Mary Anne decided to learn “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella,” and it's one of my favorite Christmas songs (though I only know the first verse and the tune). So we tried playing it on ocarina and piano and recorder, and we were going to try singing it but we ran into The Translation Problem.
See, the song is originally French. And the English version from Wikipedia, which may well be the standard English version for all I know, is full of bad scansion and awkward phrasing. We were going to go with the Rise Up Singing version (we don't have Rise Up Singing handy, but I think it's the same version as the one from The World's Greatest Songbook), but although we liked the first verse of that, the second verse is missing, and the other two are kind of weak (and are even further departures from accurate translation).
So we set out to re-translate the song from the French, hampered only by the fact that neither of us actually knows French.
But that sort of thing never stops us. Mary Anne knows Spanish, and I know a bunch of bits and pieces and roots of words, and we've got Google Translate and the power of the Interwebs (plus various thesauruses) on our side.
So we came up with a translation. But we would love to get some help and vetting from people who actually speak French. (Especially because there are a couple of phrases that we suspect are idiomatic and that we thus may've misunderstood.)
Some of our goals:
- Translate fairly closely. Left to my own devices, I would probably opt for looser translation in favor of scansion and rhyme, but I also like this approach.
- Try to scan as well as possible while keeping to a fairly close translation. We did a lot better with the scansion than most versions I've seen online, but there are still some weak spots where you have to hold a syllable for an extra note, or squeeze an extra “the” in, or where a stress pattern isn't entirely natural.
- Aim for mildly archaic syntax and diction when feasible.
- Like all the other English versions, don't worry about rhyme. Which is a shame, because the original has a lovely ABBAAB rhyme scheme, but trying to make that work within our other constraints was beyond us, and nobody else seems to have done it either, so we gave up on it.
- Keep the bits that we like from other English versions.
Below is our version next to the French version from Wikipedia. Suggestions welcome. (But if we got anything terribly wrong, please be nice about it.)
Bring a torch, Jeanette Isabella;
Bring a torch, to the cradle run.
Christ is born, good folk of the village,
Christ is born and Mary's calling.
Ah, ah, beautiful is the mother;
Ah, ah, beautiful is the Son.
Who has come, to knock on the door?
Who has come, to knock like that?
Open up, we've arranged on a platter
Lovely cakes that we have brought here;
Knock! Knock! Open the door for us,
Knock! Knock! Feast and jubilee!
It's a fault, when the child is sleeping;
It's a fault to talk so loud.
Silence, first, one and another,
Lest your noise should waken Jesus;
Hush, hush, marvellously he slumbers,
Hush, hush, see how he soundly sleeps!
Gently now, unto the stable,
Gently for a moment come!
Enter in! How charming is Jesus,
Fair he is, so pink and rosy;
Hush, hush, see how the Child is sleeping;
Hush, hush, see how he smiles in dreams.
Un flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle—
Un flambeau! Courons au berceau!
C'est Jésus, bonnes gens du hameau.
Le Christ est né; Marie appelle!
Ah! Ah! Ah! Que la Mère est belle,
Ah! Ah! Ah! Que l'Enfant est beau!
Qui vient la, frappant de la porte?
Qui vient la, en frappant comme ça?
Ouvrez-donc, j'ai pose sur un plat
Des bons gateaux, qu'ici j'apporte
Toc! Toc! Toc! Ouvrons-nous la porte!
Toc! Toc! Toc! Faisons grand gala!
C'est un tort, quand l'Enfant sommeille,
C'est un tort de crier si fort.
Taisez-vous, l'un et l'autre, d'abord!
Au moindre bruit, Jésus s'éveille.
Chut! chut! chut! Il dort à merveille,
Chut! chut! chut! Voyez comme il dort!
Doucement, dans l'étable close,
Doucement, venez un moment!
Approchez! Que Jésus est charmant!
Comme il est blanc! Comme il est rose!
Do! Do! Do! Que l'Enfant repose!
Do! Do! Do! Qu'il rit en dormant!
One further note: In the French, apparently there's a comma between “Jeanette” and “Isabelle,” suggesting that they're two names. I think Rise Up Singing has it as “Jeanette Isabella,” so I always assumed it was just one person. But this issue doesn't really have any bearing on the lyrics, so I suppose it can be up to each singer whether they think there's a comma there or not.
(Added later: I meant to note here that we do understand that translation is a difficult task and that we're not professionals. We may well have gotten lots of things wrong. I would never try to, for example, translate a story in a language I don't know; but the song is brief and seemed simple enough, and we had a bunch of loose translations to work from, so we figured it would be fun to try.)