Sunday, March 29, 2009

Vertical Fishing Rods

I've been known to complain about the lucidity and denotative nature of French. However, this morning I've run into a word that's competitive with any connotative English word in its range of possible meanings.

It doesn't help that I was already having some trouble translating the verses prior to the line: "lancer, relancer." The preceding verses had something to do with a copper drum, which doesn't seem to be a particularly Tibetan musical instrument--I'm thinking Metail is describing some mechanical device the identity of which is not clear to me. Then the most popular (or common) translation for lancer is "thrown," which doesn't make much sense with a drum. So I google both "lancer" and "tambour" (drum), to receive back a bunch of pages that have to do with fishing. The tambour is the reel part of the fishing rod (I guess--I'm not up on fishing paraphenelia lingo), while lancer is to cast the line. So I try "cast," but that doesn't seem to make sense in the context of the line, either.

I decide to let it go and forge onto the next couple of lines: "bruit de mécanique/moulins verticaux." This translates roughly into "mechanical noise/vertical mills." OK, mechanical noise is 5 syllables, great. But "vertical mills" is only 4, plus I'm not sure what exactly vertical mills are. I look in the dictionary, to see that a few lines down, temptingly, is "moulinet," which means, fishing rod. But if Metail meant fishing rod, she would have used "moulinet," right? Is this a coincidence of the dictionary?

This reminds me of my idea, expressed in some essay I wrote on how to read ecological poetry, that dictionaries should be arranged so that words with companionable meanings follow one another, rather than alphabetical. This is along the same lines I used to arrange books, thinking how the books (or the authors) might like or appreciate one another. I appreciate dis-organization. I wish there were more of it.

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