplars were, and are, lovingly tended. According to this site, at night the caravan carrying the poplar saplings would plant them in ditches to preserve moisture. Each one was named after a sage, and Jamyang Losong Kyanco told townspeople to protect them with clay walls. Jiegu Town, home of the poplars, is a subject of study by urban planners for its “perfect” zoning and, yes, the trees.

So, how’d the line turn out?

“Valley of poplars.”

Five syllables!

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