To Err : Errer

The Castle

It’s the fabulous castle of Now
You can walk in and wander about,
But it’s so very thin,
Once you are, then you’ve been–
And as soon as you’re in, you’re out.

                                   -Shel Silverstein

I love this poem for any of the many reasons anyone loves a Shel Silverstein poem: the clever whimsy, the undulant rhymes, the childlike wisdom.

And I like things in French (why does it make things sound so fantastic?!), so I thought I would try to see what this poem would sound like in translation.

Château de Villandry

Château de Villandry

My first attempts were pourris, let me tell you.  They simply did not roll off the tongue like good Shel’s rhymes.

Example: line one
C’est le fabuleux château de maintenant


This irks me the same way it did when I was little and Mom didn’t get my gloves and tights on perfectly – seams running right along the tips of my fingers (or toes), just under the nails. No ma’am. If a stocking twisted, off came the boot to fix it, twenty times if we had to, and even in the dead of a Minnesota winter.

This hasn’t changed much, quite honestly — I’ve just learned to put on my own stockings and get it right the first time (or at least the second) — and growing up, the perfectionism extended further than that, of course: to a mad need to do well in school, to correct people, to always get things right. Know-it-all was certainly launched my way once or twice.

When you study languages, though, you learn pretty quickly that if you want to get it right, you have to get it wrong first. There is no succeeding without stumbling through the discomfort of error*.

So after a few months of sitting on this translation, which felt a bit like a sock scrunched down into my shoe, here’s my go at the full poem.  It turns out a little malaise can be a good thing.

Grain-of-sand-in-an-oyster metaphor, anyone?

Le château

C’est le château envoûtant du Présent
Entrez! Errez ça et là
Mais tant il est fin,
Une fois ici, vous êtes parti–
Car l’entrée est aussi la sortie

*Errer: to wander
Err: to make an error


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