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August 21, 2014
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Translating the Fables of La Fontaine: A Creative Linguistic Challenge


In that case I knew which version to choose. But I still haven’t made up my mind about the last two lines of the poem. In one version I liked the first line better: “You fussy folk are doomed to discontent./You can’t be satisfied; at last that’s evident.” In another version I liked the second line better: “ You fussy folk know only groans and sighing./ You can’t be satisfied; there’s no use trying.” Which do you prefer?

Occasionally, though, I was lucky enough to find a wording that was even better than the original French. My favorite example is “Cross my heart” as a rendering of “Sans mentir” (without lying) in the fable “The Crow and the Fox” (Book I, Fable II). The meter is a perfect match and the language is far more expressive. But my luck didn’t last for the rest of the poem. As anyone who also had to memorize it will recognize, the meter at the end departs widely from the original. Here is my translation in full: